African wax fabric is a reflection of the African soul, culture, and color of west African people. African wax prints are omnipresent and common materials for clothing in Africa, especially in West Africa. They are industrially produced, colorful cotton cloths with batik printing. One feature of these materials is the lack of difference in the color intensity of the front and backside.
The wax fabric can be sorted into categories of quality due to the processes of manufacturing. Normally, the fabrics are sold in 12 yards as “full piece” or 6 yards as “half piece”. The colors comply with the local preferences of the customers. Mainly clothing for celebrations is made out of these. The wax prints are part of a nonverbal way of communication among African women, and hereby they carry their message out into the world. Some wax prints can be named after personalities, cities, buildings, sayings, or occasions. The producer, name of the product, and registration number of the design are printed on the selvage, protecting the design and allowing reading the quality of the fabric. The wax fabrics constitute capital goods for African women. Therefore, they are collected depending on the financial possibilities. The design of the wax print fabrics already has an influence on the international world of fashion and lifestyle. They are an inspirational source for designers and companies.
Making wax print truly African through Storytelling
African Prints have the ability to communicate. While they come from a combination of Javanese, Indian, Chinese, Arab, and European artistic traditions, they speak to people in the language of the shopkeeper. For you see, back then it was the sales artistry of the fabric store owner that could create a background and story to any print, localizing it to resonate with her customers’ beliefs, traditions, and desires. Today the customers give the designs their meaning.
For instance, a print of a fan that was designed in Holland can become representative of a fictional story that, when repeated enough, becomes true. It can become the tale of a hot, dry, dusty African night in which the two protagonists, a man, and a woman, eat, laugh, and dance until from exhaustion they fall asleep under a tree in each other’s arms, having shared the first of many wonderful nights together. Could the fan be representative of its wearer being in a happy relationship?
Instead of European mills making patterns that are ascribed meaning once they reach the shops in Africa for sale, to become more truly African the designs could purposefully be more reflective of sub-Saharan Africa’s culture. Breathing life into textiles and connecting them to hopes, dreams, politics, and everyday life is what gives them context and makes them stand out. Intentionally creating textiles that are reflective of these everyday topics, would allow fabrics to authentically reflect their communities instead of communities creating tales of how they are reflected in them.