Few things are immune to adulteration, so it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of counterfeit African wax print or Dutch wax or ankara fabric to buy.
Because these counterfeit fabrics are less expensive than genuine ones, lots of retailers with limited means buy these cheaper fabrics to resell in local African markets. Of course, one can’t say whether the small shop owners know that they are selling counterfeit ankara or whether they, too, had been duped by a wholesaler.
The ankara landscape is quite complicated, such that there is original ankara, "original" knock-off ankara, and polyester imitations. This last category is what I'm referring to as fake or counterfeit because they come with an element of deceit.
Ok, let’s set the record straight. Real ankara material is made from 100% cotton. This makes sense given the history of ankara and is probably one of the reasons why the fabric was so quickly and thoroughly embraced in West and East Africa.
Cotton is highly breathable and absorbent, and is the perfect fabric for a tropical climate. If you have experienced the misery induced by polyester in the summer heat, you understand exactly why fabric choice is important!
I recently received a collection of beautiful ankara print fabrics from Nigeria and was inspecting them to plan new products for the Lara Threads boutique. To my disappointment several of the fabrics felt very stiff and light.
Stiffness is probably one of the tactics used to deceive because real African wax ankara can be somewhat stiff at first, but it softens upon washing.
Anyway, with that suspicion, I realized I needed to dig deeper because, for my brand reputation, my customers' satisfaction, and because the FTC has rules about this, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t presenting something as "100% cotton” that wasn’t.
Here are the findings that gave away the counterfeit "ankara”:
There is an unmistakable wrong side
With real wax print ankara, although there’s a right and wrong side, it can be quite difficult tell which is which. Unless the right side is embellished, it is sometimes possible to use either side of real ankara with no discernible effect on the overall look; one would have to look very closely to see the difference. With the fake stuff, it’s easy as ABC.
It does not wrinkle after washing
I preshrink all fabric used for making products for the boutique. Real ankara must be lightly pressed after washing in preparation for cutting and sewing. The fake ankara fabric, on the other hand, comes out of the wash looking ready to go like my quick-dry running clothes, which are definitely not cotton.
It weighs less than real ankara
I could tell that the fake ankara was lighter than the real ankara just by holding a 6-yard piece of each one in each hand. To be sure, though, I needed to support my hunch with some numbers, so I pulled out my trusted kitchen scale and weighed each one.
Indeed, the counterfeit “ankara” weighted 89g/yard (or 87g/ sq m) while the real ankara weighed 149-150g/yard (or 145-147g/sq m). Holy cow!
For reference, Vlisco states that its "100% premium quality cotton" Wax Hollandais ankara comes in at 130g/sq m.
It melts when burned
Next, I pulled out a lighter and performed some burn tests. I lit up swatches of a real ankara and one of the suspected fakes. Here are the results:
The fake ankara retreated from the flame, curled up, melted, and left behind a hard black lump—like a synthetic fabric—while the genuine ankara burned, held the flame, glowed a bit, and left behind a light, feathery gray ash that turns to a fine powder when touched—like cotton.
The label or selvedge has strangely spelled words
I offer two examples here without any further comment:
I should add that the polyester fabrics had some numbers and the name of the company printed on the selvedge. Since it’s unclear how one could verify what the numbers mean, I’m not sure that just looking for printed numbers on the selvedge is a good way to detect counterfeit ankara.
One on hand, it’s disheartening to see that these counterfeit products have become so ubiquitous, even in Africa. On the other hand, it's great to know that beautiful cotton ankara is still being manufactured in Africa and elsewhere.
For some examples, check out these gorgeous decorative pillow covers to brighten your space, cocktail napkins that will impress your guests, and on-the-go accessories for organizing in style—all made from 100% cotton ankara.