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Dutch Company is Huge in the Fabric of Africa

Dutch Company is Huge in the Fabric of Africa

From Holland to London to African itself, Dutch “wax” print fabric manufacturer Vlisco is proving African fashion.

The vibrant fabric lines of bold designs and energetic hues evoke both Africa’s heritage and a 21st century consciousness, according to an article in Business of Fashion.

A large part of Vlisco’s success is its knowledge of how African fashion works, the report said. Rather than being driven by trends as is the norm in other countries, African fashion is absent of trends. It is, instead, individualistic.

African women have always purchased the fabric that pleased them, and asked their tailors to make the clothing according to their individual style. While in other countries, such custom-made clothing would be considered exorbitantly expensive, in Africa the opposite is true. Goods such as fabric make up most of the expense, while labor is cheap.

And African women are happy to pay the prices for Vlisco fabric. In the Brixton neighborhood of London, which has a large African population, the colorful Vlisco fabric is sold in the African Queen Fabrics shop. Women buy up their favorites and have them made into clothing for themselves or gifts, or just to collect.

“Every Ghanaian woman of my mother’s generation collected hundreds of these fabrics,” said British designer Ozwald Boateng. “My mother literally had a room packed with these cloths.”

The majority of Vlisco’s sales, however – more than 90 percent – come from Africa, primarily Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Most fabric sales are made to wholesalers, who sell to market traders, who sell the fabrics in the open air markets. Working with locals, Vlisco has first-hand knowledge of the most popular areas and where new areas are likely to open up.


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The company manufactures four brands of cloth: a high-end line that is made in Holland and sells for about $9 per yard, and three mid-range lines that are made in Africa and sell for about $6 per yard. By contrast, an inferior Chinese wax print cloth sells for $2 per yard.

Vlisco was bought by British equity firm Actis Capital in 2010. Its CEO, Hans Ouwendijk, said the company’s goal is to increase efficiency in its current markets and expand to areas such as Senegal, Mali and other high-growth areas around Nigeria.

“Out of the top 10 fastest growing countries in the world, seven are African,” Ouwendijk said. “It’s going to be a very interesting market.”