THE RISE OF THE AFRICAN PRINT
CREDIT: CLAUDE KAMENI
‘African Print’ or ‘Tribal Print’ are terms used to describe a style of textiles using 100% cotton fabric in rich and deep in colour. The fabric is printed by machine using wax resins and dyes to create a batik effect on both sides of the cloth. The fabrics are so diverse and all of them have different print techniques applied. Super Wax, Dutch, Java, Ankara, Bogolan, Batik and Kente are some of the several prints used to design traditional and contemporary garments. The different styles of print are also determined by the country. Most people think the prints are from Nigeria or Ghana which is not true. There are many beautiful prints that are from Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ethiopia and parts of Southern Africa.
The origins of the African print are quite controversial and have been disputed by many over the years. Some say the fabric was already there and it existed early in 800AD and others say that the print was brought to Africa by a dutch man who had visited Indonesia and tried to emulate their native Batik. Some people believe that the prints are Egyptian and originate from there. So the origins of the print are complicated and not fully known.
The dashiki was the first distinguished design that African Americans wore during their movements against racism and prejudice between 2014 and 2016. The prints gained global traction when the movie Black Panther was released. More impact was made when Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, Valentino and many more designers started creating replicas of some prints. Celebrities like Rihanna and multiple influencers have also contributed to this new found fame. Young African Americans also promoted the prints when they started making prom dresses out of them.
These fabrics are known for their versatility, eccentric appearance and their artistic aesthetic. This is an exciting time for Africa, I believe this is one of our major contributions to the fashion industry. These are more than a piece of clothing, the prints are a statement. They are part of our identity and culture as Africans. For west Africans and other parts of Africa, wearing the prints can be a political statement. Zimbabweans have also used the prints as regalia for political parties. A few religious institutions around Africa also use the garments as church attire. The versatility of the print is unrivalled. Over the years the print has also evolved and has started being used for shoes and bags. Jewellery, bedding and even upholstery fabric has been made using African print.
African designers have always used the print and I believe they will continue using it for a very long time. They brought the modern feel and were in all respects dynamic. Though the future of the print is unknown in the fashion industry, it will always be a big part of our heritage and culture.