When we first arrived in Nigeria, all new hires were gifted with six yards of Ankara fabric. We each had different colors and styles, some we liked some we did not. But regardless, we were excited by the possibility of what we could do with those six yards. We didn’t really understand, then, the significance of fabric here in Nigeria and we definitely didn’t know that much about it. On my first trip to the Wuse (pronounced woo-say) market, I scoured the fabric stalls for colors that spoke to me and patterns that fit my budget. I wasn’t yet prepared for the haggling required to get a “fair” price, but I found the stall of a gentleman who had some of the most beautiful fabrics and good prices to boot. You see, I was told by a local where to go get my fabric. It never occurred to me that there would be stores inside of malls to get it. So, like a local, I hailed a taxi and took a green broke down ride to Wuse market in search of fabric. And I left that day with eighteen yards of fabric that made me giddy.
As I started to purchase (read collect) more fabric, I decided it was time for me to be a more informed consumer, especially as I consistently noticed that labels on the fabric read Made in China or Made in The Philippines or Made in Holland. Where were the Made in Nigeria labels? It didn’t take long to figure that out. Most of what the world knows as African fabric is really a spinoff of Indonesian fabric brought over by the Dutch. This is the story of Ankara. And while it is largely consumed/purchased by West Africans much of it is not manufactured on the continent. *sigh* However, all one has to do is dig a little deeper to find the traditional textiles made by the locals.
Adire and akwete, two of the more popular Nigerian fabrics aren’t easy to come by, but are completely locally made and are beautiful pieces to add to any collection. Adire, also known as tie-dye, starts off stiff and coarse, but after you’ve washed it becomes soft and extremely light to wear. It is typically sold in five yard bundles and I can’t get enough of it. Akwete is harder to find and more expensive, but if you can you will want to hang it and put it on display. No two pieces are alike and they each are gorgeous.
As for Ankara, there are five locally owned companies which manufacture and sell the fabric. The one that I use is Da Viva. The fabric is of excellent quality and they have a wide array of designs and colors to choose from. The one thing about the fabric though is that it is usually quite heavy, so you have to keep that in mind when using it to make clothes. In addition, it is not as inexpensive as most of the fabric sold in the local markets and because the Da Viva stores are often inside malls, there is no haggling.
While I know many of us always want a good bargain and want to pay pennies for quality, it is imperative that we begin to be conscious of the impact we have on the local community during our travels or when we move to developing countries. After living in Nigeria for a year and half and learning more about the local economy, the history of colonialism and the impact it still has on the people, I feel it is my responsibility to support the hard work of the people to which this land has always belonged. No, it’s not always going to be easy and it can be frustrating, but it’s necessary that we don’t become part of the problem.
If you are interested in purchasing authentic, locally made fabrics and textiles, please shoot me a message and I can point you in the direction if you’re in Nigeria or can even pick it up for you.