The Ankara Revolution

By Mariam Sanni

Over the years, we have seen the evolution of Fashion in Africa. From the Damask to dry lace, from Adire- batik to guinea brocade, each material being worn in a specific way tells a story. A story of pride, tradition and more importantly deeply rooted history, According to history, clothes have not always been worn in Africa. The Ankara cloth was created in Indonesia.

For as long as they can remember, the Indonesian locals have made Batik, but different versions made in Indonesia and Europe were not wildly accepted by the people and with this rejection, the manufacturers then turned to West Africa where market women had taken a liking to the materials and even made better patterns of the Cloth. With this discovery came the birth of Ankara. Ankara was adopted and made popular by West Africa and based on this popularity, we are now able to look at Runways all over the world and see the inspiration for Ankara from Burberry, L.A.M.B, Marni to name a few. We are able to see the inspiration of the Ankara cloth everywhere.

Mitchel Obama strutting a top made of Ankara fabric

Women all over West Africa today wear Ankara casually. They are worn at weddings to identify friends of the bride and groom, at birthdays to identify family and friends of the celebrant and even at funerals to celebrate the departed. One interesting phenomenon about the Ankara prints is that it has been in existence for decades but it has now transformed into a worldwide vogue, as its acceptance currently cuts across various climes and cultures. For the African culture, the global acceptance of Ankara is an excellent testimony of its versatility. The creation of Ankara or wax prints is exclusive to Africans and, therefore, Ankara is somewhat an African brand -the style marker of African wears in the world of fashion.

The uniqueness of Ankara has been its comparative advantage over similar attires and this has reinforced its worldwide appeal. Records have it that the Former First Lady of the United States of America, Mrs. Michelle Obama, once sported an Ankara jacket designed by a Nigerian lawyer- turned fashion designer, Duro Olowu, when she travelled to South Africa. Mrs. Obama also put on the African attire when she was hosted to a dinner by the South African President and yet again, she donned an Ankara apparel when she appeared in one of Oprah Winfrey’s shows. All the wears were reportedly designed by Duro Olowu. Other celebrities like Beyonce, Solange Knowles and Alicia Keys, among others, often wear Ankara prints and they always look magnificent.

Burberry also wore an Ankara apparel in one of her shows, “Burberry Prorsum 2012 collection”. This is not out of place, as Burberry is renowned for her strong support and recognition for African tradition and heritage.Besides, 18-year old Kyemah McEntyre from New Jersey in the United States of America habitually wears Ankara dresses which she designed herself. She once uploaded stunning images of herself sporting an Ankara wear on the social media as a celebration of her heritage. Little did Kyemah know that she had inadvertently triggered a trend: instantly, the picture became an internet sensation and everyone wanted to incorporate Ankara fabrics into their personal wardrobe.

With just one click, the revolution began. Since the trailblazing action of Kyemah – the Kyemah magic – many young black American women have joined the bandwagon and they have added Ankara wax prints to their formal wears. The Ankara fabric has currently gained a lot of recognition, as shoes, bags, clutch purses, headbands, bangles and earrings, among other; now made from the textile. And from all indications, Ankara has come to stay in the realm of global fabrics.


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