The History of African Wax Prints

The History of African Wax Prints

Babette Van Aalst

‘African Wax Prints’, ‘Ankara’, ‘Dutch Wax’, ‘Java’, ‘Super-Wax’ and ‘Ntoma’ are some of the more widely recognised names ascribed to African print fabrics but where did it all get started? Much to our surprise African Wax Prints originated in Indonesia from as far back as the 6th Century! Known then as Batik a complex handcrafted fabric, it made its international debut during the 18-19th Century due to colonisation. Unsurprisingly, the Europeans were all over it particularly the Dutch and English who began its mass production by using new machinery to automate the intricate dying process. Holland quickly became the prints’ predominant country of production hence the term ‘Dutch Wax’ and ‘Wax Hollandais’.

The fabric with its prints was initially created for the Indonesian market but quickly became more popular in West Africa where the European ships would stopover on their way to Asia. By the 1840s companies such as  Dutch brand Vlisco, had been established and introduced Ankara to the African market.

Today African Print Fabrics has transcended many borders and is a growing global trend. It is not the least bit strange to catch a model on a fashion week runway, strutting their stuff in an Ankara design or to spot a celebrity attending red carpet events flaunting an Ankara outfit. A most recent spotlight for African Print on the global stage has been the release of Marvel’s biggest movie of 2018, Black Panther. Global brands such as Topshop and Aldo have produced merchandise incorporated with Ankara fabrics. 

Ankara fabrics has never been seen as more versatile than it is today and can be used for anything that needs a touch of fabric from shoes to bags to head wear to jewellery and even home accessories such as scatter cushions, bedding, table cloths and the likes. There’s no telling what Ankara will be used for next but we are very sure that there are many more things in this big, global village that needs a touch of the beautiful, Ankara fabric.

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