April 2, 2005
No, it's not like a bikini wax... and it's nothing like a Brazilian wax. Dutch wax is the expensive version of colorful African cloth. If you've been in West Africa, you know "wax" fabric well. It's in every market and adorning many women and men, particularly at special occasions. "Wax" refers to the manufacturing process, not the texture of the fabric.
Yesterday Mr. Van Damme (unfortunately it wasn't Claude) gave me a tour of the Ghana Textile Printing (GTP) factory in Tema, where the Dutch set up business in 1966 to produce wax cloth. They don't let people in often, and definitely not cameras, and as we were walking through the factory filming, he murmured "We rarely do this".
"I know," I replied. "Why now?"
"I don't know!"
We laughed, and I think he figured he was too far in to have second thoughts, so we proceeded with the tour.
We weren't allowed to film certain parts of the fabric waxing and dyeing process, because there are apparently proprietary techniques involved.
I've bought my share of wax fabric in Africa, but until my tour, I didn't have any inkling of how labor-intensive it is to produce it.
There are something like 27 steps in the process of getting from white cloth to the brightly printed cloth. The first color on the cloth is printed, but subesequent colors are added by hand-blocking, which is astounding when you think of the millions of yards of wax produced in GTP's factories alone. The training process for hand-blocking color onto the fabric is 7 months, full time. Mr. Van Damme says they pay the blockers well, and jobs in the factory are prized. The blockers are all men, and they are all buff.
The company has its own cloth designers, who have come up with countless print designs. Before it is made public, each design is copyrighted and theoretically protected for fifteen years. In reality, the designs are copied within weeks of going public.
GTP and its parent Dutch company, Vlisco, are facing decreasing demand as Ghanaians opt more and more for Western dress. Vlisco/GTP is also facing crushing competition from the Chinese, who are actually copying GTP's designs, slapping a facsimilie of GTP's label on the cloth and selling it at half the price. They produce their knock-off textiles by machine, and the quality is much lower, but it's impossible to tell until after you've washed it a couple times. I was stunned when Mr. Van Damme told me that they estimate somewhere around 60% of the GTP cloth being sold in markets in Ghana today is not the genuine article, but rather Chinese copies.
Posted by Cathryn Poff at April 2, 2005 5:08 PM
This fabric is gorgeous! I checked out your links-they are fascinating. The process is so complex - let's hope Ghanians never lose this company with its very special fabric. It would be great if a contemporary clothing designer, here in the USA, could use this fabric in summer/spring clothing.
Posted by: Nikki at April 3, 2005 1:22 AM