Ankara fabrics formerly the wrapper worn by village women and the very poor and elderly in Nigeria, have now become the toast of fashion designers and fashion freaks
| By Chinwe Okafor | Dec. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
AFRICAN fabrics, fondly called Ankara in Nigeria, have become clothes of choice for fashion freaks, who want to wear stylishly designed clothes and those who are not in the habit to repeat the clothes they wear. They are cheap and come in good and a variety of colours.
The Ankara in today’s fashion trend is versatile and this has made it very acceptable among people from different works of life. This is unlike the times past when Ankara was mainly used as a wrapper by native women and relatively poor people. But that is now history. Ankara is no longer limited to dressmaking; they are being used for making accessories such as shoes, bags, bangles, earrings, slippers, purses, belts and rings among others.
Precious Ayodele, a civil servant, said she is in love with Ankara. She said she has different clothes and accessories made of Ankara. “I have handbags with their matching shoes, earrings and other accessories made of Ankara. Whenever I wear them to any event, people compliment me a lot and I feel so beautiful and attractive in them. Ankara has gone international, it’s been worn by both the rich and the poor and can be used in different styles of modern designs,” she said.
Esther Osakwe, a businesswoman, is one of such women that loves Ankara. “I love Ankara fabrics. They are attractive and colourful. They come in assorted designs and are not monotonous,” she said. Kemi Bankole, is yet another of such women who do not take their eyes off the colourful Ankara fabrics. “The colourful and intricate designs give a graceful appearance to women and I love them,” she said. Ayodele, Osakwe and Bankole are among millions of African women who have helped to make Ankara popular today and caused a decline in the taste for foreign fabrics.
Before now, Ankara was only popular among the middle-aged and old people. That has changed; it is now the clothes of the young. The young and fashionable now make several trendy accessories from them. Ugochukwu Okpala, a teacher, said he loves the trendy shoes, bags and accessories made of the Ankara fabric. He said they are elegant and comfortable for Nigerian weather. “I’m a fashion follower and I try to get the best out of whatever fashion that’s in vogue. There are a wide range of designs and colour combinations to choose from and their prices are affordable ranging from N2, 000 and above,” he said.
This trend of fashion has not only brought innovation in the glamour world, but has provided a means of livelihood to professionals in the art. It is considered to be a very lucrative business endeavour which young women and men are venturing into. Emeka Iweka, chief operating officer, COO, Muma and Ices, said the business has been a profitable one over the years but has dwindled in over the last few months because there’s little or no market entry barrier. He said they are able to produce between eighteen to twenty shoes and ten bags daily.
He said his products costs between N4, 000 and N20, 000 and that he delivers them to customers anywhere in Nigeria and Accra without extra charges. “The business is a strenuous one because it is more labour intensive and acquiring the automated machines for use costs a lot. We source the best fabrics in the local market so as to give my products quality and this has brought continued patronage from my clients. We not only make shoes and bags with Ankara, we also use kente, akosombo, damask, aso-oke and the likes. We also incorporate leather, jeans, suede and raffia fibres in the production.
According to him, some of his products are on high demand in some European countries and the United States of America, USA, adding that the need to cause an inflow of cash and create unique designs made him venture into the business. He also said that though it’s a lucrative business, it still has its own challenges which are finance, fierce external and internal competitions. Even recently, some people have gone into the business of wrapping already made bags and shoes with the trendy Ankara fabrics and this makes fabric craft business more lucrative. Many of those who are aware of this fact are not leaving any stone unturned in exploring the business opportunity.
The price range of wrapping a hand bag is averagely between three thousand naira and five thousand naira. But in a situation where wrappers sell ready-made bags which they wrap, the price will be between five thousand and eight thousand naira. To an extent, the market value of Ankara bags are affordable compared to the technicalities of making them. Nkechi Unaegbu, a Benin-based expert in Ankara wrapping, said it takes a lot of skills and mental calculation to make Ankara bags. According to her, the art is a form of craft that requires time, patience and technical know-how.
“But it is, however, not a burden when you have a passion for the art. It is a craft that gives the artist a sense of self worth and fulfillment if he is able to manipulate different shades of colours to create a magnificent bag, shoes and jewelries as the case may be. Most interestingly, is the fact that used old bags with peeling leather skin can be transformed into new bodies with Ankara.” Unaegbu said that since most people buy new bags because they are in love with their design, colour and features, they wouldn’t desire to cover them with Ankara, except when the body is already going bad. This applies to shoes, she said, adding that Ankara wrapping of old and peeling bags and shoes breathes new life into them. This is known as recycling. According to her, recycling helps to save people the financial ordeal of purchasing new bags for wrapping. She said most of the work she has done, were on used bags and shoes.
Ankara was named after Turkish people from Ankarra in Turkey who produced a cheap version of the high quality Dutch Wax. This made it affordable for those who could not afford the price of the Dutch Wax. Ankara has been widely adopted in many parts of Africa. In East Africa, the fabric is known as Kanga and in Zambia and Southern Africa, it is called Chitenge or Kitenge. Even though fashion in Nigeria and all over the world is dynamic, the Ankara fabric has been able to stand the test of time and has now come to stay. Ankara ranks among the fabrics of first choice for those who want to remain trendy and flamboyant or those who want to add colour to their wardrobes.