Destiny of the ‘once before’ cheap Ankara fabrics, have undergone a magical transformation. Elegant creativity of the designers has made it a preferred choice of the rich and celebrities.

Ankara is a fabric that was normally reserved for cultural festivities. People felt that this fabric was too flowery, and too colorful. Formerly referred as Dutch was from Holland; this fabric acquired its current name ankara when the Turks made a cheaper version of the fabric. Without a glamorous look, the fabric was regarded indigenous.

There was a time, when ankara textiles were regarded as the fabric of the poor. But today, the fabric has undergone a magic transformation to become a choice of rich and famous. Fabrics which were once considered as out of fashion has changed to become a sizzling fad. Nowadays, ankara fabric has become an inevitable part of any social functions. Fashion designers have sensed this trend, and are coming up with appealing designs to capture the apparel market.

Ankara fabric is believed to have its origin from a girl named Ankara. This fabric is usually made of 100% cotton and posses good strength when woven tightly. Good apparels tailored from these fabrics are expensive.

Ankara in the Fashion World:

This traditional African fabric has infiltrated the fashion world as well. Blended with other matching fabrics and with a good design, ankara fabrics are the fancy of many people. The appeal of the finished product depends on the creativity, and skills of the designer. Fashion gurus like Lunar, Aimas, Tiffany Amber, MoMo, Gloss, and Cranberry have breathed new life into the fabric through their experience and creativity. Available in alluring designs, ankara graces catwalks and has won laurels. Since it is a cotton fabric with different motifs, this fabric can be used for both office and formal occasions. A printed outfit with small motifs will make a perfect clothing.
This fabric has infinite creative applications like shirts, bags, clothes, dresses etc. Styles, and designs available for this cloth are endless which makes all people; men and women, young, and the aged become glued to it. Ankara has made a come back in a big way with modern patterns, and vibrant colors.

Ankara posses the capabilities of being able to dye faster and did not get stained much. Due to its virtues, this fabric was considered as a competitor of the Western adire cloth. As Nigeria is a fashion savvy part of Africa has taken the fabric, improved them, and has represented it to the world. Nigeria being a big market, offers vast potential for the manufacture and sales of ankara. But, smuggling, and unfair trade practices in the nation has affected the local production.

Ankara fabrics have been the desired choice of African women. Due to its affordability, this garment was once considered suitable for under privileged. But with the lapse of time, the fabric found favor with contemporary fashion, and modern styles. Ankara has its own virtues, and looks more graceful when tailored in the right way.

The Modern Tale of Nigerian Wax-Resist Textiles


What do you think African art is? Masks or sculptures? The idea would be laughable to most Africans, who consider textile design the African art par excellence. But many forms of African textile design have disappeared. Now one more – wax-resist textile design – is under threat. Slowly, the last mills are closing their doors, one after the other: wax-resist textile design might soon be a lost art.

Batik wax-resist textiles were first imported from Indonesia in the 19th century. The African relish of colorful fabrics made them an instant success. The method of fabrication was soon customized and designs adapted to reflect local traditional culture.

The customization that produces the cloth beloved in the continent began by accident. Dutch textile manufacturers, in adapting the Indonesian wax-resist method to a dual-roller system, experienced a few technical problems: their method could not remove all the wax from the textiles, which left spots that resisted color and, to make matters worse, when a new color was added it would bleed onto the adjacent color. The dual-roller fabric was intended for the Indonesian market, but the Indonesians viewed the fabric with its spots and bleeding colors as spoiled and had no use for it. But, somehow, the “spoiled” fabric made its way to the African marketplace – and clients fell in love with it.


As African countries gained independence in the 20th century, they built their own textile mills and started creating designs that reflect traditional African culture, where each ethnic group has its own preferences for colors and designs. To the knowing eye, the design on a textile reveals a story, often meaningful to the wearer. The colors may also provide information about the wearer’s tribal origin, social standing, age and marital status. Dress plays an important role in African society and has even been used as a form of protest. Designs and the way they were worn often made quiet but effective commentary on the colonial establishment. Today Dutch manufacturers still retain the high end of the African wax-resist fabric market, but the rest of the market belongs to local manufacturers.

From riches to rags…

The Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA), a quota system established in 1974 to protect the domestic textile industries of Canada, the U.S. and certain countries in Europe from emerging Asian producers, gave advantages to small textile-exporting countries that were not bound by quota constraints or that enjoyed preferential access to European and U.S. markets. Under the MFA, which created conditions benefiting it, the nascent African textile industry thrived, reaching a peak of over 200 mills in 1985.

