February 24, 2017 - Fabric & Sewing

The Complete Beginners’ Guide to African Wax Print Clothing

Pile of African Wax Print Clothing Fabric Close Up

Did you know that African print fabric (commonly known as ‘Ankara’ in West Africa and ‘Kitenge’ in East Africa) were first produced in Indonesia?

West African soldiers, who were serving in Indonesia in the 1800’s, started to import the fabrics into Africa. Later, European traders replicated the fabrics using modern machinery, particularly the Dutch who are one of the main producers of the fabrics today.

Have you discovered African wax print clothing and would like to learn more? Or would you like to know more about the current market and what is causing African textile mills to close?

Continue reading to find out how you can help support the African textile industry…


The method of producing African wax print fabric is called batik, which is an ancient art form. The designs are printed onto the cloth using melted wax before dye is applied to add usually 2 or 3 colours.

The crackling effect displayed on the cloth is caused by the wax-resist dyeing technique and special machinery.

Features & Benefits

The 100% cotton, colourful cloth keeps you cool in hot climates and warm in cold climates. The vibrant and bold anakara fabric prints are fun to wear and make you feel good.

Wearing modern African print clothing can make you stand out in the crowd. Be unique, be different and add some colour to your life!

Hidden Meanings

Wax print fabrics are associated with African culture because of their tribal patterns and motifs. Each design and colour can reflect local traditions and symbols such as the tribe, marriage and social status of the wearer. Some African women use them as a non-verbal way of communication.


African Wax Print Clothing Shop at a Market in Tanzania East Africa


A typical African print fabric shop at a market in Tanzania, East Africa

Current Market 

Sadly, several remaining African textile mills are closing and skilled, local workers are losing their jobs. The main reason being that they simply cannot compete with the cheap Asian imports from countries including China and India sold at nearly half the price!

Locals are purchasing ‘fake’ counterfeit fabrics over ‘original’ African (or European) produced fabrics because of the price difference, which is understandable due to the current economic climate. The original fabrics are usually sought after for special occasions.

The counterfeit fabrics usually copy the African and European textile mills’ trademarks and logos on the stickers and falsely claim they are made in an African or European country on the selvedge!

However, the quality and colourfastness of the counterfeit fabrics are inferior to the European and West African produced fabrics. It takes the Chinese 1 to 3 months to copy a new design so speed to market is key for the African and European textile mills to differentiate themselves and compete.

African Governments should do more to stop the importation of counterfeit wax print fabrics from Asia before it is too late. Otherwise, the designs of African textile mills will continue to be copied and exploited and the local industry will continue to suffer.

Small businesses like us play our part in supporting the African textile industry by producing high quality, African Wax Print Clothing locally using original fabrics that are made to last.

“The customer feedback we have received about our fabrics overall has been very positive and is one of the main reasons behind our success”

Sian Masawe
Kitenge Founder

Ankara fabrics are easy to fall in love with due to their bright colours and unique designs. Modern afrocentric clothing designs are stylish and fun to wear. Go bolder as it could transform your life (and your wardrobe). Take a look at our latest Ankara styles.

Please help to share this post on social media to show your support for the African textile industry. Raising awareness of the current market situation is really important for its chance of survival.

To learn more about the challenges faced by the African textile industry and to follow our journey sourcing authentic materials from Africa please sign-up to receive our monthly newsletters below.



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Related Articles:

African wax prints

The Curious History of “Tribal” Prints

West Africans are ditching Dutch wax prints for Chinese ‘real-fakes’

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