As you’ll soon discover, just like our beauty products, our packaging also takes its inspiration from Africa. In fact, the idea behind their design comes from Wax, the colourful cotton fabric that’s become an emblem of Africa.
The origins of African Wax Prints
Today, it’s almost impossible to think of “wax” aka Dutch Wax Prints or Ankara without immediately thinking of Africa. But did you know this famous fabric actually originates from Indonesia where it’s better known as Batik?
This vibrant cotton treasure was brought to the shores of West Africa by Dutch traders in the 17th and 18th centuries. Until 1960, the Netherlands and the UK had the monopoly on this iconic stuff exporting wax around the world. Textile mills use the same technique as oilcloth, with the cotton fabric immersed in hot wax to protect its vibrant colours and its quality.
The development of the industry in Ghana and Guinea, as well as in other African countries, promoted the building of factories to produce pagne – another name for African Wax, especially the wrap-skirts and boults of fabric by the yard. The very finest wax is sold by the Mama-Benz. These businesswomen sell the fabric across the continent, taking their name from the Mercedes-Benz car brand, a synonym for their wealth.
What’s special about wax?
Covered in vivid icons and symbols, Wax is a fashion statement in every sense of the word. But wax has its own unwritten language too. For example, if a woman wears two pagnes, one on top of the other, it signifies that she is married. Conversely, if she is single, she’ll wear a knot on one side.
And it’s not just how you wear it; each sign or symbol carries a message too. For example, it can show that you’re a woman of means with statements like “My man can provide for me.”, making it a particularly popular gift from apologetic husbands. In short, there’s an almost infinite number of ways to express your feelings, your status and your relationships.
Wax and society
Wearing a pagne, wrap or kaftan also lets you express your political allegiances during elections. In fact, it’s not unusual to see wax printed with portraits of Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama, and there were even bags with Michelle Obama’s likeness which became popular during a visit to the continent by the First Lady.
Equally, the design might feature a logo, a favourite brand, or even denote your social class. Technological advancement and success can also be defined with prints of high-tech devices or luxury vehicles. And during major events, like marriages or funerals, it’s not uncommon to see entire families wearing the same design.
A new trend
For some years now, the production of this celebrated African fabric has really caught the world’s imagination. Young, up-and-coming fashion designers are creating whole lines dedicated to this vibrant fabric specially for the world’s most chic fashion weeks.
Even major fashion houses are adopting the style, with Louboutin, Zara and Asos using the fabric, with its intense colours and intricate designs in their collections. It’s also becoming à la mode in interior design, with cushions, baskets, easy chairs and armchairs covered with it.
And now museums are dedicating galleries to promoting African textiles in photographic and fashion exhibitions such as the UK’s Brighton Museum.