The industry was sent reeling when new World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations came into effect in January 2005, bursting the textile bubble that had arisen from the MFA quota system. According to the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation the phasing-out of the quota system cost the African textile industry over 250,000 jobs in a few short years. The dust has just started to settle and fewer than 40 mills remain, providing employment to fewer than 40,000 people. The survivors, giving up on the European and American markets, turned their focus to building and safeguarding their home markets.

The Nigerian story

Nigeria now holds 63 percent of the remaining West African textile manufacturing capacity. Nigerian wax-resist textiles are found in almost every marketplace in sub-Saharan Africa. But Nigerian manufacturers face another challenge in the African market: cheap Asian imports. The Nigerian government applied trade tariffs on imported textiles to protect what was left of the industry and give it time to mature.

But that move may not have been enough. What floods market stalls in Nairobi, échoppes in Dakar and the streets of Lagos are counterfeit Nigerian wax-resist textiles. In West Africa, it is estimated that smuggled textiles that counterfeit West African textile trademarks have taken over 85 percent of the market. The situation is out of control and is a serious threat to the beleaguered textile industry.

This fabric counterfeiters the Nichem trademark and falsely indicates Nigeria as country of origin. (Photo Manchester Trade Ltd.)

Ms. Akarume tells the story firsthand: “Afprint took the threat from imports seriously and started retooling its mill. To meet the changing tastes and preferences, we installed the latest CAD/CAM [computer assisted design and manufacture] equipment. We moved from 30 designs a month to 100 with several collections. But the smugglers outwitted the local mills. They started picking our popular designs which they would send to their factories electronically for reproduction. But many consumers still preferred the original cloth made in Nigeria. It did not take long for the unscrupulous traders to discover this and soon the markets were flooded with copied designs, stamped with ‘Made in Nigeria’ and counterfeit popular trademarks, selling at 30 percent lower price.”

The smuggled textiles are not wax-resist dyed, but rather high-velocity textile prints produced in half the time for a fraction of the price. The printed textiles “fake” the bleeding effect of the color and the dye-resistant spots of the authentic product. They use chemical rather than natural dyes. The goods are usually smuggled into the country to avoid paying duties and taxes due to the government.

The textiles, found to originate mostly in China, specifically target and infringe well-known Nigerian trademarks, carry “Made in Nigeria” or “Made as Nigeria” on the selvedges (margins or edges of a woven fabric) and blatantly fake statutory quality standard markings to deliberately mislead consumers. Some of the companies involved even display Nigerian trademarks on their websites.

If this trade continues at its current rate, it is not just the wax-resist textile mills that may disappear, but also sub-Saharan cotton cultivation, natural dye-making and all the support industries around them.

The role of trademarks in the industry

A recent book by Stéphanie Ngo Mbem (see WIPO Magazine 1/2009) discusses the protection of industrial designs as key to development in Africa. The low volume of design registration in Africa’s highly creative society is generally attributed to a lack of knowledge that such protection exists and lack of funds to pay for registration. But many African textile designers have also expressed the view that it is pointless to register their designs: If counterfeiters can copy trademarks and stamps of origin with impunity, how would registering a design change anything?

The more “traditional” designs may not, in any case, be protected under the conventional IP system. Companies like the Nigerian textile firm Nichem that create over 200 new designs a year note that these creations – many of them modern and eclectic – can benefit from copyright protection. However, there is no denying that West African textile companies, in the same manner as the fashion houses and textile creators of Europe, rely heavily on their trademarks to protect their goods from counterfeiting.

So far, however, trademark registration has failed them. The IP system, and more specifically trademarks, cannot play its role as a driver for economic development without the participation of right holders, proper infrastructure, collaboration among government agencies and international cooperation with neighboring countries and exporting countries. Local markets too need a functioning IP system and a global network to survive.

The first step in encouraging stakeholders and users of the IP system, as well as in supporting the textile industry, is to enforce IP rights. Coordinated efforts are required from stakeholders and government agencies such as IP offices, police, customs, the judiciary and the revenue and taxation offices.

The challenges

(Photo WIPO/Castonguay)

West African textile companies need to be as vigilant in protecting their trademarks as European fashion houses that actively defend their rights by sending cease and desist notices to vendors and challenging trademark infringers in court. The creation of a collective trademark for wax-resist textiles mills could bring those concerned together and would create a single entity with which authorities could work to tackle the problem.

