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African Textiles – Timeless Fashion Must Haves

African Textiles – Timeless Fashion Must Haves

From daily life to special ceremonies and rituals, African textile has always had an important part in the lives of African nations.

Now, the textile and fabrics produced in the continent are widely used by world-renowned fashion designers.

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly-used African textiles.


This popular fabric can be considered the denim of South Africa.

Made of cotton and dyed indigo with geometric shapes, this fabric is used in a lot of women clothing from dresses and skirts to aprons.

Ghanaian Actress and TV Host wearing Shweshwe – Photo Credit: Benedicta Gafah

Shweshwe is an important part of both traditional and modern life in South Africa. It has currently been used in the US as a quilting fabric.


The name means “mud cloth” in Bambara, so you know what to expect from its colours. The Malian textile industry uses this fabric very commonly in fashion and decoration.

Beautiful mud cloth at Accra Fashion Week

The brown tones are acquired by dying the fabric with fermented mud.


For instance, the fabric was traditionally worn by hunters and women undergoing rituals. The fabric is currently being imported in mass amounts to the US.





Barkcloth is an interesting fabric that originally comes from Moroceae trees, specifically the fibrous inner bark. Its main manufacturer is Uganda.

During the production stage, the inner bark layers are adhered onto sheets.

For that reason, it was even called paper clothing. Its current production involves similar cotton-based fabrics with a rough surface.

This prevents the destruction of trees and forests.


Kitenge is the Tanzanian version of sarong usually worn by women as a scarf of baby sling.

Tanzania’s Award-winning actress Elizabeth Michael Lulu in a beautiful kitenge dress Photo Credit: Lulu

This printed cotton fabric is always mesmerising with its bright and contrasting colours as well as its attractive printings done by batik or wax prints.

Tanzania’s Award-winning actress Elizabeth Michael Lulu in a beautiful kitenge dress Photo Credit: Lulu

Kitenge is among the cheapest pieces of cloth you can ever find in Tanzania, they are also distributed at Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and DRC.

It is usually worn in formal occasions 


Nigeria’s unique textile Akwete is a handcrafted material made of sisal-hemp, raffia and spun cotton. One of its distinct features is the simultaneous use of many motifs in the same piece of cloth.

Furthermore, many motifs are predominantly dyed with earth colours. Although this piece of fabric was used by warriors in the old times, it can be seen widely amongst many Nigerians.


This is another Nigerian fabric based on Nsibidi that consists of indigenous abstract depictions.

With the same raw material as Akwete, the only difference of Ukara Ekpe is the dominance of blue in the woven material.



The white-dyed motifs usually include many symbols from powerful animals to trees, affection and friendship. The symbols were also a source of inspiration for the Wakandan alphabet in Black Panther.

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Kanga is very similar to Kitenge in terms of colours and patterns; however, it is made of a thinner cotton fabric.

It is also much more multi-purpose and informal, as it can be used as a head-wrap, apron, skirt or even a decorative piece at home.

You can find many interesting Kanga clothes with Swahili writings on them in Tanzania and Kenya.


The origins of Kente date back to the Ashanti Kingdom and Akan people in Ghana.

Different types of Kente from Ghana

It can be easily recognized by the interwoven cloth strips with warm earth colours, blue and black. Its raw materials are silk and cotton.

Miss Pride of Africa Contestant num. 1 in a beautiful kente outfit

Although it was only worn by the members of the royal Ashanti families, it is now an integral part of the daily lives of Ghanaian people.

In other words,  Kente cloth is now used worldwide by many people especially used in academic stoles during graduation ceremonies.


This indigo-dyed cloth made of spun cotton remains to be an important part of the lives of West African women. It is mainly produced in Nigeria, Benin and Mali.

Its crafting consists of many delicate techniques focused on resist-dying and tying raffia throughout the cloth. Adire-based dresses have been worn by important figures.

For instance, Adire is now used by many people for their home decor, cushion cover and more. 

In addition to the above, there are other African textiles like Dashiki, Angelina, Ankara and more

More African Textiles Coming Soon


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