African wax print is not just African. There are many interpretations of how, why and when. The story we have most often come across is about the Dutch company, Vlisco, founded in 1846. Wax prints from here are therefore often called Hollandais or Dutch wax. You might have heard of it?
Actually, it all started when Vlisco was inspired by the Indonesian batik market and wanted to optimise the manufacturing process using machines instead of the heavy handmade industry that was the case in Indonesia. So in Holland they tried to imitate batik and also developed other designs and produced in Holland for the Indonesian market. They sailed all the way along the coast of Africa, down around the Cape of Good Hope and up to Indonesia. Handmade batik is just one strong clothing tradition here, so Vlisco did not have success with their modern designs and manufacturing methods back in the 1800s. They had to find other outlets.
Instead, interest in Dutch textiles proved strong in ports along the West African coast. Over the years, designs, colours and materials have been adapted to African consumers and are an integral part of African culture and tradition. In the past, local production was greater than it is today, with much moved to China to minimise production costs. This has led to increased unemployment.
Vlisco's design and production process is still in the Netherlands. But to be closer to the African market and strong African women, Vlisco also has factories in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In addition, there are further plans to set up a factory in Nigeria by the end of 2018, because Nigeria is Vlisco's largest customer market and has a lot of design talent.
Especially in the design phase, African women play a crucial role and Vlisco involves and listens to the needs and opinions of African women because they have strong opinions about clothing, designs, symbolism and colours.
If you are further interested in reading how Vlisco also trains and educates tailors and gets them jobs afterwards, this article is recommended LINK
And while we're on the subject of the Vlisco story, you also have the opportunity to watch this short animated video about Vlisco's wax printing process LINK