A high-visibility leader in this area would also be helpful, of the same ilk as Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili, to take up the fight against the counterfeiters of textile trademarks. Dr. Akunyili – named “One of the eighteen heroes of our time” by Time Magazine in 2006 – spearheaded the fight against counterfeit drugs when she became Director General of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in 2001. Before she took over her post, a staggering 80 percent of the medicines sold in Nigeria were deficient in one way or another. She restricted the points of entry for drugs into Nigeria, had officials trained to work in the selected ports, conducted hundreds of raids, attracted media attention and gathered the support she needed within her government as well as internationally (see Joining Forces to Combat Counterfeiting, WIPO Magazine 1/2006).

The main components of the NAFDAC campaign against counterfeiting are training, raids, attracting media attention and cooperation with stakeholders, neighboring countries and exporting countries. These same tactics can be applied in the fight against counterfeit textiles.

Training: Ports are the point of entry of many counterfeit goods – from fake medicines to textiles. The trademark owners need to work hand in hand with customs controls and port authorities who will need training to recognize and identify trademarks, so that they can seize and destroy textiles carrying false markings.

Raids and media: Textiles with counterfeited trademark are sold openly in marketplaces and without any fear of reprisals. Vendors do not seem to be aware that it is illegal to sell these goods. Raids may only be a temporary setback for counterfeiters but they attract media attention, quickly spreading the word among vendors that the illegal sale of goods will no longer be tolerated.

Cooperation – neighboring countries: Counterfeit textiles are being sold across Africa. The border patrols required to curb smuggling and seize counterfeits would, therefore, demand more than coordinated efforts between Nigeria and its neighbors, Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. But it would certainly be a start.

Cooperation – exporting countries: International cooperation with exporting countries could well play a pivotal role in enforcing trademarks. Dr. Akunyili gained the cooperation of the Chinese and Indian governments in her fight against counterfeit drugs; both countries had a number of companies that had been indicted for manufacturing fake drugs. China has invested much in Africa, becoming one of Africa’s primary partners for development. Would there be a possibility for cooperation between Nigeria and China on customs and port controls, modeled, for example, on the China and European initiative which aims to tighten enforcement and crackdown on counterfeiting by sharing information among ports (see Ports in China and EU Share Information to Fight Counterfeiting, WIPO Magazine 1/2008)?

The experience of other countries

The Nigerian case is by no means unique. For example, Panamanian molas – traditional wool textiles – were threatened by imports from China (see Panama: Empowering Indigenous Women through a Better Protection and Marketing of Handicrafts, WIPO Magazine 6/2005). The Omani khanjars (daggers) were also threatened by imports from Pakistan. What steps did the two countries take?

First, they prohibited the imports of those goods on the grounds that they infringed national IP rights or special rights established in traditional cultural expressions. Second, Panama established a national regime of protection and registration of handicrafts, including textiles. Oman is still in the process of doing this.

The option to issue a legal statute declaring wax-resist textiles a matter of Nigerian IP and to prohibit imports is open to Nigeria. The country would then also need to develop a mechanism for registration and protection of handicrafts. One of the elements of that protection could be certification marks. Based on these marks, Nigeria would be able to prevent exports of fake wax-resist textiles to other countries as well. IP rights in traditional knowledge are not internationally recognized, but certification marks are.

Textile design – African art

The problem of counterfeit textiles is not such a heart-wrenching story as that of counterfeit drugs. Still, it is a human story – mills closing, jobs lost, an art form disappearing. Further cooperation between the government and all stakeholders will help turnaround this trend which threatens one of Africa’s best known products.

African Prints – The stories in the designs and colors

In pre-colonial times, standardized widths of cloth were used as a form of money in many regions of Africa. A regular number of the standard lengths were required to make a woman’s wrap, which served as a unit of value. May this be the origin of Africa’s love of breadths of bright beautiful fabrics?

Colors in African prints have an intimate association with tribes and regions. Sepia-ochre is generally accepted across Africa as the color used to represent earth, however, yellow is the color of initiation in Nigeria, while the combination of yellow/red belongs to the Igbo tribe of southeastern Nigeria.

African print designs fall into fours main categories:

    women’s lives (family, love, housework);
    town life and what it brings, good or bad (alphabet, television, money, power);
    nature (animals, flowers); and
    rhythms (music, drums).

Motifs in traditional African print designs often convey a metaphor and the design spins a tale. Beads in designs represent the African saying “Precious beads make no noise,” meaning that a good person does not need to blow his own horn. In the fabric below (right), the design depicts town life and uses the bottle-opener (cork screw) motif to connote the power it has brought.

