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Did You Know? A History of African Wax Fabrics - Part I

Posted by Patrick Accomando on


As we continue to develop our brand and product line, we find ourselves being drawn closer to the beauty of African Wax Fabrics.  But what exactly are African Wax Fabrics?  Where do they come from and what makes them so special? Below is Part 1:  A brief history of African Wax Fabrics.  Part 2 will follow next week with an amazing story of how these fabrics are deeply rooted within the EKZO family and a summary of why we choose to incorporate these into so many of our products!

The term African Wax Fabrics is used when referring to a category of 100% cotton textiles that are vibrant in pattern and color created from a specific method of dying called "wax-resist".  Wax is melted and then patterned across a blank cloth.  From there, the cloth is soaked in dye, which is prevented from covering the entire cloth by the wax. If additional colors are required, the wax-and-soak process is repeated with new patterns.  

Although heavily embraced and used in African heritage, these fabrics actually originated in Europe in the mid 1800's.  They drew inspiration from Batik, now more commonly referred to as Ankara.  Batik originated in China and India in the 8th century, and it was refined in 13th-century Indonesia with the development of a new tool for applying hot wax to fabric known as canting.  During this time, Indonesia was still part of the Netherlands, know as the Dutch East Indies. 

Fast forward to the 1800's, new roller printing technology had recently been invented.  This technology greatly enhanced many facets of the printing world, and was the catalyst that launched the commercialization of African Wax Fabric.  By utilizing this new technology, the first known examples of wax fabrics were created in Belgium and the Netherlands.  These pioneers were able to recreate the effects of Batik while greatly reducing the intensive labor that was previously needed.  Unfortunately, the excitement and success oft these new fabrics was short lived when slight inconsistencies, known as "crackle", were routinely noticed from dye leaking under the wax.  Ironically, this same effect is what now makes many African Wax Fabrics so unique and in some cases very valuable. 

As demand decreased in Europe and the Dutch East Indies, others took note of these new fabrics, especially Ghana, what was then referred to as "The Gold Coast".  Ghanian soldiers were exposed to Batik while serving in the Dutch East Indies and were not bothered by the minor crackle found in these new wax fabrics.  The nation quickly embraced these wax fabrics and a new market was born.  

Through the 1900's, wax fabrics soared in popularity and grew to become a symbol of the rich culture and heritage of Africa.  Today, they continue to represent African culture through their unique motifs, vibrant colors, and beautiful design.  The global African Wax Fabric industry is estimated to be over 5 billion dollars annually.  Needless to say, the appreciation for these amazing fabrics in widespread and stronger than ever. 

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Tune in next week for an amazing story of African Wax Fabric deep within EKZO's roots.  From the Congo to Belgium and now right here in San Diego!

Have a great weekend and don't forget to #livekzotic! 🌴

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