Africa’s Storytelling Textiles

C’est une affaire social des femmes Africaines

One thing I truly admire  about the women of Côte d’Ivoire is their unbending love affair with African fabrics. Wearing their beautifully tailored African prints is something they are exceedingly passionate about; each fabric is worn with deep pride. For them, it is a cultural movement—un mouvement culturel. The African fabric is considered an integral part of their cultural identity—identité culturelle. It is also an emblem of cultural heritage—emblème d’héritage culturel. No wonder the visual landscape of Abidjan, and elsewhere across West Africa, is dominated by richly colorful and boldly patterned textiles.

From the moment you land in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s main city, you will notice women beautifully adorned in their fabrics, each with its own eye-popping design, pattern and color. The bubbly colors, bold patterns and popped texture of the fabrics bring the women’s African beauty(beauté Africaine) full circle.


Prominent among leading fabric brands in Côte d’Ivoire is Hollandais. These Real Dutch Veritable Wax textiles are printed in The Netherlands by Vlisco. They are top quality prints offered at premium prices—something consumers are happy to pay for. A 3-piece Hollandais  textile in Abidjan costs up to 50,000-franc CFA ($100). Yet, these yellow, green, red, orange and purple fabrics are the most wanted. Traditional weddings are incomplete without two or more uniquely patterned Vlisco fabrics making the list of dowry items. Social gatherings are further spiced up by screamingly colorful fabrics of competing patterns and textures.

Interestingly, every fabric that lands on the Ivoirian market has a unique story to tell. In addition to “Fleurs Ba” (Big flowers) and “Hommes Ingrats” (Ungrateful men), below  are seven intriguing wax prints and their stories:

Grotto bleu

Grotto Well-off:  reemphasizes a woman’s unique social recognition. It affirms the social status a woman enjoys by her very own merit. In Côte d’Ivoire, women are proud to be labeled as ‘grotto’. Thus, this fabric is worn to say, “look, I am financially stable and socially respected”. Grotto comes in multiple colors, including blue, red and white. However, the blue remains a timeless beauty.

Si tu sors, je sors If you go out, I will go out: this fabric depicts a male bird escaping from a cage with a female bird following closely. It is the favorite of brides. Women wearing this fabric are simply warning their spouses against anything fishy.

Bubbly prints

AwoulabaThick and Curvy: this fabric is the darling of curvy Ivorian women. It is beautifully patterned with bubbly colors.

Fleurs de marriage – Wedding flowers: is exceptionally popular for its warm red and golden yellow colors. It is beautifully patterned to provide a more sophisticated look. Fleurs de marriage celebrates the beauty of happiness in marriage.

Mon mari capable—My husband is capable: as you can see, it is obvious that in addition to making a compelling fashion statement, a woman wearing mon mari capable is daringly making a social affirmation of man’s role in her life. It effortlessly brings out that ‘he got me covered’ attitude in women.

Les pagnes Africain

Les yeux de ma rivale The eyes of my rival: this provocative label makes the fabric the favorite of women in polygamous marriages. Rival wives wear it to say “stop giving me such a mean look”, flaring up bitter  feelings.

L’enfant est meilleur que I’argent—A child is better than money: this fabric tells two separate stories. It celebrates motherhood while serving as a reminder to women who are yet to experience motherhood. Mothers in polygamous marriages wear this textile to say, “I challenge you to prove your womanhood through motherhood” to a rival that is yet to become a mother.

7 Replies to “Africa’s Storytelling Textiles”

  1. Wow, been wearing African print fabric all my life and for the past years been designing it as well but I never knew the meaning of those prints let alone to say the messeges hidden inside! Really love the article it taught me something new.

  2. Mon Marie est capable is my choice. LoL However, despite it being fabricated in Babylon I love all these textiles because they somehow represent our Afreecan identity. Like you rightly put it, Ivoiriens in general loved it, not only the women. Male comedians in that country and the former president L. Gbagbo admiration for the cloth give it a new wave.

    I Love it.

    1. You are so right. Fabrics are celebrated nationally. Everyone wears them — women and men, young and old.
      What do you think of the “hommes ingrats” label?
      Thanks for your comment.

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