The Nigerian Aso Ebi dress tradition encourages members of a particular social group or those attending a wedding, naming ceremony or burial to adhere to a design or color code. On weekends, it is common to see groups of people in such “uniforms” at bus stops and churches. The classic dice design below (left) symbolizes nobility and is often the “uniform” of senior women.

(Photo: ABC Wax (Cha Group))

Variety is the hall mark of African print designs. There is an eclectic mix of old classics like the dice and bottle opener, and more contemporary designs with abstract motifs. ABC Wax in Ghana and Nichem in Nigeria, both part of the Cha Group, have libraries of over 35,000 designs with 200 new designs being created every year.

The History of African Textiles and Fabric

After reviewing a brief textile history, this site will explore traditional and contemporary use of textiles and fabric from west, north, east, south, and central Africa.

Many centuries ago, hair from animals was woven to insulate and protect homes. Hair, along with fibers from various plants and trees, were used to create bedding, blankets, clothing, and wall, window and door hangings. As textiles became more sophisticated, they were also used as currency for trading. Many of the ancient designs and weaving methods are used today and remain an important part of African lifestyles.

Weaving methods and fibers used today varies within the African continent. For instance, narrow strip weaving is used in West Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly called Zaire). However, the weaving is slightly different in the Democratic of Republic in that they incorporate raffia palm leaf to create their Kuba cloth.

Handmade looms are still used today to weave various textiles. The looms are usually handed down from generation to generation. During the weaving process, they are placed in horizontal, vertical, or angular positions.

Textiles are often enhanced through hand-stamping, stenciling, dyeing, painting, or embroidery. Sometimes soil is used to make paint, and dyes can originate from herbs, leaves, bark, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grasses; these are mixed with water or other chemicals such as zinc, sulfur, or iron to obtain the desired thickness and hue. According to Sharne Algotsson and Denys Davis in “The Spirit of African Design”, colors hold different cultural meanings based on village or family affiliations. In some parts of Nigeria, red is a threatening color worn by chiefs to protect them from evil, but it is a sign of accomplishment in other areas, while red is used for mourning robes by the Akan in Ghana and for burial cloths in Madagascar.

Traditionally, many African textiles were not cut or tailored. Instead, they were draped and tied to suit various occasions. But with the current interest in textiles outside of Africa, textiles and handmade fabrics are being cut and fashioned into contemporary clothing and home furnishings, including pillows, upholstered furniture, wall hangings, blankets, and throws. When authentic African textiles are fragile or rare, we recommend having them professionally mounted or framed for use as wall hangings.

Glossary of African Textiles and Fabrics

Asoke cloth is very sturdy and practical. The Yoruba in Nigeria reserved this cloth for funerals, religious rituals, and other formal occasions. This cloth is woven in 4-inch wide strips that vary in length. Some older Asoke cloths are characterized by their openwork or holes. It is known for supplementary inlays, which are generally made of rayon threads on a background of silk cotton.

Textile with embroidery displays beautiful artwork and can be found throughout Africa. Usually, patterns are drawn onto the fabric and then stitched by hand or by machine in a complementary color of thread.

Embroidered African Cloth

Adinkra cloth is made by embroidering wide panels of dyed cotton and stamping them with carved calabash symbols. Adinkra patterns are numerous, ranging from crescents to abstracts forms; each of the symbols carries it own significance and represents events of daily life activities. As stated in “The Spirit of African Design”, Adinkra means “farewell” and was used for funerals and to bid a formal farewell to guests. Dark colors, like brick red, brown, or black, were associated with death while white, yellow, and light blue were worn for festive occasions. The cloth is still produced in Ghana today.

Adinkra Cloth- Out of Stock

Adire cloth comes from Nigeria. There are two types of Adire. One is made by tie dying or by stitching a design with raffia. The second method is painted freehand or stenciled using a starchy paste made from cassava or yams. Both styles of Adire can be found today.

Adire Cloth- Out of Stock

Batik cloth includes patterns by applying melted wax on the fabric. A design is drawn onto the fabric. To produce a multicolor effect, colors are applied one top of the other, beginning with the lightest color. For instance, a cloth is dyed yellow, and then melted wax is applied to areas that are yellow. The cloth is dried after each stage of the dyeing process, and then the wax is removed by scraping or boiling it off the cloth.

