(A trader measures cloth in Ghana’s Makola market. Image Credit: Miranda Harple for Yenkassa.com.)
Wax print textiles are widely considered a quintessential part of African fashion and have come to represent the continent on the global stage. While fashion designers have always drawn inspiration from the various ethnic groups and cultures in Africa, from 2010 to the present the fashion world has seen an explosion of wax prints on high fashion runways and in High Street stores. From Louis Vuitton to ASOS and Topshop, wax prints are everywhere. But despite this African textile boom, Ghana, a major source of African textiles, has seen steady decline in the industry since the 1990’s.
According national data relayed by The Christian Science Monitor, Ghana’s textile trade, which once employed approximately 30,000 people, now employs a mere 3,000. Counterfeit textiles, that are manufactured in China and then smuggled into the country to be sold at lower prices, are the primary cause of such a sharp decline in Ghana’s textile trade.
As MyAsho points out, in “Is African Print African?,” counterfeiting is a problem throughout West Africa.
Nigeria once dominated the production of wax print in West Africa but is now are the mercy of Chinese imports and increasing instances of ‘passing off’ – where ‘Ankara’ which is Made in China, is tagged with logos of Nigerian textile mills often at lower prices than the originals. Interestingly, it is believed these ‘fakes’ are not produced using the same wax-resist printing processes and deemed inferior in quality with less durability.
As the quality of knock-off textiles increased, they soon began to dominate the market.
These “fakes” have been around for almost three decades, but they were visibly lower in quality until the 2000s. Then they began to exponentially improve — down to the labels used to confirm authenticity – so that they now make up about 60 percent of all textiles sold in Ghana, says Stephen Badu, marketing director of fabric company GTP, one of the few remaining homegrown manufacturers and a leading brands. Counterfeits can sell at half the price of an authentic product.
The government of Ghana has taken steps to quell the volume of Chinese textiles being sold and traded in the country’s major markets. In 2013, following protests from from the Ghana United Traders Association (GUTA), representatives from the nation’s Anti-Piracy Taskforce established by the Ministry of Trade and Industry stormed Makola Market in Accra and seized over 1,000 pieces of counterfeited fabrics. The task force was suspended later that year, but resumed operations in 2014 and continues to seize counterfeit textiles in Ghana’s major open markets. In January of this year, after 5 months of operation, the Anti-Piracy Taskforce had seized over 3,000 counterfeit textiles, which were subsequently burned.
Despite, the government’s efforts, Ghana’s textile trade is still suffering. Printex, Ghana’s only locally-owned textile company, is owned by a Lebanese family who has lived in the country for decades. Vickie Remoe, a marketing consultant for Printex tells The Christian Science Monitor that counterfeit fabrics are simply part of the textile business in Ghana. We can never compete with the Chinese,” she says.