#Burundi diaspora| Surprising Origin of African Prints
In recent years, African prints, with their bright colors and daring patterns, have gone mainstream. Young people everywhere with African origins are embracing the versatile styles, and wear it proudly thinking they are “representing” their roots. Even many American celebrities such as Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, and Rihanna have rocked the African print trend. But as beautiful as African print fashion is, Africans can’t really claim the rights to it unfortunately. Some will be shocked to learn that the the true origin of African prints is…Indonesia*!
In the 19th century, Indonesia ( called Dutch East Indies at the time) was the only country that used the technique of wax-resist dying to create bold and colorful patterns called “batik”. It is believed that the West African men fighting in the Dutch army (who knew?) are responsible for introducing the batik to their home countries. Since the uneven pattern didn’t particularly appeal to Indonesians, the Dutch turned to the African market who enthusiastically welcomed the textiles.
Production of wax print then moved to Holland. Today, the company Vlisco is the last European producer of wax print. You can learn more about it in this video:
It feels somewhat weird to watch a White male talking about African fashion. And what’s even more disturbing is that there seems to be no Africans involved in the production process even though they are the main customers! It’s quite infuriating really, considering all the profits they must be making.
So how come there aren’t any African manufacturer of wax print? Do we just enjoy giving our money away to former colonists? Hopefully, there will be an awakening as more people learn the truth about so-called “African prints.”
*Source: “The Curious History of “Tribal” Prints”: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/design/2012/03/african_fabric_where_do_tribal_prints_really_come_from_.html