African Batik

Ewe cloth is similar to the Asantes’ kente cloth. This cloth is named after the Ewe people who originated from the southeastern region of Ghana. There are two types of Ewe cloth. Wealthy people wear a type of Ewe cloth that is elaborately decorated. It’s made of silk, rayon, or cotton, and typically contains inlays of symbols representing knowledge, ethnics, and morals as applied in one’s daily life. The other type is made from simple cotton fibers and display modest patterns. It also contains smaller and simpler versions of the more elaborate designs, but they always have a beauty of their own.

Khasa consists of heavy woolen striped blankets that are woven by the Fulani of Mali. The textile is typically 6 to 8 feet long and woven in 8-inch wide strips. Although the traditional blanket is white, it is also common to have yellow, black, or red strips. Khasa is usually ordered for the cold season.

Kente cloth originated from the Fante people of Ghana, who sold this fabric in baskets. The Fante word for basket is “kenten”. Authentic Kente cloth is typically woven in 4-inch wide strips. Kente patterns have religious, political, and even financial significance. Today, there’s a pattern to indicate the importance of almost any special occasion, and colors are chosen to reflect customs and beliefs. Red represents death or bloodshed, and is often worn during political rallies; green stands for fertility and vitality, and is worn by girls during puberty rites; white means purity or victory; yellow represents glory and maturity and is worn by chiefs; gold is for continuous life, is also worn by chiefs; blue represents love and is often worn by the queen mother; and black meaning aging and maturity and used to signify spirituality. Because of its vibrant beauty and regal legacy as a cloth fit for kings and queens, authentic Kente remains one of the most popular fabrics on the market today.

Korhogo cloth is made by the Senufo people of the Ivory Coast. Approximately 5-inch strips are hand-woven. Mud is painted on the cloth to create patterns of animals, men in ceremonial dress, buildings, or geometric designs. The soil used to make this mud is usually black, brown, or rust and is collected throughout West Africa. This textile, which comes in various lengths and widths, is used for clothing as well as for pillows, wall hangings, and folding screens.

Kuba cloth originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (also known as Zaire). This textile is tightly woven using strands from raffia palm leaves. Raffia strands are also interwoven between the warp and weft to create intricate geometric patterns. Kuba cloth comes in two styles. One has a rich and velvety pile; the other has a flat weave will little or no pile. To create Kuba cloth, vegetable dyes are used on raffia threads that are then embroidered onto finished cloth to create patterns such as rectangles, lines, creative curvatures, and circles. Kuba cloth is used for ceremonial skirts, wall hangings, or mats for sitting and sleeping.

Manjaka cloth is woven in 7-inch wide strips that are sewn together; this textile is distinguished by its intricate geometric patterns. Manjaka originated from Guinea-Bissau and has complex designs. For example, if a section of Manjaka cloth has triangles, the background area will feature a different pattern.

Mud cloth originated from Mali and once worn by hunters. Mud cloth is made from narrow strips of hand-spun and hand-woven cotton, which are sewn together in various widths and lengths. The cloth is first dyed with a yellow solution extracted from the bark of the M’Peku tree and the leaves and stems of the Wolo tree; the solution acts as a fixative. Then, using carved bamboo or wooden sticks, symbolic designs are applied in mud that has been collected from riverbanks and allowed to ferment over time. After the mud is applied to the cloth, it is dried in the sun. The process is repeated several times to obtain a rich color that is deeply imbued in the cloth. When it reaches the desired hue, the cloth is washed with a caustic solution to remove debris and to brighten the background. Today, mud cloth comes in background shades of white, yellow, purple, beige, rich brown, and rust.

African Brocade fabric is made from 100% cotton. Unique designs are intricately woven into shiny and starchy fabric. This cloth is also called Basin fabric. Brocade or Basin fabric is very popular in West Africa.

African Tie Dye Fabric is popular in Africa. A common method of tie dyeing is the formation of patterns of large and small circles in various combinations. This is found particularly among people from Senegal, Gambia, and the Yoruba of Nigeria. There are several techniques used for resist-dyeing. For instance, a cloth is tied or stitched tightly so that the tying or stitching prevents the dye from penetrating the fabric, and sometimes-starchy substance is applied to the textile. This will resist the dye giving pale areas on a dark background when it’s washed at the end of the dyeing process. Another method of tie dyeing consists of folding a strip of cloth into several narrow pleats and binding them together. The folds and the binding resist the dye to produce a cross-hatched effect. A very popular tie-dyeing technique in Nigeria is to paint freehand with starch before dyeing in indigo in order to resist the dye. These are only a few examples of tie-dyeing methods used in Africa today.