One way we’re telling the story of refugees is by incorporating the textiles of various cultures in our products. That why we created a Pinterest Inspiration board featuring African wax print, particularly the fabrics used by the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbors, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

When we first started exploring African textiles, we were surprised to discover that wax print – a fabric that’s ubiquitous in Africa – doesn’t even originate from the continent! According to Slate, the wax print we associate with Africa started in the Dutch West Indies. When the Dutch brought West African slaves and mercenaries to work in their armies, they were introduced to the batik process of Indonesia. The West Africans brought the fabrics home with them, and this new fabric style gained popularity.

African Wax Print Placemats

Meanwhile, the always opportunistic Dutch were trying to perfect the process of creating cheaper wax prints to flood the West Indies with. The process they came up with was initially flawed, producing printing irregularities that didn’t fly in the Indies. But in Africa?

“In need of a market for the new textiles, the Dutch turned to West Africa. As it turned out, West Africans were actually partial to these imperfections: They appreciated the fact that no two bolts of cloth were identical. The West African fondness for this effect was so pronounced that Dutch wax manufacturers still program those imperfections into the printing process today, long after the actual mechanical limitation has been resolved.”

African Print Cuff Bracelets

Now the main producers of quality wax print are still based in the Netherlands. Our favorite brands are Julius Holland and Vlisco. The fabrics from these companies are woven with a high-thread count and uses dyes that don’t fade in the wash. There’s also plenty of cheaper wax fabric on the market, mostly manufactured in China. From what we’ve seen, the quality is a bit lower compared to its European counterpart. You don’t necessarily need to avoid it though. Some of the Chinese-produced fabrics are better than others and work great for making products that won’t be subject to frequent washings. We occasionally use Chinese-manufactured textiles for headbands and clutches.

Now on to the Pinterest African Print inspiration board! This board celebrates the beauty of wax print and showcases a wide variety of products that can be made using these textiles! We regularly update it, so check back to see new wax print inspiration.

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