African Prints and Their Proliferation in the Fashion Industry- Why Now?

African inspired fashion is the new rave in the fashion industry. This trend infiltrated the mainstream in 2010 and has received a significant presence in the runway at fashion shows all over the world. . While Western and other non-African Fashion designers have incorporated African elements in their designs, this trend is identified by the use of African print fabrics, such as Ankara, and the embodiment of African themes in designer creations.

Ankara used to be a fabric that had no glamour value or fashion importance. It was a regular fabric that would not warrant a second look. This was the perception until 2002 when Ovation magazine popularized the trend locally and every lifestyle magazine had a feature on Ankara and its versatility. But then it only appealed to an older audience and was only seen at weddings and other conformist celebrations. The designs were not as varied or as exotic as it is today. The challenge for the mass consumption of this trend was to balance its fashionable aesthetic to a sort of exclusivity. According to the former National President of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FDAN), “fabrics sold to the Nigerian market are used mostly by the womenfolk to do wrapper and tops, and I think it is a little uncomplimentary if I make clothes for a guy and he adorns it to go to a party, only to see a woman selling groundnut (epa) along the road, tying it as a wrapper. I have done it before, so I opt to use fabrics that are not common in the local market”. When the balance was found, globalization and intense media exposure ensured that local and international observers absorbed the trend. African fashion designers became more popular, Ankara was more prominent in fashion; Vlisco, the African print manufacturing company, also gained ground in Nigeria.

One of the key actors in the proliferation of African prints in the fashion industry were the fashion designers. A few designers who began using African prints in their collections were, Uduak Umondak, Olujimi King, and Abba Folawiyo and they all had their own designer labels/fashion houses. Uduak Umondak’s label is called Colors and her designs are just as the name suggests and very vibrant and playful. She started using Ankara in 1997 and had a fashion show to showcase her Ankara collection. Olujimi King kick started the use of African prints for modern and western designs. The most unique thing about him is that he usually makes his own fabric. Abba Folawiyo owns the very prominent fashion house Labanella. She started the trend of combining African prints fabric with brocade. These designers paved the way for a bigger epiphenomenon. These designers although historically significant to the transformation of Ankara were unable to bridge the generation gap and surpass the local market, which the newer generation of African designers have been able to do. They have been responsible for the transition of this trend from the local and to the international fashion scene. They are designers like Lisa Folawiyo, Ituen Basi, Deola Sagoe, Christie Brown and Duro Olowu.

These designers transformed a local trend to the hottest trend worldwide in Spring 2011. Lisa Folawiyo, the designer behind the label Jewel by Lisa, reinvented Ankara and has made quite an impact in the fashion industry both home and abroad. Each Jewel by Lisa garment is handcrafted and unique. Her clients range from African fashionistas like Eku Edewor to international stars like Dawn Richards, Kelis and Solange.

Ituen Basi is what you would call innovative; her creativity is inspiring and it works. She brought back the iro and buba trend and also glamorized African prints in jewelry and accessories. She plays with colors and mixes different prints of fabrics for an outfit. Ghanaian designer Christie Brown, just like Ituen, has reinvented African accessories and jewelry by using African prints; her necklaces in particular are spectacular. Deola Sagoe is not a new comer in the fashion industry; she has experience and has made quite a reputation for herself. She works with different kinds of fabrics including African prints, and her designs are contemporary. International celebrities like Lydia Hearst and Anika Noni-Rose have worn Deola’s designs on the red carpet.Duro Olowu mixes African prints impeccably; his most recent accomplishment is dressing the first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.

These African designers have also inspired international designers and clothing lines. Duro Olowu has something to say about this: “For a long time, there was a sense that this was limited to Africa but now it has become global. Combined with an awareness of social responsibility, it makes for a powerful statement.” Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Eley Kishimoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Diane Von Furstenberg, Gwen Stefani, Dries van Noten, Kenzo and Paul Smith to mention a few have also caught the African prints fever. They have included them in their collections and have made clothes, accessories and jewelry out of the fabrics. Clothing lines such as Boxing Kitten and Suno are doing a great job promoting African print with their works. Fashion icons like Beyoncé, Fergie and Rihanna have both rocked designs from these lines.

This has ultimately changed the perception of the African fabric. According the article Fashion Reborn: Blends of African outfits from Ankara, by fibre2fashion “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.” The African print fabric has metamorphosed from cultural attire to a glamorous wardrobe must-have and right now the spotlight is on Africa.

African Heritage

Twitter: @ReineMichi

40 Comments on African Prints and Their Proliferation in the Fashion Industry- Why Now?
  • cathy May 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    go africa!

  • mii May 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm


  • Oma May 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Cos its Mama Africa.
    They always come back home*wink.

  • stella May 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I am proud to be an African.

  • Fab junkie May 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Africa is taking over d world.

  • Deola May 19, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Wonderful post! Awesome!

  • kene May 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    go michiiiiiii,go michi go……….dis is so coooooollllllll!!!!!!!!!!
    in ur stupid mind naw….lol!!!!
    dis makes sense thooo…..(Y)!!!

  • kaynani May 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    We takin over. This goes on, and soon d cultural identity crisis will be ovr… Zee!!! U rock!!! keep up in tht afro spirit.

  • FAITH May 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    i love africa…..bella the pics r too tiny….

  • Damola May 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    the evolution of african designs around the world…very interesting and educative post. ….Go Africa!!!

