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    Boutique Fashion News — solange knowles

    The Versatility of Ankara

    Ankara is so uncompromisingly vibrant. No, we’re not talking about the capital of Turkey (although we’re sure it’s true of that city too). Rather, the traditional wax-print fabric, known also as Dutch wax print, chitenje, kitenge, khanga, among other names depending on where you are on the vast and varied continent of Africa, and used to make garments for all occasions.


    A shwe shwe-inspired wax print dress, from

    Many African cultures have integrated Ankara fabric and created shapes and silhouettes that give them a distinct identity,  adapted to suit the local taste – a traditional Ankara print dress in Ghana for instance will be very different to a Zambian  or Ugandan one – and yet the common thread remains – the fabric itself’.

    But let’s stop here before we get carried away waxing on about the geneology of Ankara (yes that was an intended pun – but only for those of you still paying attention). We’re actually bringing you a feature all about Ankara (the fabric, not the city) soon. But for now, here’s a taster of some of the exciting cross-cultural appearances we’ve spotted Ankara making  in the fashion world, proving just how versatile it is not only across Africa, but way beyond.

    NOH NEE: Bavaria meets Ankara

    We love the boldness of NOH NEE, the German label that combines the structured feminine Bavarian Dirndl dress with the most exciting and colourful Ankara fabrics, often combining two or more prints to create irresistible pieces that we just want to get our hands on.











    Ankara in the East

    Crossing over into Asia, when you think about it, it’s makes complete sense that Oriental traditional fashion would pair up wonderfully with African textiles. After all, Japanese dress for instance is expressive and colourful, holding nothing back in the use of colour to express opulence, serenity, femininity and a host of other messages to the observer – which is not very different to African fashion. So why wouldn’t  fusion of the two combine well? And here’s evidence of how well it works. Nkwo, the popular UK-based designer who’s been using African prints to create bold, eye-catching styles for a few years now, borrowed some Japanese inspiration to produce this Kimono-style top, to great effect.

    And this is what Cameroon born industrial designer, Serge Mouangue has to say about his innovative Kimono designs in African print fabric.

    “They may appear different on the surface but they do share some cultural similarities. Both societies are very tribal and have a respect for hierarchy and an appreciation of the power of silence. And then there are the differences, In Japan there is no improvisation. Here, improvisation can mean trouble, shame, difficulties. But in Africa, it means life, renewal, health and spirit. The kimono is an icon of Japan, I’m fascinated by the cut and the attitude and poise it creates among women when they wear them.”

    On the Streets of London

    It goes without saying that Western fashion has been playing around with African prints from all corners of the continent, not only Ankara.  The catwalks each season bear testament to that, as do the high streets, increasingly. But we couldn’t help but smile, very broadly, when an institution of conservative British fashion, an icon that has stood alongside the bowler hat and Wellington boots as symbols of  British attire, was given the Ankara treatment this year – the Macintosh as redesigned by Burberry Prorsum. And it looked good too! We’re pleased Vogue’s Anna Wintour shares that view – and if you needed proof that African print fashion has made it into the critical eyes of those in the know, well here it is.


    Ankara in this sense is like an indie band which has now come into the mainstream after years of playing to a fiercely loyal following that knows exactly how good it is. Welcome to Ankara! We think the march of the Ankara continues: we’ve seen Ankara-covered baby buggies, suitcases, handbags, baseball caps, boots, iPad covers, lampshades and sofas. Ankara is fun, it’s bright and it’s expressive. There’s one for every mood and personality: from subdued to vivacious, calm and outrageous, and everything in-between.
    And most of all, now the cat’s out of the bag and it’s proving its versatility and staying power – frankly, we want it to stay that way!

    Solange Knowles in Boxing Kitten’s Ankara bustier

    Get a variety of Ankara-infused looks for all persuasions, visit Sapellé’s online store and express yourself!

