Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Brief History of Dutch Wax Fabric

There are some fabrics that are so iconic that they are instantly recognizable and have their own following. One of these is Dutch Wax Fabric.  What is Dutch Wax Fabric?  You've probably seen it, loved it and never knew what it was.  It is that vibrant, eye-catching print that is worn in parts of Africa, namely Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and several other countries.  The fabric was originally made as a knock-off of Indonesian batik fabrics by VLISCO.  It never actually ended up really competing with the fabric it tried to be, instead it found its own market in Africa.  Because the Dutch were not the colonizers of the Nigerian delta and surrounding area, it was more socially acceptable to trade with them, which allowed the fabric to catch on in the area.  It was adopted for frequent use as a clothing textile because let's face it, its pretty.

Wax fabric is still frequently used for clothing in parts of Africa and internationally.  Not only now does the VLISCO company produce it, but a wide variety of other companies do as well.  It is produced in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Nigeria, Ghana, China and other textile-producing countries.  One of the big issues with the fabric right now is that even though it was originally a knock-off, it is now being knocked off!  Yes, really!  VLISCO is such a popular brand that there are counterfeiters out there trying to pass their fabric off as genuine.  Also, because the fabric is so sought after because of its prints, companies have taken to only making limited one-time runs of their prints and not publicizing what their prints will be before they are sold in order to cut down on fakes.  Most of the methods involved in printing the fabric are proprietary but they somehow involve wax.  Other than that, I have no idea how the prints are done.

These prints are so beautiful that they are being used by fashion designers around the world for their collections.  In one recent instance, the label Zachary's Smile put out a special edition of wax-fabric dresses that were exclusively sold at Anthropologie stores.  These dresses were a huge hit and since then Anthropologie almost always seems to have at least one wax fabric dress for sale whenever I walk through the store.  Also, in 2008 Nieves Lavi put out a series of items in a peacock wax fabric print.  As the "tribal" trend continues, I think that more and more designers are going to start using wax fabric and that it will eventually become a mainstay in American fashion culture.

fabric swatch photos from www.aknfabrics.com and picture of Anthropologie storefront from www.missomnimedia.com

You may also be interested in another blog of my entries with more history of Dutch Wax Fabrics, and entry about Junya Watanabe's use of Wax Fabrics

3 comments:

Mary said...

I love African wax print fabric, especially the kind with weird or novelty (political slogans, tress, modern products or logos) style prints. My father went to South Africa recently and I tried to get him to locate some for me, but it's obviously not the right country.

I too have noticed their recent surge in popularity- I actually tired on a Zachary's Smile wax print dress at a secondhand store but the print wasn't that interesting so I didn't get it. It's too bad we'll also see an increasing number of knock-offs not done in the traditional method too.

Anyway, interesting post!

shoulderache said...

Thanks!

I'm hoping that Zachary's Smile keeps making wax fabric dresses and uses some of the really novel prints too! Outside of Marimekko, it can be so hard to find a really interesting print dress so I hope that they really start to step in and fill that void.

African Fabrics said...

I also love the vibrant and colourful designs of African prints. I think it's great that they are increasingly featuring in more mainstream fashion You can find a wide range of fabrics at www.africanfabricsanddesigns.com

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