Apparently, the way one dresses can easily pinpoint their heritage, culture, style, and many more. African-print textiles, which in the real sense drew inspiration from batik or wax-resist cloth made from Indonesia, have largely been used to dress the people of Central and West Africa from the 1800s till date. Curling from traditional attire to modern Africa-inspired dashikis and dresses, the various print designs and range of colors of African textiles have greatly had an influence on the fashion industry.
According to Betsy D. Quick, director of educational and curatorial affairs at UCLA, “One can not underestimate the importance and the extent and the enormous variety and beauty of examples of fashion in Africa and especially those that utilize African-print cloth. It is really a pan West and Central African cloth. There are tens of thousands of patterns and men and women have it tailored into unique fashions for themselves across the continent.”
Furthermore, Quick gave an explanation of the origin of African textiles: “One of the things that differentiates African prints from other textiles in Africa is that they are factory manufactured. They are a special category of manufactured cotton textiles. Their origins are actually traceable to the painted and block printed cottons that were produced in India for the Indian Ocean trade as early as the 4th century. By the 11th century, these block printed cloths from India had inspired the development of hand printed wax-resist batik in Java. So they are commercially manufactured batiks in essence.”
Interestingly, those African-print wax-resist textiles have been able to stand the wavering test of time across generations in Central and West Africa, and which has been used to signify status, religion, and others. In the ‘70s, African-inspired clothing was worn as a symbol of Black pride during the “Black Power” movement.
In recent years however, colorful dashikis and African-inspired head wraps and dresses have become more popular amongst Black Americans, and other descent. In the last couple of years, companies like Vlisco, had reissued the cloth, as well as the Chinese dubbing it in every color imaginable and which is now very popular in both Central and West Africa.
When it comes to fashion designers, they have also been influenced by African prints. It is obvious that all of these designers regularly fuse their own variations of African textile traditions into their work.
Drawing examples are: Lisa Folawiyo, a Nigerian fashion designer based in Lagos. She was inspired by the Ankara prints of Nigeria for the spring 2015 dress on view in Black Fashion Designers. Aisha Ayensu, the designer of Accra-based Christie Brown, look to the Dutch wax print she associates with special occasion wear in Ghana for her spring 2016 designs. Nevertheless, both designers gave the traditional textiles of their respective culture a modern look to create fashion-forward designs.
The question now is, what does this mean for the future of fashion and its connection to African prints? Evidently, talented designers from Africa are gaining more international recognition, thereby, making their way up to fashion stardom. These designers are indeed helping to build a sustainable fashion ecosystem in their respective countries, and which will enable more fashion designers to emerge and attain international stride.