Sunday, September 26, 2021

BBC features Ghana's wax prints

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has featured Ghana’s wax prints in its Friday’s edition.
Dubbed; Wax Print: Africa’s pride or Colonial Legacy?, the article touches on the history of African prints, its origination, and races that patronise and/or have made the African print their own.
In Ghana, the African print, which we grew up to meet were the pride of our parents, especially our mothers and grand mothers while the youth mostly paid attention to ‘already made’ clothes.

One could not decipher the youth’s reluctance in wearing made in Ghana clothes especially the ones made with African Print, despite being of good quality, suitable for the African weather, its colourful nature, affordability amongst others.
In contemporary times, wearing of African print is no more a thing for ‘mothers and grandmothers’ especially at a time when ‘Wear Made in Ghana’ has widely been advocated for in Ghana.

Before, Ghanaians mostly wore it to church, then they started using if for their Friday wear, specifically for work, but with time, the African Print is being worn irrespective of the day or occasion.
Patrons use it for work, parties, fashion shows, weddings, church and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, the textile industry in Ghana has been hit with a lot of challenges including high cost of production, lack of machines, external interference which has led to the close down of a few; a situation that has made patrons resort to imported wax prints.

According to the BBC feature, written and researched by Clare Spencer, “Fridays are the day to wear “African print” outfits in Ghanaian offices, yet some designers are boycotting such fabrics – arguing they are not actually African.”

The feature argues that,”The history behind the designs is complex – and involves several continents.”

The feature noted that,”The government’s campaign to get people into national dress on Fridays started in 2004 to support the local textile industry, yet a lot of the fabric worn is not made by African firms.”

The writer points that although most Ghanaians believe the African Print is Ghanaian originated, they mostly buy the ones made by a Chinesse brand, Hitarget, with the reason that it is cheaper.

“Mr Appiah-Dolphyne bought his fabric from Ghana Textiles Printing (GTP), which, despite its name, is owned by Dutch company Vlisco – which also designed the print. He was shocked when I told him that it was Dutchman Piet Snel who had created it in 1936 for Vlisco,” the Writer noted.
“It was designed in Europe? That’s news to me. I thought it was designed in Ghana. It’s sad to hear. We can easily design clothes, so why not do it?” These sentiments are shared by Ghanaian designer Nana Kwame Adusei.
The writer added that,”He refuses to use African wax prints, as they are known, for his ready-to-wear clothing brand Ćharlotte Prive, saying they are a legacy of colonialism.”
“The wax print companies have been making money for 170 years and the money doesn’t come back to us.”

The Article also reveals the real producers of the famous African Print brands, establishing that most of them are rather made by foreigners and imported in Ghana, hence the “Made in Ghana cloths” cliche a faux.

“The first batch of machine-made batiks was exported from Holland to the Dutch East Indies in around 1850, writes anthropologist Anne Grosfilley in African Wax Print Textiles. But it was a flop and the fabric sold at a loss,” the writer noted.

“In 1893, more than 20 years after the batik exports to the Dutch East Indies had ended, Scottish businessman Ebenezer Brown Fleming delivered the first cargo of Dutch industrial batiks to the Gold Coast,” it was written.

“By 1907, Brown Fleming had started commissioning English printers to make wax print too.,”

The Writer also added that,”The missionaries were thrilled as they were on a mission, literally, to teach women to sew and use these skills to earn an income – and promote a modest dress code at the same time.”

“That legacy still lives on – walking down an average street in a typical Accra neighbourhood there is a tailor every few shops. Markets today even sell some of Brown Fleming’s very first patterns, including one design sometimes called “skin” or “house marbles”.
The above are just few stories to indicate the origination of African print, which has been mostly worn by Ghanaians and other Africans.

Although the truth is sad to know, it behoves on the government to revamp the local brands, ensure its affordability and stop the importation of Chinesse made wax print to enable the local industry grow especially when its patronage is high.

Photography by Ben Bond, Clare Spencer and Phil Coomes

Archive pictures from DexTee Studios, The Trustees of the British Museum and Vlisco Archive

Ghana|| Porcia Oforiwaa Ofori

Writers email: [email protected]

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