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The Truth Behind African Wax Fabric

I never was familiar with fabric from West Africa commonly known as Ankara fabric. In Kenya, we have fabrics such as Kikoy, Kitenge and Khanga. So when I discovered a store in Düsseldorf that had heaps and heaps of Ankara fabric, a paradise for fashion lovers and fabric enthusiasts.

It was only then that I zoomed in and spotted "Holland" on the label. Huh? Holland.

How are these fabrics, known for their bold patterns and eye-catching designs be from Holland. Let’s take a closer look at the origins and history of Ankara fabric, not so commonly known as Dutch wax fabric.

Apparently in the early 20th century, Dutch traders brought Indonesian batik fabrics to the Netherlands, where they were reproduced using a wax-resist dyeing technique. However, the Dutch version of the fabric was characterized by brighter colors and more intricate patterns than the Indonesian original. The resulting fabric, known as Dutch wax, it quickly gained popularity in West Africa, where it was embraced by the locals and adapted to suit their own cultural and aesthetic preferences. Today, Ankara wax fabric is a staple of West African fashion, and it is often used to make traditional garments such as kaftans, skirts, and head wraps and much more.

Who would've thought? Not me.

So is Dutch wax fabric manufactured and exported to Africa today? It still is! The process typically begins with the selection of high-quality cotton or other natural fibers, which are then woven into fabric using traditional techniques. Once the fabric has been woven, it is treated with wax and dyed using a variety of techniques, including hand-dyeing, screen printing, and block printing.

Once it has passed inspection, the fabric is rolled up and shipped to various destinations across Africa, where it is eagerly awaited by fashion designers, fabric enthusiasts, and consumers alike.

So is the fabric really African is my question. I have to say, I still claim it to be as we, Africans, do certainly embrace it the most.


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