All About Kitenge Fabric

Seeing that spring is blooming, we thought we’d serenade you with some fun facts on the different African prints we use for our exclusive  collections. Although our designs make sure to use different print-fabric that are eye catching, we thought it would be fun to make this article  focused on our most common fabrics known as African prints / Ankara or Kitenge.

You may be asking if there is a difference between Ankara and Kitenge. Well… there is none! They are all generalized as African prints but came in different names according to how it was received in a particular region. Ankara is the name for this fabrics in the western part of Africa while in the eastern part of Africa the same fabric is known as Kitenge.

Kitenge or Ankara are colorful pieces of fabric popular among the East African, West Africa and Central African regions. It is 100% cotton and sometimes added a layer of wax to make it shiny and stiff. The cloth is versatile as it can be wrapped around the chest, waist and sometimes used as a headscarf or baby sling.

Like every piece of artifact stemming from Africa, the Kitenge fabric is decorated with a huge variety of traditional colors, tribal patterns, political slogans and religious meaning. Kitenge fabric often comes in patterns that are given hidden traditional meanings or pictures of objects that are common in a particular society, e.g.: cooking pots, corns, animals, people etc. It has been said that these traditional fabrics are also used as a method of non-verbal communication and expression due to their well-known celestial meanings.

Nevice - Kitenge used as a material for headwraps.

With so many unique eclectic African print fabric styles and designs which change frequently with culture and era, it can be difficult to purchase the same fabric twice. Today Kitenge remains within the African culture as a means of artistic and cultural expression among all groups. With the advancement of globalization and technology, the Kitenge fabric is now used in modern fashionable designs as well as high couture collections; for women clothes, men wear, accessories such as bags, headwraps, wall tapestries and pillow covers.

In some countries like Malawi, Chitenge (Kitenge in their language) never used to be worn by men until recently when the president encouraged civil servants to buy Malawian products by wearing Chitenge on Fridays.

Nevice - Kitenge used as a material for skirts.

Uses: Traditional & Contemporary

If you know African culture, you know that stories and storytelling form an essential part of most cultures within the continent. Africans will find any excuse to tell a good story and transport whichever ear is open to the across the many legends of the land. Kitenge, much like the masks, songs and dances, are used in different settings to convey messages. The uses of the cloth include:

  • In Malawi, they are customarily used for women at funerals.
  • They can be used as a sling to hold a baby in front, particularly when breast feeding.
  • They are given as gifts to young women coming into age.
  • In many places, they serve decorative pieces at dinner tables.
  • When women go to the beach, the cloth is often wrapped around the bathing suit for modesty.
  • As home decoration, they can be framed or otherwise hung up on the wall as a decorative artwork.

After the fabrics are designed, printed and distributed to markets, particularly in West Africa, the women who wear them create the stories and hidden meanings behind them. This information is passed back to the manufacturer who gives the fabric a new catchy name. For example, there is a popular Ghanaian print known as ‘speed bird’. It has multiple birds flying in the same direction meaning you can be ‘rich today, poor tomorrow’ as money can easily fly away.

Nevice - Kitenge used as a material for blazers.

Kitenge fabrics have become very popular as fashion statements within urban pop culture and the youth in Africa and the world. The fabric has slowly been revolutionized and is being incorporated in unconventional clothing items such as hoodies, trousers, and accessories such as laptop bags.

To find out more, you are welcome to discover how Nevice incorporates the Kitenge fabric in the online shop.

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