10 African Fabrics You Should Know

Africans have always been known to stand out around the world, from our beautiful brown skin to our vibrant personalities. From its prints, patterns, textures, and grains, our outfits are also one of our distinguishing characteristics. Unlike the popularised depiction of Africans as mostly unclothed in foreign movies, Africa had a very rich textile industry, as noted by Kankan Moussa’s entire delegation being clothed from woven cotton with golden threads in the 1300s during his pilgrimage.

Can you name a few African fabrics? Most people would only mention Ankara if asked. There are other African textiles we may have seen made into clothes, but we do not know their names. Here are 10 African fabrics you should know about. 


Traditionally worn by Xhosa women in South Africa. It is a stiff rustling cotton material used for important ceremonies and has become one of the main stitches in modern African clothing lines. The fabric is believed to be named after the Basotho king Moshoeshoe 1, while others believe the fabric was given to the king by French missionaries in the 1840s, hence the name Ishweshwe.


A popular African fabric in Ghana. By its name, derived from “Kenten” (basket), Kente is an intricately patterned fabric, hand-woven from cotton yarn in the same way as in a basket. No two Kente have the same pattern or the same meaning, and each has its own literal meaning.



A hand-woven cloth created by the Yoruba people of West Africa. Usually woven by men and women, the fabric is used to make men’s gowns, called agbada, and hats, called fila, as well as women’s wrappers, called iro and head tie, called Gele.

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The way of making the cloth has remained the same for centuries, however, new techniques and production methods have been looked into to eliminate the weight and thickness of the aso oke cloth, and to make it more accessible for casual wear.



A fabric native to Mali; whereby a cotton cloth is dyed in fermented clay to give it a brown colour. It is believed to enhance the protection of hunters who use it for camouflage while hunting; women in childbirth use it believing that it has healing powers.



A kikoi is a traditional rectangle of woven cloth originating from Africa. Considered a part of Swahili culture, the kikoi is mostly worn by the Maasai people of Kenya as well as men from Tanzania and Zanzibar.



In eastern Nigeria, the Igbo people weave this luxurious cloth from velvet or cotton. It is worn by the royal family on significant occasions such as weddings. In Igbo, Isi-Agu means “lion’s head.” This fabric is used to make long or short-sleeved pullover shirts. It was traditionally worn by men when they became chiefs of their tribes. To demonstrate the chieftain’s superiority, this robe is worn with a scarlet fez hat. It’s also paired with an Igbo leopard headgear.  In the modern period, Igbo women use these unique African printed fabrics in a variety of patterns for special occasions such as weddings.

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Distinctive to the Ugandan people. It is made from the inner bark of the Mutaba tree in the wet season. The process used for making this fabric is one of the oldest cloth-making techniques as it comes before weaving. The Ugandan people use barkcloth during funerals to respect the dead. Additionally, people use barkcloth as a skirt, loincloths, and wall hangings. Centuries ago, the royal family and influential people of the community also wore it.



Often red with black stripes, Shuka cloth is often known as the ‘African blanket’ and is worn by the Maasai people of East Africa. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic group of people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life, as well as their cultural traditions and customs.  Living along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and Kenya. Shuka cloth is durable, strong, and thick which helps to protect the Maasai people from the harsh weather and terrain of the savannah. 



Indigo dyed cloth is produced by Yoruba women of Southwestern Nigeria using a variety of resist dye techniques. Adire translates as tie and dye, and the earliest cloths were probably simple tied designs on locally woven hand-spun cotton cloth. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the new access to large quantities of imported shirting material made possible by the spread of European textile merchants in certain Yoruba towns, notably Abeokuta, enabled women dyers to become both artists and entrepreneurs in a booming new medium.

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The Faso Dan Fani is a woven cotton cloth made in West Africa and is the national symbol of the landlocked country of Burkina Faso. The fabric is woven on a loom into 11-12″ wide strips, which can be used alone for runners, or as accent pieces on purses, totes, pillows, garments or other items.

When former president Thomas Sankara became president in 1983, the Faso dan Fani (FDF) became a national symbol. For the people of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, “dan Fani” is much more than just a fabric. Clothes made from it symbolise cultural identity and national pride.

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