DEVELOPMENT | Traditional Ghanaian Prints Under Siege


Taken by Tommy Ton

When we think of African Prints, most of us reference the Ghanaian iconic colourful wax prints, forged from the transmigration of Indonesian culture to the Gold Coast (West Africa).  Now, Ghana is the main producer of these patterned textiles, which hold history and culture within each pattern made. They tell stories of legends of families and wars, sing of proverbs which hold today's generation accountable for their actions, and express emotions deep within the society's poetry. 
Wax print is a process that traditionally uses a manual wax resistant dyeing technique. First, wax is melted then applied to the material before being dipped in dye. The dyes will not imprint the areas where there is wax, leaving the original colour of the fabric to remain. On the parts of the fabric where there is no wax, this is where the the colours penetrate and make an impression onto the cloth. The fabrics are dyed several times, and are then hung to dry. Afterwards, it is rinsed in a solvent to remove the wax. And Voila!
These textiles signified wealth, family, status, relationships and political affiliations (amongst other things), and kept the Ghanaian export and local economy flourishing. However, Ghana's once booming textile industry is on the verge of a total collapse. Coming to forefront is the Africa-China trade relations and the need to regulate the scope of China's dumping strategy--i.e. shipping excess clothes, textiles and goods into emerging economies--which has had serious negative impacts on local businesses, and communities at large. Below, Abi Ishola reports on how the FOUR remaining manufacturers are facing unfair competition, due to cheap pirated fabric being smuggled into Ghana from China.

 Taken from The 5-part series ENTER WEST AFRICA by multimedia reporter and producer for CUNY TV’s Independent Sources, Abi Ishola.

In neighbouring Togo, official trade statistics of China-Togo trade indicated a 27%- growth rate in 2005 with $ 508 million of trade value. This indication poorly reflects its actual trade volume, and, most importantly, its re-exportation (notably smuggling networks) role in the vibrant trans-boarder trade with West Africa’s largest consumers of African prints, Nigeria and Ghana - namely those countries whose textile industries have been so severely affected by the export of Chinese-produced African prints. However, it is not just China that is capitalising on the African consumers attraction for foreign goods, but more recently India and Pakistan have also entered the market, causing the local markets to face stiff competition from finished imported textile prints. So, to contextualise the market in terms of foreign exchange and GDP, for Ghana, texile exports dropped to as low as $550,00 in 2002 from $27.2 million USD in 1992. However, in 2004 this export value increased to $7.4million USD (

So how can we save these local Ghanaian factories, and the traditional techniques and meanings? How do we bring the consumer back to the local manufacturers and encourage slow fashion to be returned to the masses? Contribute to this discussion by posting your comments and thoughts.

In 2006, BBC Covered this story in its article "Chinese threat for Ghana's Textile Firms," which you can read HERE.

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  1. Interesting subject.. I imagine Indonesia felt a similar pain when their fabrics were no longer of any significant export value and now the cycle continues.

    A single market causes the same problems everywhere - every penny counts (for different reasons, wherever you are in the world, and in whatever part of the chain you participate) and if you're not on your game, you're out.

    but its much easier to point the finger of blame and bleat about "fairness" than it is to diversify or simply out sell the competition to secure the revenue needed to operate. And lets not discount corruption and lack of regulation.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I would imagine that Indonesia might have turned to another type of industry, such as tourism, especially when it comes to shifting material significance to another consumer market.
      Yet, the very problem of a single market is in its insularity, until an outsider convinces society that it no longer needs to be (especially when the price is right). I can only reference the Caribbean single market economy in the form of CARICOM, which has so far illustrated both the advantages and challenges of operating within such an economic stage.
      As to the last part of your comment, diversification and selling out the competition is not the problem. In this case, it seems to the be the consumers need to engage in a model where they pay for almost the exact product for less the price. This could be a societal issue, where people are trying to hold onto their money as tightly as possible without having to compromise on their wants.
      Thank you for starting off this discussion. I will hold off from making any further comments in hopes of giving others a chance to offer up theirs.