The beautiful fabrics manufactured by Dutch company Vlisco have been embraced by West Africa’s fashion industry for generations. The brand has become synonymous with West African culture and high-quality garments, an amazing achievement for a company that started out in a small textile town in Holland in the 19th century.
Vlisco started life in 1846 in Helmond, North Brabant, manufacturing hand-printed fabrics that resembled those produced by the Indonesian wax batik process. Using European industrial processes, the Vlisco textiles were manufactured much more quickly than their labour-intensive Indonesian counterparts.
They were sold, in the early days, along the trade routes of the Dutch East India Company, with prices often bartered during stop-overs in West Africa. It wasn’t long before Vlisco became a highly-prized fabric that was in great demand.
Over the decades, its intricate mix of bold colours and patterns, Far Eastern inspiration and the top-quality Dutch wax print fabric ensured its place as a popular part of culture and commerce in Africa. The various designs developed different symbolic meanings in different countries.
It was reported that in Togo, the market women selling the Dutch wax enjoyed such success that they became known locally as “Mama Benz”. This was because they earned enough money to buy the first Mercedes-Benz cars in the district!
In the present day, the continued popularity of Vlisco has transformed it into a fabric that’s popular for bespoke, made-to-measure garments favoured by tailors in Africa, where the company now generates 95% of its sales. In 2013, the company enjoyed a record turnover of $378.4 million. This represented a 61% increase on sales in 2009.
In addition to being sold online, many of Vlisco’s fabrics are still sold on open-air markets, while the company has 30 stores of its own and is expected to double that number during the next five years. The company attributes its success to listening to what consumers want, and changing and adapting with the times.