    Ankara meets West: Swing dress meets Ankara. Dress by Modahnik, available now at



    This is no Trend – It’s Here to Stay

    This Summer we’ve gone on quite a bit about how the high street and the fashion houses around the world have brought ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’ print and fashion more into the public eye. And it’s probably not the last time you’ll hear it from us. Flipping through every one of this year’s glossy fashion magazines, we’ve seen features covering it, and we’re thrilled that finally what we’ve always thought was a rich source of design inspiration is finally making more than a tentative and cursory appearance on international fashion’s main platform.

    And every time a chunky wooden necklace, a tribal print dress or a raffia bag makes an appearance, we beam with pride because it’s been a long time coming. At the same time, we know it’s inevitable that haute couture and high fashion need to reinvent themselves and that the spotlight that’s currently on African-inspired design will move on to something new.

    Hollywood Stars Drew Barrymore and Milla Jojovich in Marni for H&M
























    Whatever focus the ultra-trendy end of the fashion industry moves onto next, we believe that African-inspired fashion will have staked its claim in mainstream fashion, marked out its territory and set itself up as an enduring feature that will sustain and keep evolving. We think this year has been the strongest yet in terms of exposure, and the prominence African designers have gained among their international peers and the media is tangible. Which has inevitably boosted confidence, pride and determination in an industry that is eager to break through the barriers and give the market what it wants.

    On the ground, the African fashion industry is gaining traction at a phenomenal rate, with West, East and Southern African regions nurturing thriving contemporary fashion scenes which are being eagerly received. Designers are drawing from the myriad of influences around them and creating stunning, innovative products that are easily exportable to both the Diaspora market which seeks a link with its roots and a global audience which is hungry for something unique and fresh.

    This year’s Arise Fashion Week drew more attention, larger crowds and designers from around the continent and even further afield.


    What’s even more exciting is the fact that the African fashion industry, by virtue of its relative youth, doesn’t have the baggage of an excessively efficiency-driven production culture that often gets retailers into trouble, and it can therefore position itself as a more ethically sound option to source beautiful fashion and accessories from.

    Of course being a relatively new industry comes with its own challenges, as most players on the supply and retailing side have come to see. The industry doesn’t yet  have the advantage of economies of scale which naturally brings down operating costs. Cost competition is a major battle both in terms of the export market and even locally, where producers face price battles against low- or zero-duty second-hand clothing and cheap Far East fabric and garment imports. And of course there are the infrastructural issues that most African suppliers face, ranging from skills shortages to deficient energy, transportation and communication frameworks and unsupportive government policies. And even outside their own home ground, competitors in wealthier countries are boosted by government subsidies which make it almost impossible for some farmers to survive.




    There is one thing that is already boosting the resilience of the fledgling African fashion industry, and that is demand. Demand for something new and exciting on the design front (aesthetics), and demand for the socially responsible: – things made by people who are paid fairly for their raw materials, their labour and their services, and sourced in a way which is kind to the battered environment.

    Indego Africa, a social enterprise in Rwanda trains women to produce high quality accessories for luxury global retailers

    We’re in awe of the growing number of people who ask of themselves and of others the questions which are often easier to push to the back of one’s mind, and who are making the decisions which can sometimes costlier and more tedious.  Activists agitating for the abolition of protectionist policies that put others at a disavantage, manufacturers doing the right thing and buying fairly, brave entrepreneurs setting up enterprises, both social and commercial, that add value to their local communities, public figures who use their positions to bring about real change and consumers who vote with their feet by opting to buy products made from a supply chain of happy people.

    OK, time to jump off the soap box and just say that we’re thrilled that African fashion and design have made a big impact on the global stage this season, we see the collective will among designers and retailers to keep it here, we think there’s lots more where it came from, and there’s lots to benefit from it – from both ends of the supply chain. Be sure to visit us at to see how we’re bringing beautiful high quality fashion and accessories to a global audience.

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