Story Of African Wax Prints

A (super) short history of wax prints in Africa

“Wax print fabrics actually originated in Indonesia and were exported to the Gold Coast and then spread over West Africa into Central Africa. They became extremely popular and over time the Africans customized and personalized their own designs. Today, African wax print fabrics are primarily made in Ghana or Mali, and they have a strong cultural, social and economic importance.”

African Women in everyday cloths

These prints may seem dramatic to Europeon & American eyes, but the vibrant colors and patterns are everyday fair for many people in West African countries. For the women picture here, all in a day’s work!

SPRING 2012 READY-TO-WEAR Burberry Prorsum | African Prints

The trend toward wax prints on the runway has been brewing for several seasons, with designers of all backgrounds using the vibrant prints in their collections. Still, it was the Burberry S/S 2012 collection that gave the trend the office “industry” stamp of approval.

Juanjo Oliva S/S 2010

Spanish designer Juanjo Oliva was ahead of the curve for the wax print trend. He studied design at IADE in Madrid and got his professional start as an illustrator for companies like Zara. Oliva launched his first collection in 2004 and has since shown every season at Madrid fashion week.



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Me wearing layered wax print clothes worn as floor length skirt.

I’ve used my styling perspective to glam this look up a bit, but these cloths inparticular are actually the humble variety that women and men ┬áin the south of Nigeria wear as an equivalent to loungewear. You won’t see it much in the city, but those that live in provincial areas often wear a an unsewn square of wax cloth with a casual top (like a t-shirt) around town.

My mother used to carry me in a wax print wrap like this

This woman appears to be using her wax print cloth primarily for style, as it’s layered over what looks like a jersey fabric wrap. In my family the women traditionally carried their babies in cloth wraps, but the babies were situated on their backs, not in the front. Believe it or not, I have memories of being on my mom’s back while she’s standing on the stove cooking for the family.

Leila Adu. Photo by Leon Dale

Leila grew up in New Zealand, but has Ghanaian lineage via her father. During our shoot we chatted about how this was her first foray into exploring that side of her heritage through style

Political statements in wax print

Modern wax prints have more than just abstract designs. Like the one show here, they might have political or social statements embeded in them. Some even have photos included in the design.

FAIR+TRUE Fair Trade African Print Bustier Dress

Wax print products are prime subjects for companies that peddle “fair trade” wares. The idea is that the people who make the items, in developing countries, are paid well – rather than exploiting the vast differences in economic power between the producers and consumers of the item.

Stella Jean wax prints collection 2012

Growing up in a Nigerian-American household I always had access to plenty of wax print cloth and sewn outfits, but I generally reserved these for special occasion where other West African families were gathered. As I got older and started developing my personal style, however, I began experiementing with combining the fabrics with jeans, tees, and other run-of-the-mill American fashions.

I love how Stella Jean puts the clothes in context for customers without watering down the style.

wax-resist-dyed on cotton cloth

“Wax prints were produced across Europe and exported to Africa, with African Customers driving the trade. Since the 1960s factories have been established in Ghana and other African countries from Senegal to the Congo. Today, all of the European factories have closed down, except Vlisco in the Netherlands. The Manchester-based factory ABC (Arthur Brunnschweiler and Company) transferred its UK production recently to a sister company in Ghana. However ABC designers in Manchester continue to create patterns for the African wax print factories and visit local markets to gain inspiration and market feedback.”

via britishmuseum.org

Gold print fabric

“When a design in metallic ink is rolled over the top of a printed or solid colored fabric a GOLD PRINT is the result. Sometimes the gold design is tied in with the images or design on the cloth, sometimes not.”

via africanfabriclady.com

Vogue China

Here we see a wax-like print layered with two other prints. The trend arose during a more general trend toward heavy use of graphic prints and other “ethnic” textiles.

women in Central African Republic

Not all of the prints show here are wax prints, but they demonstrate well the variety of color and pattern that’s common to the aesthetic in this part of the world.

Selfridges Nigerian Fashion Christmas Window

“Selfridges just launched a pop-up store that presents some of the top Nigerian designers. The pop-up store is organized by Ndani, a Nigerian Fashion Project to showcase the best of Lagos Fashion and Design Week.

5 top designers are presenting their clothes and accessories: Jewel by Lisa, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, Eki Orleans, Odio Mimonet and Tiffany Amber.”

via africanprintinfashion.com

eightyjane created African Wax Prints
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