Friday, 10 January 2014

Know Your Wax

Wax Prints at a store in Tamale, Ghana

When purchasing wax print fabric here in Dakar it can be hard to really know where the fabric you find in the big markets comes from and who was responsible for its design and its production. Often the fabric sellers won’t be too sure themselves, and some prefer to feign ignorance when the wax they sell is foreign, out of worry their customers won’t pay a decent price if they know the fabric is made in India or China. Adding to this, most people I’ve spoken to here just don’t know where the wax they wear comes from - in the same way that I couldn’t tell you where my Cue shirt was produced, or where the cotton used to make it was grown and manufactured.

Whilst I can’t tell you where the cotton for every wax print I bought came from, I want to share with you what I’ve learnt since being here in Senegal about the different wax prints that are available and particularly those that are used in Madame Tây garments. Most of this information I learnt from talking informally with a few Senegalese textile industry professionals who import textiles into Senegal. For a country whose second main export is cotton, there is an incredible amount of importation of textiles – mainly from Asian countries. This is due to the lack of processing plants in Senegal to turn the cotton they grow into thread or fabric. When I’ve asked any of the Senegalese designers or tailors I’ve met here why such processing factories don’t exist, they have all thrown up their hands in exasperation and been unable to answer! 

When you purchase a Madame Tây piece from Senegal, please don’t hesitate to ask us for more information about the fabric – we’ll be happy to share with you what we know!

Read more after the jump


SOTIBA-SIMPAFRIC
 Societe de Teinture, Blanchiment, Aprets et d’Impressions Africaines (Senegal, Dakar)


Created in 1951 in Senegal, SOTIBA-SIMPAFRIC was one of the leading manufacturers of African textiles and produced over 30 million metres of fabric each year. The closure of SOTIBA’s factory in Dakar follows the overwhelming presence of counterfeit wax print – often of Chinese or Indian origin, which, due to its low price has overtaken the wax print industry in West Africa over the past ten years. Since SOTIBA’s closure, no other Senegalese-based companies have emerged meaning there is a huge gap in the market for locally produced wax-print textiles which remain ever popular. Considering that cotton is Senegal’s second largest export, after groundnuts, it is a real shame there hasn’t been a correlation between this readily available crop and the consumer-fuelled desire for wax print fabric.

 In 2013, SODEFITEX, la Société de Développement et des Fibres Textiles or Textile Fibres Development Corporation of Senegal has estimated the production of cotton this year will be upwards of 35,000 tons (imagine how many reels of beautiful wax print you could make with 35,000 tons of cotton!).


Despite SOTIBA being closed for a few years now, you can still find bolts of their fabric in stores and markets all over Senegal. Their wax print is very stylistic, and typically features ‘african’ scenes with plenty of djembes, African warriors and mud huts – needless to say, SOTIBA’s target market were not Senegalese, but the foreign tourists that stream into Senegal each year, namely to visit the country’s beautiful beaches and historical sites.


UNIWAX

Uniwax was established in 1968 by a deal with the Ivorian government and Unilever PLC of the UK and Gamma Holding of Holland with the aim of locally producing wax print designed to satisfy local demand in Cote d’Ivoire. By 1970, Dutch company Vlisco came on-board to provide technical assistance and the brand was officially launched shortly after. Uniwax is now part of Vlisco Group (and therefore Dutch-owned) which also includes GTP and Woodin in Ghana.



In the early 2000s, Uniwax suffered financial loss due to the unstable political climate of Cote d’Ivoire, coupled with the growing problem of fraud and counterfeiting wax print. Since then, they have focused on working closely with the Ivorian government to prevent importation of counterfeit fabric, as well as implementing creative and innovative strategies to fight against fraud. Currently Uniwax is the only company that manufactures and sells ‘real’ Ivorian wax, and is known and appreciated for their quality. Uniwax is also known for its unique range of monochrome wax which, unlike the wax block prints, undergoes no additional treatment after the application of its colour dye base – making really beautiful, tonal patterns.

GTP

Formerly known as Ghana Textile Printing Company, GTP was established in 1966 in cooperation between the State of Ghana, Unilever PLC of the UK and Gamma Holding of Holland. With changing governments in Ghana, including a few military regimes, the management structure of GTP changed significantly in the 1980s and 1990s, but remained based in Ghana. In 2000, GTP were producing 16 million yards of wax print annually. Similarly to other wax print manfacturers in the region, the company struggled to compete with foreign imports of cheaper wax and thus by 2006, their production was down to 7.5 million yards annually. This prompted the company to implement measures to fight against fraud and piracy which has resulted in an increase in production with GTP producing between 18 – 20 million yards annually since 2008.


GTP, as part of the Vlisco Group, was acquired by UK-based ACtis in 2010 and is now run under the name Texstyles Ghana Ltd (TSG) which manufactures the products and Premium African Textiles Ltd (PAT) which designs, distributes, sells and markets the products. With its factory based in Tema, just outside Ghana’s capital Accra, GTP remains one of the only wax prints manufactured in West Africa.




We were really happy to be able to include a few garments made from GTP fabrics in Madame Tây’s first production lot. Look out for Hirondelle and this great yellow, blue and pink diamond print GTP fabrics in limited-edition pieces.

HITARGET


Hitarget is a Chinese-owned and based industrial textile company. They are known for reproducing popular wax print motifs and patterns, often copying well known designs from Dutch wax producers Vlisco. A lack of textile IP regulations means that this form of copyright breach is hard to control and therefore you can find Hitarget fabrics at almost any market in West Africa. At Marche Sandaga I was surprised to see ‘High Target’ – an imitation of imitation!

