African Fabric

Unleashing Creativity: Designing with Authentic African Fabrics

Every community around the world has its own unique traditions and art forms that are woven into the fabric of its culture.
In Africa, fabrics tell stories that have been passed down through generations. These authentic African fabrics are more than just materials.

Unleashing Creativity: Designing with Authentic African Fabrics

Here, we have the kente materials of Ghana to the iconic shweshwe prints of South Africa, and the Adire of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
Fashion designers are unleashing their artistic vision by thoughtfully incorporating these heritage treasures into contemporary fashion. Unleashing creativity while designing with authentic African fabrics is a celebration of diversity, symbolism, and the enduring spirit of ancient artistry meeting modern innovation.
Let’s look more into this creativity of African fabrics.

Unleashing Creativity: Designing with Authentic African Fabrics in Nigeria

For centuries, the diverse cultures across the African continent have produced some of the world’s most vibrant, eye-catching textiles. The bold colors, intricate patterns, and symbolic meanings woven into traditional African fabrics are more than just aesthetically pleasing – they are a visual celebration of the rich histories and creative spirits of the people.

In Nigeria, a nation blessed with over 250 ethnic groups, the art of fabric making and adornment holds a sacred place. From the iconic Ankara prints to the unique aso-oke cloths, Nigerian designers and fashionistas are tapping into this well of cultural heritage to unleash their creativity in modern, innovative ways.

What are Ankara Fabrics?

Ankara, also known as African wax prints, is a 100% cotton cloth with vibrant, colorful patterns created through an intricate dyeing process. While the fabrics originated in Indonesia, they found their way to West Africa in the 19th century and quickly became ingrained in the local cultures.

The true beauty of Ankara lies in the meanings behind the myriad designs. Each motif, be it geometric shapes, stylized objects from nature, or abstract symbols, conveys a unique story, proverb or blessing from the ethnic group it represents. Wearing these fabrics is akin to carrying the wisdom of ancestors on your person.

How to Work with Ankara Fabrics

For designers looking to unleash their creativity with Ankara prints, the first step is choosing the right fabric for your desired project. With countless pattern variations available, it’s wise to work with reputable vendors and do your research on design meanings.

Once you have your fabric, here are some tips for incorporating Ankara into modern designs:

  • Garments: Ankara’s bold patterns make for stunning dresses, tops, skirts and lightweight suits. Play with contrasting prints or mix solids with patterned pieces. Add shape with structured tailoring or let the fabric flow with unstructured layers and draping.
  • Home Decoration: Liven up your living spaces with Ankara print throw pillows, curtains, table runners or fabric-wrapped objets d’art. The fabrics also make striking upholstery for accent chairs or headboards.
  • Accessories: Let your personality pop with Ankara print shoes, bags, jewelry, head wraps and more. The bright colors and big prints were made for mixing, matching and standing out.

No matter how you choose to design with Ankara fabrics, embrace the chance to tell a unique story with every creation. Ask the maker about the symbolic meanings behind the motifs and wear or display your pieces with that heritage in mind.

The Artistry of Aso-Oke

Another iconic Nigerian textile with ancient roots is aso-oke, which originated from the towns of Oyo and Iseyin. Unlike Ankara’s print methods, aso-oke cloths are hand-woven on traditional looms using different patterns and thicknesses of thread.

Working on upright treadle or horizontal looms, the Yoruba women artisans create vibrant aso-oke by carefully interweaving strips of factory-spun and hand-spun locally dyed threads. Patterns emerge from the interplay of different colored threads, creating everything from delicate stripes to bold shapes reminiscent of kente cloth from Ghana.

In addition to their striking aesthetics, aso-oke textiles carry deep cultural significance. The heavy-weight hand-woven fabrics were once reserved for chiefs, royalty and the elite class to mark important ceremonial occasions. Today, aso-oke remains an important part of Yoruba weddings, spiritual ceremonies and other special events.

How to Incorporate Aso-Oke into Modern Design

As one of Nigeria’s most labor-intensive and highly-prized fabrics, aso-oke provides ample opportunity for creative designs that celebrate true artistry and heritage. Here’s how to let this regal cloth inspire you:

  1. Traditional Styles: For an effortlessly chic look, wrap and drape aso-oke around your body using African knotting and winding techniques. Study up on local traditions to model your outfit after regal personages.
  2. Haute Couture: Fashion designers are releasing couture collections featuring aso-oke woven into structurally brilliant dresses, capes, gowns and more. The heavy, almost sculptural textiles provide gorgeous depth and movement.
  3. Home Decor: Make a bold statement in your living spaces by covering walls with aso-oke fabric or using it for window treatments, upholstery, artisan baskets and more. The cloths provide insulation too!

Whether you opt for a more traditional Yoruba aso-oke style or a contemporary take on this ancient fabric, you’ll be wrapping yourself in the skill and spirit of generations of Yoruba artisans. Seek out quality makers to ensure an authentic experience.

The Beauty of Ethical, Sustainable Design

As the world strives for more ethical consumption, Nigerian designers are well-positioned to meet this demand through their work with traditional textiles. Both Ankara and aso-oke provide opportunities for sustainable sourcing and production practices that support local makers and preserve cultural artforms.

Choosing fabrics made by communities keeping these crafts alive helps ensure their legacies will be passed on to future generations. It also alleviates many of the environmental and human costs associated with mainstream textile production.

Ultimately, creating beautiful designs using authentic African fabrics allows makers to unleash their ingenuity while honoring the roots and continuing proud traditions. Each brilliantly patterned garment or aso-oke woven treasure is an expression of the creator’s personal story intertwined with rich cultural narratives.


For Nigerian designers, artists and fashionistas looking to make their distinctive mark, traditional textiles like Ankara and aso-oke provide an endless well of inspiration of African aesthetics.
You can embrace this heritage through fabric. This will help unleash the power to spark creativity while sharing African cultures with the world.


About Mfonobong Daniel

Daniel is a seasoned content writer and the content manager at Ankara. He is a lover of books, creative writing, with a penchant for poetry and music. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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