Looking Back: A Dip Into the History of African Prints

woman in African print workout clothes

The runway never shies away from anything unique—from utilitarian themes to Avante Garde, the world of fashion continues to take inspiration from the world around us, turning them into wearable pieces of art. Such is the case with African prints, the subject of renewed vigor and enthusiasm for bold colors and evocative patterns.

There is more to African prints than meets the eye, however, as they are closely associated with particular places and heritages in Africa, seen in the open markets of Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, to name a few. With unique culture and stories to tell, how did these prints end into glamorous pieces thrown into the mainstream?

The global sensation and complex history surrounding African prints are quite telling—here’s what you need to know.

African prints, a history

African prints are native to the people of the land, but how did it find a home to millions of corners all over the world? The story begins with a Dutch luxury textile company, which is regarded in history as the most popular trader of the African print cloth, even today. Records show that the company has been selling and producing bold patterns since 1846, where it was discovered that a wax-printing method can mimic the batik patterns.

Unfortunately, several scholars continue to criticize the Dutch company’s role in the African print industry, particularly because the design merely mimics a design and should, therefore, be deemed as non-African. The original prints are now embedded in African culture, where each bold pattern has become a symbol of natural pride. African textile producers argue that the decision to the source of this fashion is often political.

For others, however, the African sources, Dutch company, and consumers are in symbiotic relationships. While originally African and rightfully so, other experts believe that all clothing can be custom-made, with patterns adopted and translated into their very own concepts and creativity.

A globalized local fashion

Although the source of cloth and patterns remain to be highly controversial, one thing is clear—African prints have always been about empowering African men and women to communicate. It has been written in the pages of history that time and time again, prints can communicate stories. In this day and age, prints are borrowed from various cultures, be it Chinese, Indian, and of course, African. They speak the language of the producer, translated in a way that other cultures can understand and appreciate.

In the modern world, consumers continue to give designs meaning. Loved by pop culture and art references, who’s to say that African prints have lost its value? The only thing that needs to be changed is the way designs and patterns are created—to truly pay homage to the African culture, the designs must reflect the desires and stories of Africa.

Strengthening the Meaning of African Print Wear

By reflecting on the true desires and stories of Africa, one must breathe life into the textiles and ensure the presence of culture and heritage. Its popularity should never be condemned, especially not in the world of fashion where clothing pieces are wearable pieces of art. The Dutch origins may have shrouded African wear with controversy, but there is a way to change the status quo.

Connecting the hopes, dreams, politics, and everyday life of Africans is a way to do these, with every intention to make the next sets of textiles reflective, true, and sincere. In other words, African fabrics should rightfully reflect their communities.

If you wish to support Afrocentric fashion, Veer Active is the place to go. As a Black-owned premium athleisure brand, we offer you pieces made with quality materials and versatile designs, truly reflecting the ideals, culture, and heritage of Africa. We are proud to take charge of our culture—browse through our categories today.