THE AFRICAN WAX PRINT
Despite wax-prints to day being iconically African textile, they were actually first introduced to West Africa
from the Netherlands in the late 19th Century with the Industrial Revolution and colonial expansion.
Dutch wax prints started out as cheap mass-produced imitations of Indonesian batik locally produced in Java.
The first Dutch wax-prints landed in Africa on the African Gold Coast where they became the style and symbols of status.
Later, between the 1930s to the 1950s, their appeal spread further across West Africa through the ‘Nana-Benz,’ female entrepreneurs who would pick up the fabrics from the coast and trade them throughout Togo.
These women came from near to nothing, to earning enough to buy and drive their own Mercedes-Benz as a means of transportation, all from trading in the Dutch wax-fabrics, hence their being dubbed with the title of the ‘Nana-Benz’.
Africa’s fight for independence in the 1960s led to wax prints being made locally and gave them new meanings and symbolism.
Currently, Ghana is home to several fine and high quality wax print manufacturers. Notice that even though these textiles are now manufactured on the continent, the companies that manufacture them are largely not owned by Africans.
The Dutch brand Vlisco is a symbol of class on par with any popular Western brands like Rolex or Louis Vuitton. A wealthy person cannot be seen wearing just any wax print brand, it has to be Vlisco.
It hasn’t been too long since Dutch wax prints started being produced on the African continent
but now the African textile industry is facing competition from China.
The manufacturer based in Manchester was recently bought by a Chinese company, leaving Vlisco as the only European-owned producer of wax prints.