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African Prints” Are Not From Africa

Avatar • Sep 22, 2015

You’re probably tired of hearing the term ‘cultural appropriation’. And while the dialogue can be exhausting it goes far beyond the Miley Cyruses and Kylie Jenners of the world twerking and wearing cornrows. It exists on a broader, less visible scale with predatory corporations taking advantage of black cultural pride to cash in.

Popular black jewelry designer Rachel Stewart recently revealed her shocking decision to shut down her shop after failing to stop rampant Chinese plagiarism of her work. And black beauty supply owners continue to struggle for market share. Now light has been shed on another predatory practice. Ghanaian‐based print shop Dziffa recently made its customers aware of cheap, imitation ‘African” prints that are flooding the market. In an article titled Dear Afrocentrists, “African Prints” Are Not From Africa, they break down the harmful effect these prints have;

I have had a lot of inquiries about the Kente fabrics we sell at Dziffa.com with some asking just why our prints are so expensive when other outlets are selling them for $7 a yard. I want to address this by firstly saying that we don’t sell prints and the “African Prints” you buy are not made‐in‐Africa. I am going to use the picture below to address this topic.

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The fabric I’m wearing on my body is called Kente. It is made from cotton by skilled artisans and handwoven in the manner that spiders weave their web. It is very authentic. You can have them for decades and they will still look brand new. 6 yards of Kente can take about one week to make as every part of the it is unique, requires a lot of focus, skill, and manpower.

The headscarf I have on is an “Idea of Kente” stolen by the Chinese and co. and marketed to African‐Americans as “African prints.”

African prints have no connection to the continent whatsoever and they are destroying our local fabric industry.

To make matters worse, African market women are importing them and selling them to tourists as African.

Instead of being offended and educating non‐Africans that the Chinese, Indians and a few local manufacturing companies are messing up our industry by stealing our ideas and marketing them as “African”, we are just following the trend and not stopping to tell people that “hey, this one is Kente from Ghana and this other one is just an idea of the Kente that is depriving us of customers we need to grow our local industry.”

If all the money sent to non‐African manufacturers in the name of “African Prints” were channeled to the continent, our manufacturers would have the financial resource to innovate the way they produce, the sector will be attractive to young people, provide jobs and contribute to the economy.

Let’s all try and remember the last sentence the next time we are tempted to buy a colorful Chinese print from someone marketing them to us as African.

We are all contributors of this continent; we can either invest in its growth or contribute to its underdevelopment. No savior is coming and the bad guys don’t exist. We are the saviors, we can choose to go with the trends or change the wave. The ball is in our court.

Wow. Ladies, what are your thoughts?

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Akwele
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Akwele

It’s okay, go ahead and buy the cheap fabric. “Real” kente is for kings and queens who cherish and have knowledge of their culture. Yea, I got the “real” stuff. It’s expensive, beautiful, and I only wear it on very formal occasions. I have the cheap fabric too. I wear it when I do yardwork.

Darla Jones
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Darla Jones

LMAO @ “I have the cheap fabric too. I wear it when I do yardwork.”

Steve Biko
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Steve Biko

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The REAL folks (I guess it’s the Akan people) only wear it for special occasions.

Tiffany Frederick
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Tiffany Frederick

Beautiful article. Could’ve done without the last a paragraph, though, because it is kind of offensive to those of us who do believe in a Savior and I don’t think its necessary to start “religion” arguments where one doesn’t fit (this means don’t reply to my comment trying to argue like I’ve seen some of you do). However, I still got the point and as I said before, this is a beautiful and informational article that I needed to read. I used to feel proud when I wore “African print” (and even prouder when I would get the item at… Read more »

Akilah
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Akilah

I agree, this was a beautiful article. I’ll go on with the rest of my comment by saying I’m not trying to argue your beliefs, offense, or point. I understood the last paragraph to be making a different point that had nothing to do with religion. I understood it to address the economical hurdles that some areas in the continent of Africa face. There are parts of Africa (almost always the parts publicized) that are underdeveloped and struggle economically. Some people’s attitude is that a “savior” (presumably of European descent) is going to come and invest in Africa or give… Read more »

Tiffany Frederick
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Tiffany Frederick

You guys are awesome. Thanks for helping me see it from a different view point!

Victoria Wright Pietrucha
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Victoria Wright Pietrucha

I don’t think they meant savior in terms of religion but in terms of someone coming to swoop in and save the African people/continent from the big bad west and the cheap labor of the east.

cryssi
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cryssi

Wow, I had no idea. I believe I own some of those inauthentic prints. Now that I know better, I will do better and spread the word.

