African Wax Print Fabric
African wax print fabric with pattern of electric shavers
How a Dutch company's batik textiles became the basis of "traditional" West African culture.
By Matt Steinglass, Metropolis Magazine
"Vlisco was founded in 1846 by a famous Dutch merchant family called the van Vlissingens," explains Joop van der Meij, the company's CEO. "One of the van Vlissingen sons had been in Indonesia, where he discovered the batik method of dying cloth. He had the idea that maybe this method could be industrialized in Europe." By the late 1800s Dutch factories were supplying the bulk of the Indonesian batik market, and as Dutch freighters stopped at various African ports on their way over, the fabrics began to gain an African clientele. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when measures were taken to protect domestic Indonesian batik production, the market for imports there slumped. Africa gradually became the exclusive market for Dutch batik, and by the 1960s Vlisco, having merged with all its rivals, had become the exclusive supplier.
In an industry where the reverse is more common, Vlisco is an anomaly: a European-based textile company whose market is in the third world. Almost none of Vlisco's product is bought in Europe or North America. ...
The patterns on the imitation fabrics, meanwhile, are often nearly identical to those on Real Dutch Wax, because the competitors steal them. Van der Meij claims that 80 percent of the designs one sees on wax-print fabrics in Africa started out on Vlisco drawing boards. The company has fought several successful legal actions, but the Asians are not to be deterred. Lately Nigerian textile makers have also been getting in on the act. "We can put the new fabrics out on the market as soon as the containers arrive from Holland," says Agbobli Médémé, service representative of Vlisco's Togolese partner company, V.A.C.-Togo. "The Nigerian copies start showing up eight days later."
So the authentic traditional West African fabrics are the ones produced in Holland, and the stuff made in West Africa is fake? Can this be right?