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Global fashion From Indonesia to Ghana, why we love African print

You may be wearing a colourful African print outfit today, but have you ever sat down to think about the origin of your clothing? Alice Adu looks at the colourful history of African print.

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play African prints are here to stay (Alice Adu/Pulse Ghana)

African prints have come to stay and are being used in so many ways from shoes, bags, dress, purses and any fashionable thing you can think of. Have you ever sat down to think about the origin of African prints?

According to anthropological evidence, it is believed that Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) is the origin of these prints. Locals have long used this technique of wax-resist dying, by basically applying wax to a cloth, and then dying over that wax to create a pattern- to make batik.

In the mid-19th century, the Dutch enlisted a number of West African  soldiers to beef up their army in Indonesia. The African soldiers when returning to their countries brought back beautiful Javanese fabrics to their wives, between 1810 and 1862. According to Mazuri Designs, African print became even more popular with Christian missionaries who used it to cloth converts to the church.

African prints therefore are originally not from the continent, it’s just an acquired taste!

play African fabrics on display (Alice Adu/Pulse Ghana)

The prints have become synonymous with the African race because of historical, cultural and other factors that have influenced the people's love for it. However the advent of the much adored vlisco print came after its Dutch manufactures in 1874 copied a cheaper version from its Belgian original manufacturers and flooded the African market with the wax print fabric.

For Ghana, there has been a recent renewal of this love after a long decline.

In 2007 Ghana's former president, H.E John  Agyekum Kuffuor introduced the wearing of prints as National Friday wear.

play a two-piece African print outfit (file)

Fast forward to 2016, and African prints are still a big trend on and off the runway, Ghanaian designers and stylists use the prints in most of their works. But there is still a problem of imitation by Chinese manufacturers, poor patronage and other economic challenges.

Ohene- Ba Yaw Boamah, the creative director behind the Aberantie brand who uses a lot of  African prints to create designs for men, mentioned that most men would prefer to use European cuts when it came to their wear.

Coming from an African background he  tried to find ways to inculcate the European designs by using African prints to create them.

He found that his designs that had African prints were mostly patronized by people who lived outside the country.

He realised this was a result of the non-nationals getting access to all the soft match foreign fabrics outside Ghana. What would make them stand out was to purchase made in Ghana products or adding a touch of African print in to their look, so he was selling more to Africans living abroad than at home.

play Creations by Ohene- Ba Yaw Boamah, the creative director behind Aberantie (abrantiethegentleman.com)


But in recent times, West Africa has been  trying to embrace it, unlike previously when the print was not so appreciated, now Friday wear has come to stay.

“Most of our celebrities are currently embracing it thereby making people who look up to them accept and inculcate it in their wear, making it grow day by day,” Boamah said.

Also the issue of marketing has become a challenge following the common usage of the African print.

He continued to say that western fashion houses like Maison Valentino and others have taken an interest in African fashion by creating pieces with African prints, thereby making it a challenge because Africans do not recognize that these prints are African, making marketing here in the country difficult.

Boamah creates his own print because it is unique and can also easily be attributed to him any day anytime, he revealed.

He also believed the African print is dying out slowly because of the mass importation of foreign fabrics. He went ahead to explain that it is very easy to access the print unlike before when you struggled to acquire a particular print. While it's more accessible now the quality is not up to standard.

The designer however mentioned that the future of African print is bright because it’s very easy to access them now in relation to all forms of colours, styles, sizes and shapes.

“ We are promoting African print, even though it is not African, anybody will attribute them to Africanism."

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