google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html The history of African Wax Fabric | Kingdom of Africa



Posted by Florian Cheval on


Wax is known for its bright colors and bold patterns. We take a closer look at the origin of this fabric and the stories behind its prints.


When we think of wax fabric , a myriad of striking patterns and palettes come to mind. But today, you'll discover a complex narrative, with layers upon layers of stories woven into each piece. Although often referred to as " African Wax Fabric ", this style of textile actually originated in Indonesia (or the Dutch East Indies, as it was known during European colonial times) in the form of fabrics Indonesian batik (traditional)

The Batik technique is an ancient and very decorative art which consists of dyeing fabrics with wax resistance. The designs vary depending on the region, the occasion on which they are worn, and their meanings to the wearer. Many colors come from natural ingredients.

Wax fabric pattern

According to Anne Grosfilley in her book, African Wax Print Textiles (Prestel Publishing), during the Dutch colonization of Indonesia in the early 19th century, they began to reproduce local fabrics in batik using machines: " The Dutch developed an ambitious industrial and commercial strategy to maximize profits in the Asian market... [they] began to compete with artisanal batik production ."

Production of Dutch wax during the colonial era


Although sales of these fabrics were not very successful, due to "veins" seen as imperfections in the printing process, West African soldiers Serving under the Royal Netherlands East India Army would have brought these fabrics home as gifts for their families. It was the start of a huge success.

European manufacturers then noticed the popularity of these prints in West Africa , in part thanks to the missionaries working there at the time. One such trader, a Scotsman named Ebenezer Brown Fleming, saw an opportunity and began importing these decorative fabrics from Holland for this new market.


Wax fabrics have continued to be incredibly popular, being bought and sold across many African countries (Mainly Benin, Senegal and Ivory Coast ), alongside traditional textiles products in each region such as Bologan , the Kilim and the Kenté . When European colonialism finally "ended" in the 1960s, the continent's new found freedom made waxwork a symbol of African independence and identity.


THE African traders were mostly women - most of them from humble beginnings. These african women have been an important driving force in the industry. Through their hard work, they helped establish the strong and thriving wax fabric market we know today, while establishing loyal relationships with their customers.

African wax dress

And that's the beauty of these textiles: their popularity was not just due to their aesthetic appeal - the designs formed symbols, and messages and stories were also woven into the fibers by the women who sold them or wore them.

Many different designs and patterns (usually the older ones) have meaning and are often named after sayings, personalities or occasions, ” confirms Adaku Parker, lawyer and owner of the online wax print fabric store, Dovetail. "Essentially, fabric, through designs and patterns, tells a story. Many designs still worn today date back to the 19th century during the time of our ancestors, making them classic designs. One of these designs, and one of my favorites, is the “Nsu Bra”.


This is a common pattern that most people are familiar with. Ghanaians call this fabric Nsu Bura (or Nsu Bra), which comes from the (Akan) Twi language in present-day Ghana and means "good". The tiny dots, which are spiral-shaped, resemble the ripples made in a well after a stone has fallen into it.”


If you've never sewn with wax prints before, the fabric can be used to make everything from clothing, bags and upholstery, as Cameroonian seamstress Anita Bosso explains for Kingdom of Africa : " I love bright, vibrant colors. The structured nature of this fabric makes it a dream to sew ." Below is our collection of best african dresses online

African wax fabric dress - wax patterns

The care instructions are simple, as she tells us: " The fabric has an e rigid and shiny finish. Pre-wash the fabric on a cool cloth and the finish will wash away, leaving the bright, vibrant colors intact. And there's no need to worry about shine longevity: Colors won't fade, even after years of washing and wear. Don't worry too much about straight thread or cross thread when using the fabric for making clothes. Instead, decide the direction you want your drawing to take and follow the thread of your choice ."

Bosso said she "to start selling the fabric by chance" . A lawyer since 2001, it was during her maternity leave in 2016 that she took evening classes in sewing, tailoring, African fashion and pattern cutting, finally starting to sell fabric in 2017.

One of the wonderful things I learned is that maybe my career change wasn't an accident at all ,” she tells us. “ Turns out there’s a history of sewing, teaching and selling fabric in my family .”

African wax fabric pattern - African women's dress

Bosso's maternal grandmother was a seamstress who owned a sewing school in Nigeria, and her paternal grandmother sold fabric in northern Cameroon. "I never really knew any of these women, but I can only imagine that they were amazing, having no less than 15 children between them. It gives a whole different meaning to the expression "mother who works"", she said, laughing. "I really feel like I'm taking over, even though we're separated by time and continents. The stories continue to be told through fabric."


Some of the stories hidden in some of the classic drawings of wax printed fabrics .


In Nigeria, the circular design was reminiscent of vinyl records. " Here I am wearing this design - it's probably my best brand yet. I matched the designs on the front panels, back panels and center pockets.
My mother calls this design "record" and every time she talks about it her eyes light up. I can see that the fabric takes it back to a time when vinyl was very present and this bright fabric would probably have been an avant-garde design at that time,” says Adaku Parker, founder of Dovetail

chic african dress


According to the website of Vlisco , this drawing represents the archetype of the African family: "At the center is the maternal figure, the hen, surrounded by her chicks and future chicks, the eggs. This clearly indicates the central role of the woman within the family."


As Salomey Gyamfi explains to Aiwan Obinyan in her brand new documentary film Wax Print: From the Cradle to the Grave : "The story we know, as told in the past, is that if your husband is cheating on you and you are afraid to talk to him, then you will buy this design and wear it. By wearing it, you are then indirectly telling your husband that he has been ungrateful to you .

african fabric butterfly pattern - aficaine dress

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