Saran
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Saran

there is truth in what she said. wax prints and the rest are’nt made in Africa. We have most of them coming from Holland and china. The types of real traditional african materials that you can find in my country (côte d’ivoire) are such as shown on these pictures. NB: they are expensive to get in the big cities and it’s manufactured countryside which place is sometimes not easily accessible. these are designs from five different ethnic groups (bété, gouro, yacouba, sénoufo and baoulé)

Marmaduke
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Marmaduke

that couple’s outfit is GORGEOUS.

Colette
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Colette

Agreed! when you know the real deal, it’s very easy to tell the difference between the two.

Saran
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Saran

plus our mothers and grandmothers keep them so preciously that they don’t wash them often if not at all. They are worn on big occasions and later spread on clotheslines to be airdried. Because of the value people attach to them, they don’t like cutting through the material for design but simply wrap it. They are sometimes passed on through generations.

vwlover
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vwlover

This is the very reason why I’m careful of where I get my Kente cloth. I recently asked my uncle to bring me Kente cloth since he was coming to the states from Ghana. He told me the cloth is now being made cheaply in China. I told him no offense but I want authentic Kente cloth. That would be like me going to Ghana and asking a Ghanaian for a Chinese silk dress. As the writer said authentic African print fabric does last a long time. I have fabric from years ago. My father showed me Kente cloth my… Read more »

Diisha
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Diisha

But do they really have a choice. They have to survive in this world that loves capitalism. Cheaper products but bigger profits?!

SheridaDaily
Guest

Yep! It’s so mean but my mother and her sisters used to laugh at people flashing their “African” Wax prints lol (Original mean girls or what!?). That being said I got my very first proper Kente 2 piece done for my 18th in Ghana a few years ago. SO expensive, but once you’ve had the real deal, you can’t go back on it. And real hand‐stiched Kente is heavy and durable, you only wear it once every few years, really. Never really needs washing either. I think it’s important to mention that the ideas, the patterns, the colours *Are* native… Read more »

Ms. A
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Ms. A

So can you include a website to order real prints? I would like to purchase authentic attire.

Kim Tamer
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Kim Tamer

and here is a great resource link about African textiles: http://www.africanfabric.co.uk/books_info.php

Sithé Annette Ncube
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Sithé Annette Ncube

I knew this about the Masai blankets I asked a friend to get for me from Kenya. They told me the one’s they actually have are from China. The real ones are much more expensive. But there are actually textile factories in Africa that produce waxed fabric. Eg. Malawi. I know this because in Zambia, to get personalized Chitenge/Kitenge people send stuff to Malawi.

ekua odoi
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ekua odoi

Like with all products the consumers have the power to ask questions regarding where the product is from and research before they buy and of course the real deal always costs more. African Prints is a very generic term being used (I am using it myself) but there is so much more out there like Kente, Adire, Ankara, Gonja Cloth, Bogolan etc. https://www.facebook.com/AfricanPrintsFashion

Steve Biko
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Steve Biko

Ankara isn’t African though.
The whole wax‐print thing (Batik) is actually Indonesian.
It was made for the Dutch market (dutch traders), but the Dutch didn’t like it, so they tried to sell it to African people instead (with much success. I guess the Dutch didn’t like the colorful patterns! lol) .

Diisha
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Diisha

Not all African fabrics are created using the “batik ” version. The process may be Indonesian but the designs are African..specifically to this article from Ghana. There are three main ways to create fabric and their designs. Borrowing one technique doesn’t make it less African.

gjt3rd
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gjt3rd

True.

Nei
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Nei

Thank you Saran for the beautiful images and Akwele for such firey pride in your comment‐ I could not have communicated the value and beauty of authenticity any better! How does an American get ahold of the authentic stuff? I spar that even if I were able to procure some, I wouldn’t know what to do with it other than display it in my home as art…being black American and admittedly disconnected from an cultural connection to Africa, (truly, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, black Americans are indeed an ethnic group unto themselves and have been for… Read more »

gjt3rd
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gjt3rd

Kente cloth was created to be worn. If kente cloth is purchased for display, ask the clan that wove it and display the clan name with it. I read what you wrote and agree. It is humorous when Americans want to go to England not realizing the English look down on Americans the way Africans look down on African Americans — but both want the American dollar.

maralondon
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maralondon

Thank you for the article. It backs up the documentary aired on the BBC last year about the decline of the authentic African textile industry(particularly in Ghana).

