How Dutch-made wax print fabric penetrated the African market.

The Dutch were unable to sell their machine-made wax fabric in Indonesia, where it was regarded as imperfect, while the bold, repeating, intricate motifs held little appeal in Europe. At the same time, the Dutch colonial army had enlisted Ghanaian soldiers to assist in quelling local uprisings in Indonesia. These soldiers took a liking to Indonesian batik and returned home with the fabric. Later, when Dutch traders brought machine-made wax print fabric to West Africa, it was immediately popular and soon adopted as a part of West African culture. Unlike Indonesians, West Africans regarded the crackles as unique and special rather than as imperfections. The West African fondness for the crackle effect is so pronounced that wax manufacturers today still program these imperfections into the printing process.

The Dutch made fabrics were so popular that the UK, Swiss, and French textile firms soon followed.  Whilst these firms sought out existing African designs that could be wax printed on cloth, those European firms, more latterly, also designed prints that were a nod to our more post-modernist world with prints that include umbrellas, radios, electric fans, mobile phones and cameras are often overlaid onto floral or other geometric shapes.


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