African prints known as Ankara have gained popularity over the last five years, with many designers choosing these eclectic tribal-patterns and motifs to brighten up summer and autumn collections.

Where do these prints originate from?

The answer you might think of is Africa, Ghana perhaps, but you’d be wrong. Ankara is the capital of Turkey so perhaps Turkey is the answer? Wrong again. The true origin of these prints actually starts in 18th century Europe.

Ankara was originally known as Dutch Wax print which gives us a clue to its origin. Dutch Wax Print was developed by the Dutch to sell to patrons in Indonesia. The bright contrasting colours and tribal-patterns were originally designed to reflect Indonesian batik fabric and had nothing to do with Africa.

Traditional batik fabric was very expensive to produce due to the labour involved in manual wax printing. Modern industrial techniques from Europe aimed to reduce the price considerably making this beautiful fabric more accessible to the wider population.

However, many Indonesians didn’t take kindly to the introduction of mass-produced batik from abroad. It was seen as inferior to the handmade fabric traditionally used and was largely ignored by most Indonesians.

What was Indonesia’s loss was to be Africa’s gain? Many West Africans working in Indonesia at the time, usually for the Dutch shipping companies, took to Ankara’s bright colours and motifs.

Upon returning to Africa these exotic prints soon became the height of fashion. Not one to miss a trick, the Dutch redesigned Ankara to suit African tastes. African tribal art was then used in place of Indonesian iconography and the colours were changed to reflect West African tastes.

What started as mass-produced Indonesian batik, became African inspired Ankara and the rest is history. There can be no doubt these beautiful fabrics are associated with Africa today. Ask any African if they identify with the motifs depicted in Ankara and the answer is an emphatic yes.

Ankara wax prints today

Today, Ankara is used to promote African culture across the world and is proudly worn by West and East Africans alike. They have made Ankara their own, so much so that it’s early European history has largely been forgotten.

But there is still one link back to the original fabrics of the 18th century. Mitex Holland Wax Prints are some of the most sought after West African fabrics available in today’s market.

Mitex, a family company founded in the Netherlands, produces West African wax prints for a truly global market. At Empire Textiles we offer a full range of Mitex Holland products in both traditional and contemporary styles, so you can be sure to find a design that suits your taste.