Fashion speaks but are we listening? The significance of Ghanaian fabrics, textiles and fashion in culture


Since the emergence of the novel Coronavirus in the country, Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has been addressing the country on an almost weekly basis as he outlines the latest updates in the response to the virus.

In previous addresses, the president shared plans to stop international travel, close borders, shut down institutions and limit public gatherings to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

One significant detail people missed during the nation’s address was the president’s choice of clothing. In every one of the televised addresses, President Akufo-Addo can be seen wearing cultural Ghanaian fabrics which communicate deeper messages.

In Ghanaian culture, aside from their beauty and style, fabric and textiles can communicate deeper meaning and often have stories behind the intricate patterns. Ghana’s 76-year-old President has always been known for his sense of style and signature trendy eyeglasses, however his use of cultural fabric to communicate a message to his audience points to the significance of fashion in Ghanaian society.

In his latest addresses to the nation on March 26, President Akufo-Addo was seen wearing a pink and purple patterned shirt. The fabric the President was wearing is called Afi Bi Yɛ San which translates to some years comes with trials/crisis. The choice of fabric is perfect for the situation Ghanaians and the rest of the world find themselves in, in the midst of the battle against the coronavirus.

Photo: His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo wearing the Afi Bi Yɛ San fabric

This is the perfect time to be wearing this fabric as the President was able to communicate before even speaking a word. The message behind the shirt is simple yet poignant. It seeks to tell the audience that the President listens and understands the difficulty of the times we are in.

Additionally, the President’s choice to wear meaningful and culturally significant fabrics points to the future of fashion in Ghana. The fabric he was wearing is a part of what is called Ntoma fabrics.

Ntoma is the Asante word for cloth, fabric or material, and are known for their patterns, the vibrancy of the colours, and most of all the symbolism and stories behind them. By highlighting the significance and historical understanding of Ghanaian textiles and fabrics, one hopes to reshape the perception that fashion plays no noteworthy role in society.

Ghanaian fabric, textiles and fashion are a key symbol of Ghana’s rich culture and history. Ghana’s culture is one that speaks volumes and it is something that needs to be capitalised on. Rich in meaning and wisdom, the significance of the symbols in Ghanaian textiles and fabrics needs to be recognised and appreciated.

Beyond the bright colours and styles Ghanaian fabrics and textiles could have a large cultural impact on global fashion trends whilst communicating important and wise messages. Ghana is a country rich in culture and boasts of expert craftsmanship in fabric and textile manufacturing including the popular cloth Kente. Kente’s origin story tells the story of Ghanaian ingenuity and creativity.

Kente is said to have originated in a village called Bonwire approximately 375 to 400 years ago, Kente, also known as Nwentoma was created when 2 brothers called Ameyaw and Kurugu went to hunt and they came across a spider weaving its web. Inspired by the spider, they decided to try to recreate this pattern and so they made the first kente cloth from white and black fibres that came from a raffia tree.

The cloth was presented to the Ashanti king, Nana Osei Tutu who reigned in early 1700’s and he fell completely in love with the cloth. However, the king believed that the cloth would even be more spectacular if there were other colours in the cloth in addition to the black and white.

As such, a popular weaver at the time Akwasi Opoku Agyeman, came up with the idea to use bark and seeds from local trees to create dyes. And this is how the key Kente colours came to life: black, green, red and yellow. Every colour takes on meaning, Yellow signifies for gold, black signifies Africa, green signifies forests and nature and red stands for the blood of the ancestors and forefathers.

The first colourful Kente produced was called “Oyokoman” cloth and this was worn by Otumfuo Nana Prempeh I, an Ashanti King. Kente was initially produced to be worn by only the royals and the elite, mainly because its manufacture was time consuming, tedious, and expensive.

Over the years, Kente has been made accessible to everybody and has been worn all over the world. The story of Kente’s origin and significance in Ghanaian culture highlight that the clothes we wear can hold more purpose than simply looking nice. The clothes we wear are imbued with meaning and fashion designers should be seen as the new carriers of culture as they showcase Ghana’s rich culture in stylish designs and using fabrics that communicate messages and wisdom.

Fashion is one of the best tools for cultural preservation and must not be neglected. That’s why it is so encouraging to see labels like is Joyce Ababio Kente whose designs repurpose the Kente cloth motifs and colours into modern looks that allow it to be worn for any occasion.

 Photo: Beautiful woman wearing Kente designs with a modern twist

Fashion speaks to us and we should listen. Institutions like the Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design that shape the next generation of fashion designers are essential because fashion designers are necessary in the promotion of culture and patriotism and the love for Ghana through their work.

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