Hitarget Tag Credit: http://africanlookbook.com

From a factory in Guangdong province in South Eastern China, Hitarget produces a range of textile products and runs a complete industrial chain – from cotton spinning, to cotton fabrication, dying and printing, Hitarget runs the whole gamut. This in part is why its wax print retails for two or three times less than other brands of wax print, including African produced brands like GTP or Uniwax.

Piles of Hitarget Credit: www.alivefabrics.files.wordpress.com

What's interesting about Hitarget is the economic and social dilemmas the brand’s growing presence in West Africa presents. In a country like Senegal where wax is seen as every day wear, the consumers who tend to purchase wax aren’t interested in investment pieces like Vlisco, instead they tend to prefer brands like Hitarget because of it's affordability. As such, Hitarget makes wax print much more accessible to West African consumers, many of whom couldn’t afford the high prices of Dutch wax. In countries such as Senegal, where wax is given less social value, consumers often don’t have a middle-ground choice as it is difficult to source the more reasonably priced African-made brands such as GTP.

Whilst the presence and popularity of imported brands such as Hitarget have posed problems for locally produced brands such as GTP or Uniwax, if cheaper alternatives such as Hitarget didn’t exist, a large section of the Senegalese population would be unable to access affordable wax print.

Does that make it OK that cheaper Asian-imported wax is threatening the existence of African-produced wax print manufacturers? I’m not sure, and in my experience it depends who you ask – but it sure is an interesting subject. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

For an in-depth look at the history of wax print in Africa, and a really interesting discussion about the worth of wax in different West African countries and how counterfeit fabrics affect this, I'd recommend reading this article by Jumoke Warritay on African Lookbook: http://africanlookbook.com/blogs/african-lookbook-1/7740111-borrowed-ideas-wax-print

21 comments:

  1. I'm so sad of the closure just broke my old pants and want to buy new identical one!

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  2. This article deserves awards. From the on set of my business I have demanded that my fabrics come from our factories with the creators being from the continent. The turn over of our dollars into our hands was appalling to me and I refused to just be in the business of selling illusions to my customers. I wanted them to get an education and to know the difference in fabrics and what it meant to economies on the continent thank you thank you for saying it again with timeline and references

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  3. My mother has just brought me some Phoenix Hitarget fabric back from her holiday in Cape Verde, she would be disappointed to know that it was actually produced in China (I won't be telling her though!). My mother thought it was locally made which is why she bought it! Such a shame.

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  4. Thank you for this very helpful article. I've been researching copyright issues around wax-print and have struggled, so far, to find the kind of information I'm after. But I have a bit more direction after reading your article. Thank you!

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  5. Very interesting information. Thank you

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  6. Very interesting information. Thank you

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  7. I wish i had read this article earlier. I actually bought the high target 'immitation of immitation' like you rightly said from a large shop on Brown street in oshodi market in Lagos Nigeria.(they have this fake fabric in such large quantities!smh).I feel so sad because I thought I was buying d original hi target based on the pricing.It was only after i had shared the material to my family members that they drew my attention to that fact.I was even told that the actual price of the ones i bought should have been between 300-500 naira less.btw I bought 176yards in all as we are going to be using it as 'aso-ebi'for my grandma's burial next weekend.another painful part is that the seller was actually insisting on 2,300 naira per 6yrds but in the end agreed to 2000 naira as I was ordering a lot.though an immitation, the hi target fabric is still superior to the high target as can be seen from the texture and general outlook of the materials.so sad.

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  8. Thank you for this very helpful article and link. I am happy to hear that Africans are producing wax prints for themselves. Competition in the marketplace will always exist, but Africans must meet it. . .just like everyone else.

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  9. It's been a while since your last post. Do you have any updates and tips? Thank you for this insightful article I am learning more about fabrics

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  10. Well written and helpull!
    The history of cotton and textile industry is interesting.
    At Lisboa We find mostly Phoenix Hitarget sold by The meter.
    I once found Supreme Holland sold in 6 yards pieces.
    I have lots of fun making ecobags, toiletry bags, tablet cases, headties, etc. I always tell my customers it.s an affordable quality Fabric so they don.t get illusions.
    Check out mancheia.rustica.blogspot.pt for ideas!

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    Replies
    1. Where in Lisboa do you find fabric

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  11. Thank you so much for this information. I have always known hitarget was imitation. I always prefer veritable wax, or real dutch wax, they look good, and last longer.

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  12. Very informative. Thank you so much.

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  13. bottom line: the Chinese have the factories and the skillset to manufacture Italian, Scandinavian ('Dutch'), Swiss, Irish, German, Polish and everyone else's fabrics, including Americans buying plaids, ducks and leaves for quilts and clothing! So why wouldn't they take over the African textile market? They have taken over everyone else's long ago. That doesn't make the fabric less 'African' if you are buying it from an African who placed an order and brought a container over from China and then an African tailor made it, and it's sold in a shop owned by an African. Are we just going to be racist and say something is not 'African' because a Chinese factory produced the fabric? ijs let's be realistic about this China conversation. I am saddened that Senegalese companies had to close down but SELEGALESE were buying fabric from China instead of supporting their own. Just like in America, that's what happens when you don't support local business.

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  14. Hello everyone! Please help a sister out. I started selling these African fabrics and I have been researching where the real ones are coming from. I am king sadden by what i just find out. Please, I don't want sell people fake stuff.I can someone direct me where I can get real one and suggest which quality? Don't include VLISCO, I already find out about it.

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  15. I want to order for some how do I get the contact and how do I order?. I am in Nigeria

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  16. Very useful article getting to know more about African fabrics.However, African fabrics has a wonderful range of bold colors and designs.
    buy african ankara print
    sequin fabric african print wholesale

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  17. Do you recommend prewashing the real wax fabric before sewing with it?

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    Replies
    1. I want to know the same thing !

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