  • LL May 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    If I may ask, are Ankara prints African? Maybe the styles we used them for and the fact that only Africans used them for their traditional attires. We don’t print them, at the moment we don’t manufacture most of them and we did not create them. I like the fact that we took it and made it our own for a while but I don’t think we can say African fashion is taking over the world just because people from outside Africa are using prints they produce. If they start wearing buba and iro or Aso-oke, then we can say we are taking over. If we started wearing wool and not suits, we can’t say we have been westernized!

    • Dr Dee May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      My hat goes off for you! Ankara is not an African fabric!

    • Abby May 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Well said! However, we do print some ankara (companies like Unichem come to mind), although the lack of investment in the industry has led to many being sold to foreign owners.

      There’s always adire (should we want to keep it strictly African!)

    • lisa May 21, 2011 at 6:02 am

      the prints were made for africa…its like saying the statue liberty isn’t American because the french built we wore it before everyone else.

  • Teetee May 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    We taking over….. One city/designer/country/industry/continent at a time.. We rep african prints…!!!!!!! Proudly African

  • Turn Turn Turner May 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    ‘Proliferation’ ke?…..hmmm *searching frantically for my Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary*

  • Ehie May 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    yay Africa!!! we r so tkn ova…awesome post bbz!! : * m soo proud of u!! proud2 be African tuu

  • Ijeoma May 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    its the commodification of the “other”. The West did it to Asia, and to indigenous populations all over the world and so why not Africa? They are repacking our aesthetics into nice little White, Eurocentric packages and selling it right back to us. And with our deeply entrenched inferiority complexes we are disregarding our traditional styles and buying it from them

  • Ijeoma May 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    @ Teetee

    How are you taking over? How exactly has Africa and Africans benefitted economically from this?

  • Teetee May 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    It has impacted us economically because Nigerian fashion designers are using African prints and they are generating revenue for Nigerians by paying tax. And note that by saying we are taking over, I meant psychologically.

  • partyrider May 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    last i checked naija no longer produces these africa prints cos we no get the person talking of how its generating revenue for us should kindly explain..

  • bluebubbles May 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    most of the fabrics in the market are not produced in africa.apart from the popular and expensive vlisco other brands likeda diva,woodin and ghana wax are all sister companies of vlisco which is a dutch company so the writer might want to go back and investigate.

  • Naj May 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Wat can we do nah? Africa de be!

  • marvel May 19, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I am happy to see Duro doing well under his Duro Olowu label. I noted after his divorce from Ms Golding (his first label was Olowu Golding), designs were given African names. I don’t see how ‘African’ his textiles are in comparison to Lisa’s original designs. He did fantastic clothes but glad that his dresses are a fraction of what his other things used to cost jare…

  • tatafo! May 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Great history lesson. I was so tickled when I saw Ankara chairs and bed throws in Anthropologie…it’s not just fashion, but in home accessories as well.

  • Dhikirullah May 20, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Interesting and educating .. A good read .. Nice one

  • africagirl May 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    am telling you these American Fashion Designers are just imitating African Designers. They are even acting as if they are better than African Designers. Every time Africa rises these people want to bring it down. Btw I love this site! Good Article.

  • Envogue Creations May 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm


  • LOLA May 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    @ africagirl, American fashion designers are imitating African Designers!!!! That is a ridiculous statement. But anyways, yes prints are in and prints of any kind whether african or western. But, it is just a passing fancy like most things in fashion and I have seen a number of celebrities on the ‘don’t’ fashion list for wearing bright prints so in my opinion it’s never really going to be embraced in the west. It is for the bold and daring,they say. Also, remember that because of seasons, you can only rock those prints in spring and summer. That said, I can’t wait to rock my ankara sirts this summer!

  • Cynthia O May 23, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    You nigerians know how to claim stuff – huh. NOt even one mention of the real west african african countries who were the real pioneers of wearing these prints way before anybody else started -when naijas were wearing your traditional ashoke’s – The whole africa no country exist but nigeria abi? You guys are just hilarious. Neighbors watch yall and shake their head. Every good thingg Naijas will claim they started it but you dont want to claim 419, robberies and killings. Bella you should be a shamed of yourself. If you are going to write an article give credit where credit is due. I am from south africa and i know for afact – u nigerians only starting popularizing these prints less than 10 years ago. What happened to the mention on Ivory COast, Togo, Ghana etc etc – YOU CANNOT ERASE HISTORY – SO STOP BEATING ROUND THE BUSH. mCHEEWWWW

  • mcclumsy May 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    It’s about damn tym.

  • May 27, 2011 at 12:28 am

    While I find it Interesting to see the dawn of African inspired prints at the for front of fashion today, i find is annoying that top designers are benefiting from the african inspired design, and that no African has “greatly” been promoted or has benefited from it. We created the designs, can one of our Fashion designers get promoted and have a Name as great Marc Jacobs etc etc.. They will use the prints gain from the Global market and we will sit and watch our creation benefit another mans hand…

    Just An Opinion… But I’m happy to see are uniqueness promoted

  • fatimaa June 1, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Proud to be african.. We wore it first and they copied..nice article babes..xx

  • tomini August 5, 2011 at 1:30 am

    michi,dis is a really nice article,keep em comin,,,

  • ade February 4, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I love this site. Always post me your articles and pictures of Ankara fabrics all the time. Thanks for this post. it is educative.

  • ade February 4, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Good!!! I am very proud to be a Nigerian using African fabric all the time. Please, always post me your articles and pictures of your styles.

  • Mahmudul Hasan January 7, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    African Print Design Are really Awesome. Congrats to all designer. keep it up africa go and go. best wishesh for the designer.

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