Ankara: Beloved African Design

By guest blogger Loren Hamilton

Ankara (On-car-uh). Kitenge (Ki-tang-eh). Dutch Wax. Wax Print. African Fabric.

Familiar words to describe a large piece of cloth full of bright colors and patterns, commonly seen decorating women across sub-Saharan Africa. In Rwanda, the fabric is wrapped as a work apron or sewn into beautiful garments for celebrations.

But where does this fabric originate? Has it always been African? Why then, call it Dutch Wax?

Ankara is traditionally made from an Indonesian wax-resistant dyeing technique called batik. The goal is to use wax to keep the dye from reaching all of the cloth, which creates a pattern.

The Dutch began to mass produce it, which is why it’s referred to as “Dutch Wax”. They intended it for the Indonesian market but it actually turned out to be more popular in West Africa. The Indonesians didn’t appreciate the imperfections within the machine-printed cloth while West Africans preferred that no two pieces of fabric would look the same. Now, it has spread all over sub-Saharan Africa.

How did it become popular in West Africa? 

In the mid-19th century, the Dutch enlisted West African men for their army in Indonesia. This army was for the colonization of Indonesia by the Netherlands. While in Indonesia, the men were attracted to this batik craft and took it back to their countries, eventually creating their own designs and color schemes. It’s now widely associated with sub-Saharan Africa, seen throughout the entire continent. 

Azizi Life + Ankara

In Rwanda, this fabric is commonly known as Kitenge. It may be purchased in the marketplace in panels of various sizes. Azizi Life designers love to incorporate this beautiful fabric in any way possible. These are perfect gifts for travelers, those who appreciate design, and friends who love for a pop of color!

From Zip Pocket Fabric Shoppers to Fabric Star Ornaments to panels on Banana Leaf Pop Up Bags to inside Palm Leaf Coin and Phone Purses, Ankara cloth adds a unique touch to each product.

Ankara cloth also inspired the designs of the Flight and Round Table Woven Bowl families!

About the Blog Author:

Loren Hamilton, Azizi Life design consultant, received her push into the sustainable fashion world while completing her undergraduate internship with an ethical wool manufacturer in Rwanda in 2013. From there, she has worked with different types of sustainable fashion businesses focused on retail, trend forecasting, design, sourcing, product development, production, and quality control. Having lived in Uganda and Kenya, she recognized the creative potential African manufacturers share.

She is now focused on harnessing this potential so that these businesses have the tools for successful competition. Through obtaining her MBA in Sustainable Entrepreneurship, her main goal is to create and promote ethical manufacturing across Africa which will ultimately improve economic empowerment. 

She is the currator of the Loren Nichole website, a platform focused on promoting social, environmental , and business sustainability within the fashion industry through articles, speaking engagements, and workshops.

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