Article: The trade in African fabrics is as international as it is old. While some may think these vibrant fabrics have their history rooted in the African continent, they may be surprised to know that the originators of these fabrics come from a long way away from Africa. About 14 000 km east to be precise.
It’s in Indonesia that this type of dying technique known as wax print was first discovered by the Dutch. Being a very trade-focused nation, these fabrics eventually ended up in Africa where they were a huge success. The process of applying dye-repellent wax to the fabrics and then plunging them in dyes evolved from this Indonesian technique but was then replicated greatly in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.
In a rather interesting turn of events, it seems that African fabrics are today shifiting back to Asia. The handmade craft manufacturers in Africa have had to compete with the industrial giants in India and especially China, which is now supplying an increasing part of the market.
The Dutch are still leading in terms of dictating designs, fashions and patterns, which is the icing on top of this multinational and multicolor global cake.
We followed Chinese manufacturer of African fabrics African Premier for 1 week to see how they are operating their whole trading process when they are so distant from the main market.
African Premier is a small company, but like the general sector, it covers a lot of ground. The factory is located in Shandong province in North China, while their office is in Shanghai. They also have a shop in the UK which oversees most of the European business for them, and a shop in Lome, Togo which does the same as the London shop but for Africa this time.
This allows them to have a stable presence and contact with their target market, while at the same time benefitting from the labor costs and flexibility of working in China, and they have been doing this since 1999. This arrangement allows them to offer the best prices, the best choice and the finest quality of African fabrics. From wax prints to lace, handbags to wigs, they have developed a strong and returning customer base of end consumers as well as retailers who just place their order so easily on line, and then receive the products just a few days after.
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