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Why African Print and fashion is unique and important to the African Culture



Why African Print and fashion is unique and important to the African Culture

One thing we all need to understand and know is African Print is a representation Of Our Culture, The Moment And Future. There is no misconception if we say African Fashion, with its colour and style are some of the exciting and innovative designs we have around the globe. 

Not only is African print/clothing unique in style, it represents symbolism, tribalism and history. The region is full of diverse cultures and people and the clothing identifies the culture. Even though African clothing has changed and embedded the latest fashion trends, it still has the stories behind its uniqueness.

The African print and how it’s been put together with other accessories has been an incredible one. With each region having its designs and what they represent. African prints are everywhere because there are international companies that also produce them. That is one major reason that made us have a rethink that the prints are a representation of Africans. We see African print everywhere, you have it, I have it, our mothers do wrap it around their waist as wrappers when doing chores, back us, and we also sow it into different styles. I know you have dozens of them and if you do not, get it. 

As it is said that the African prints represent the culture and symbolise history and we know that it is produced internationally, can we then say we can use the print to show the world that we are Africans? And today, African clothing comes in different styles, materials, designs and colours which can be used for different occasions and functions.

The history of African print can be traced to three continents, West African, Indonesia and Dutch. In the 1850s, the technic of using wax and dye to make designs on prints has already been used in many societies across the world also in Africa. And around that time, the Dutch has already colonised Indonesia and they came across the local method they do apply to make their designs by the locals. They went back to Europe and produce the seen local design with the use of the machine and they sold it to Indonesia who do not like it because it’s a machine method, so they went ahead to look for another means to produce the prints. 

During their research, they found another market in West Africa. The nature of their fabric changed when they found this method with the use of different designs, bright colours, signs and symbols. This is why today, most of the prints we see are manufactured by companies owned abroad and by larger organisations and foreign companies. Taking, for instance, the Dutch manufactures fabrics from its main brand in the Netherlands and then it owns many other companies in Africa, Ghana, GTP, Wooden, Uniwax and Super wax. With that, they dominate the market which makes it of high price and it’s found as expensive. 

Along the line, the Asian companies have been exporting cheaper fabrics to Africa and have been accused of counterfeiting designs by established companies. This event led to the shutdown of many local manufacturers. With that being recalled, can we say the African prints are a representation of us? Pointing this out is essential that the prints are not produced here doesn’t equate it not belonging to Africans. 

Noting that the African print has been used to send strong Pan African messages for decades regardless of who and how the print is made. Is it African? Yes, it is a way of sending the message of “I am an African” because it was made by factories here first which was later taken to the other companies though it may be a controversial course it is known to be a great way of passing messages across. 

Today, it is produced in Ghana, Tanzania and China. Each African country has its mode and it is using both the new and old methods to reform a sustainable industry. In recent times, African countries have depended so much on imported styles to make their designs though it cannot be eradicated but can be improved on. This has put designers up to do well with packaging, designing, creating and sustaining prints. Africans are known for being resourceful and in the maintenance of the resources under their care. The Ankara [Dutch] is a print that was introduced during the 19th century and it has made a way in the fashion industry as we see designers using it not just wrapper and wears but also used for bags, shoes, hats, purses and home decors. It’s formally believed that Africans do not wear clothes, that we roam about naked and the westerners introduced us to clothing. That has been a false idea because Africans has always had their traditional cloth. Although African countries have different attire, it all has something in common. Talking about the bright colours and how we accessories them. 


Read this: How Africa can be transformed and the way forward…

Let’s get to the different most fascinating and colourful types of traditional clothes in some African countries. 

The first is the Namibian traditional cloth that has the Eroro tribe of Namibia, Botswana and Angola all in Southern Africa has this colourful and unique style made to match the wearers custom style. The dress is called Hohoro Cova. They wear it as a reminder of when the German almost exterminated the entire tribe. This attire is topped with a cow hunt hat as to them being mostly cattle breeders. 

Chadian traditional cloth which is of central Africa with over 180 ethnic groups who are primarily Muslim this influences how they dress. Their attire is made of long robes called Jallabias along with turban headgear known as Tagiya with their women wearing wraps called Rabor.

Nigerian traditional clothing is diversified. They wear clothes according to their tribe Hausas/Fulani, Igbos and Yoruba. Iro and Buba with Iborun and gele for the Yoruba women with Agbada, Buba and Sooro for the men. Hausa/ Fulani men wear a long robe while the women wear clothes with amazing patterns and accessories. Igbos wears are mostly of beads, caps and accessorise it with a horsewhip. 

