How to know if it’s a real Kente Cloth or a wax print

Kente is the most famous of all the African textile.

Kente is a type of silk and cotton fabric that is made out of interwoven cloth strips. Kente is a native cloth to the Akan ethnic group of Ghana. The Kente cloth was a royal symbol during the era of the Ashanti Kingdom and was also a royal cloth for the Akan’s in Ivory Coast. The Akan’s influenced other ethnic groups into wearing the Kente which is how it became the most famous African Cloth.

Kente cloth was traditionally a royal Akan cloth that was only worn during important ceremonies and events. However, in this modern era, it is now used all all-round the world for various ceremonies. African-Americans in high school and college graduates wear the cloth over their graduation gowns as an ode to their African Heritage and to celebrate an achievement that their ancestors did not get to enjoy. Africa-American students in sororities have a special ceremony that is called “Donning the Kente” where the stoles are given to the graduans.

Wax print which is commonly known as Ankara in Ghana and the rest of Africa is more popular and used widely by Africans and Africa-Americans. Africa-Americans use it to make Dashikis which are a symbol of #Africanisms and embracing ones African Heritage. Wax print fabrics were not originally meant for the African market, the fabrics were meant for the Indonesian Market where the Batik is famously from however the Dutch copied their designs and colours in an attempt to mass produce and sell them to native Indonesian market. The wax, however,  did not fare well.

Africans on the plains wearing kente cloth

Merchant ships that were travelling to Indonesia would use the gold coast a pit stop while still carrying out business with the Ashanti Kingdom. It was during one of those stops that the wax print was introduced to the Ashanti Kingdom who took a liking to the wax print and introduced it to the rest of the Kingdom. The Dutch textile company was happy that they had found a more welcoming market and shifted their market focus towards West Africa. Textile companies begun making fabric designs that were more focused on West Africans style. Which resulted into mass production of the wax print Kente. Its popularity has led to wax prints imitations from China that do not match up to a similar quality.

Wax Print has continued to enjoy dominance in the West African countries where the fabrics are used to make elaborate outfits for sorts of events be it weddings, funerals, special church outfits etc.  Wax print/Ankara rise to popularity has also seen several African-American celebrities adorn pieces made out of the wax print i.e. Beyoncé and her sister Solange Knowles. European design houses have also not been left behind, with the likes of Burberry producing a several clothes from African wax print in the fashion line.

The question then arises due to mass production of African textiles how you can recognize a real Kente from a wax print one. Well for one the definition of what a Kente in should guide you when shopping for African Fabrics.

  1. A Kente is described as cloth made out of silk and cotton fabrics that are interwoven. Meaning the traditionally made Kente can be unwoven to form different strands of cloth.
  2. Durability of the cloth is of utmost importance it should be a strong fabric that can withstand several wears.
  3. The Kente should be 100% pure silk and cotton fabric with vibrant patterns. It should not be waxy which can easily come for when wash or from exposure to the sun.
  4. Very versatile fabric and strong enough for use that many items can be made from it such as hats, earrings, blazers, and shoes to name a few.

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