What are Dutch Wax Prints? They’re 100% cotton fabrics printed in bright colors with a technique that consists in applying wax resin on the fabric before submerging it in dye. Invented in the Netherlands in the 1800’s with the goal of mass reproducing Indonesian batiks, Dutch wax prints didn’t hit the mark in Indonesia because of their flawed prints. However, they found an unexpected market in the Gold Coast where their irregularities were seen as a asset, making the prints look more alive. Dutch wax prints then grew in popularity across West Africa, and evolved with patterns and colors designed to speak to this new audience.
Today, Dutch wax prints are an integral part of many African cultures. Their patterns even form a complex language, each one carrying meaning going from daily life to political expression.
Because of their particular printing process, authentic Dutch wax prints are rare and expensive (they are to this day mainly produced in the Netherlands and in Ghana). Most of the Dutch wax prints we know are actually fakes, mass produced in Asia and coated post-printing!
For a few years now, Dutch wax prints have been put in the spotlight by many designers. Met at first with a warm welcome in many French-African communities delighted to see these traditional fabrics get the fashion recognition they deserve (Kabibi Mag (FR), their use has been sometimes qualified of tone-deaf and insensitive, and now raises the question of cultural appropriation. “Do you have to be African to create African fashion? Not necessarily. But cultural heritage shouldn’t be obscured.” (Maze (FR)) A new generation of African-European designers is now working on reclaiming this cultural staple, too often reduced to folklore!
While the question of cultural appropriation is still a heated debate in the fashion world, the general agreement in the sewing community seems to be on creativity without borders! A must-read: this refreshing post by Oonaballoona encouraging seamstresses to go for it without guilt. And as CinderellaRidvan testifies: ” I will say that my ambuyas (grandmothers and aunties) are delighted to see my white friends wearing it, they say the everyone looks better in beautiful prints…”.
– African waxprints (Wikipedia)
– What is African Wax print fabric?
– The curious history of “tribal” prints (Slate)
– Stella McCartney Accused Of Cultural Appropriation For Using Ankara Prints In Her Spring Collection (Huffington Post)
– Le Wax et la Haute Couture, appropriation ou exercice de style ? (Kabibi)
– Wax mania : La mode occidentale s’empare de la culture africaine (Maze)
– Wax on, Wax off (Oonaballoona)