Moroccan traditional wear they are North Africans with a very rich culture with both gender wearing Djellabas it is a loosed long outfit with hoods and does wear a locally made cap called Fez on occasions.

Ethiopian traditional clothing has their cloth usually made from white woven cotton. The women cloth are called Habecha kemis made from Shamar woven cotton.

South Africans wear native clothes that are amazing. It features beautiful design beadwork and colourful fabrics. 

Zulus love animal skin leopard and are seen as the king of the forest so the skin is reserved for royalties.


Somalia traditional clothing is very simple but unique, they are partly Islamic which influence what they wear. The men do wear a white cotton shape wrapped around them as a skirt and another white piece used as a shawl. 

Malawi is also worn by them with a colourful turban known as kofiyad. Most Somali women wear headscarves because of their Islamic beliefs. They also wear a Gutino long piece tied over the shoulder and wrapped around the waist.

Ghanaian cloth is called the kente is common among the Ashanti and Ewe people and it is made with a mix of cotton and silk which is worn mostly for special occasions.

Kenya has the Masai clothing of the Masia tribe which consist of the Masai blanket with a lot of bright decorations like necklaces, bracelets and beads.

And lastly, Lesotho is a small African country embedded in south Africa. They wear the Basotho blanket of varying colours and patterns, the hats are known as mocorothlo a conical woven hat with a top not made of local mosa grass. It represents their national symbol and can be found in their flag.

To take African fashion and style global has been the aim recently and many designers have come to make different avenues to make it happen. In achieving this goal, two major fashion shows in Africa have taken the lead in making our culture global. Talking about the South Africa Fashion Week (SAFW) which was founded by Lucilla Booysen and the Lagos Fashion And Design Week (LFDW) founded by Omoyemi Akerele. These two shows had been known for their great impact on Africa fashion that has attracted many international bodies and viewership. 

A visible connection between creativity for sustainable growth and commercial hub. And also giving designers the platform needed to display their creativity and knowledge to a diverse audience. In a list compiled by the Forbes magazines, it was discovered that Johannesburg, Cape Town and Lagos was enlisted as some of the most influential cities in the world. With the recent development in African fashion and designs, many fashion designers have used their skill, and creativity to take the stage internationally with the beautiful and great design they initiate and present. 

With no attendance, here’s a compiled list of female fashion designers who have influenced the growth.

  1. Doreen Mashika from Tanzania has a collection of east Africa print kitenge named Daniel fox and beach-ready dresses with a combination of bags and jewellery to suit the occasion.
  2. Roza Maleombho of Cote D’Ivoire created her fashion label in 2019 because she is passionate about playing the Ivorian heritage with modern fashion.
  3. Salome Katongole of Uganda sets the pace in the industry by categorising the chick comfort and colour design. She designs in a way of manipulating colours to a therapeutic feeling and that made her amazing.
  4. Liya Kebebe of Ethiopia is the CEO of Lemlem and is socially conscious of designs that are of a mix of dresses, buttons and accessories made from hand by local artisans in Addis Ababa.
  5. Christelle and Michelle Nganhou of Cameroon, a brand owned by African twins whose goal is to celebrate Africa and show the love of self-expression through clothing.
  6. Akosua Afriyie-Kumi of Ghana owns Ox a fashion brand that uses locally made handcrafted bags with the celebration of local features using bright colours with each having a story to tell.
  7. Anifa Muvemba of Dr Congo unveiled a virtual 3D fashion show that became a viral sensation during the middle of covid 19. She is behind the stake and has logical feet with bold colours and precise tailoring. She is concerned with dressing black women.
  8. Sarah Diouf of Senegal launched Tongoro in 2016 with the concept of the availability and the promotion of Senegalese craftsmanship to international bodies.
  9. Lisa Folawiyo of Nigeria who is celebrated for her colourful collections that infuse traditional Africa fabrics with modern tailoring and beaded embellishment she has achieved international recognition for her work which has the neck of elevating the traditional African prints globally.
  10. Sindiso Khumalo of South Africa is a thick styled designer that launched in 2015 by adopting an empowerment led community-driven approach by working with artisans in making garments from naturally sourced materials like cotton and hemp. Her designs tell stories about the historic women from her country and the cross of the black diaspora.

These amazing designers have stopped at nothing but to fulfil the goal of taking African fashion and styling to a new and different dimension. We tend to see more of these designers bringing out their passion and skill to develop the industry and take it to where it belongs. 

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