Shakespeare'sMuse
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Shakespeare'sMuse

Um, it’s called competition. That’s what happens in a capitalist society. Cheap always wins because most people won’t pay exorbitant prices for the real deal when a cheap facsimile is available.

maralondon
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maralondon

And who are the forerunners of capitalism? African peoples did not create capitalism rather it has been forced upon us. It’s going to taken a lot of education for us to realise that there are many holes in this system which in turn has negative consequences for the majority of people. There is power in numbers. There needs to be more of us boycotting these vampire companies and nations. We are allowing them way too much control over our consumer choices> We don’t even care that they don’t care for us and don’t have our best interest at heart. It’s… Read more »

fromanotherplanet
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fromanotherplanet

What’s your point exactly? She’s simply explaining why her products are more expensive than the cheap knock‐offs, so why are you trying to imply that she’s ignorant of how capitalism works?? LAWD.

Tiffany Williams
Guest
Tiffany Williams

I hate how cheap black people are when it comes to black owned things. If Nike or Jordan ask for 300 dollars for a pair of shoes, not only will they have the money but they Wil wait hours in line. When Koreans say that Malaysian, Remy, Yaki is $100+ they’ll have the money but then say going natural is too expensive.

fromanotherplanet
Guest
fromanotherplanet

Let the church say Amen. I remember when Jay‐Z came out with his streaming service and black folks were criticizing him for trying to get richer yet these same folks are flaunting the latest Apple and Nike products. They have no problem helping a white man get rich but they will clamp down on black businesses. I can’t.

gjt3rd
Guest
gjt3rd

Black Folk will pay for black‐owned things if they have assurance they are buying a genuine product. Right now, there is no standard for Dutch wax print or Kente Cloth. I stumbled across the website looking for how to wash dutch wax print. I bought Vlisco. As for Kente cloth, I cannot find real Kente cloth. I know what the Chinese knock‐off looks like and wont buy it.. Maybe some folk are uncultured and wont pay a fair price for Kente cloth but many sewists would buy it. The real problem is that the cloth is sold in 4 to… Read more »

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jess_jac12
Guest
jess_jac12

Not entirely sure how this author is relating the quality of cloth to the Savior of the World. So if we go and expose the real fabric of Africa and encourage people to pay what it’s worth thereby pouring back into the country, this makes us saviors? Is it so simple as the authenticity of fabric and money for our countries or is it deeper than that? He could have made his point very well without that line. Smh.

Tiffani
Guest
Tiffani

But that is what will save the Black community globally. By producing for ourselves and buying from ourselves. That is the savior we’ve all been waiting for. That was the best line.

Rebecca Jarrett Amissah-Aidoo
Guest
Rebecca Jarrett Amissah-Aidoo

Authentic African handmade batiks and tie dyes…www.Anansevillage.com

Adolf_Hitter
Guest
Adolf_Hitter

I wonder if they sell Kunta cloth?

Nana Baakan
Guest
Nana Baakan

Now, I am aware that kente is authentically made in Ghana. And that others that are not woven are prints and imitations. But I am also aware that the Africans pride themselves in Fabrics that are labeled Hollandaise(sp). they seem to be of higher quality, durable and long lasting all cotton fabrics. My question is, is it not true that part of the textile process is done in Europe, Holland to be exact and then sent back to Africa for the finishing. If you can clarify that. If this is true, according to an article I read recently, the goal… Read more »

gjt3rd
Guest
gjt3rd

I researched Dutch wax print. Vlisco is not designed or created by Africans.

Shundra Chamberliss
Guest

Just wow!!! I stumbled onto this blog while searching for authentic fabric. I went to Uganda this past September and my heart was broken when I saw how the Africans were being robbed. I had a deep conversation with the women in 2 villages and their struggle with marketing their products and I could not believe what they were telling me. The Asian and Indian companies have created knock offs of these women designs. Their hopes and dreams destroyed by these counterfeit markets! I am compelled to help my sister’s and will open a door for them this coming year… Read more »

Yayra
Guest
Yayra

The technique of making the African‐print material originated from Indonesia. Check (https://www.ytrendz.com/blogs/the-african-wax-print). The print is called African not only because of the origin but because of the cultural identification and appropriation. Globalization has removed so many trade barriers such that quality products easily get mixed up with fakes. The main advice is caveat emptor (customer beware). This article contributes to creating the awareness of the existence of the fake. Any tourist who has bought a fake print material would by now have know this since the material would have faded miserably.

Ashiela
Guest
Ashiela

Sorry, Batik in Africa didnt come from Asia, they are two diffrent processes but are very similar. Do some deeper research and see that these two evolved independently.

Rae
Guest
Rae

I recently received a Kente print laptop cover hand carried from Nigeria. After talking to Africans and Americans working in Africa, I learned there are two types of “African” fabrics. Those made by locals as an art form, and those commercially printed. For a century, the Dutch; Vlisco monopolized commercially printed African fabric. Recently the Chinese have invaded this market. These commercial products are then sold back to the Africans who purchase them instead of native made products because the cloths are inexpensive and of good commercial quality. Commercial wax print brands that are printed in Africa are GTP, ABC,… Read more »

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