By Azuka Ogujiuba
Recently, Vlisco celebrated 170 years of textile printing history with a special exhibition in Helmond, its birthplace, and with celebrations to honour the African women, who have contributed to its long success.
Founded in 1846 by Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen, Vlisco adapted its original batik fabrics to the markets of West and Central Africa where the business grew with the help of input on local tastes from its trading partners.
The secret of Vlisco’s remarkable longevity lies in the nature of the wax printing process where the irregular removal of the wax results in every yard of printed cloth being slightly different from the next. The differences are subtle but recognisable to the millions of African women who are connoisseurs in African prints. Every competitor tries to copy Vlisco designs; none achieve the true, natural beauty of the wax process.
Vlisco’s prints are works of art and its designs are customised by its consumers to create their own style and to tell stories about their personalities.
The original African traders of Vlisco prints were the dynamic women called ‘Nana Benz’, named after their preferred choice of automobile, bought from the profits of their hard work and their trading skills.
The African consumers and traders have handed down their Vlisco fabric and the myths around the designs to their daughters and grand-daughters. Vlisco has asked eight of these women from six different countries to be the faces of the 2016 marketing campaign, including the world famous, Grammy winning, African singer, Angelique Kidjo. Vlisco is proud to honour these exceptional and inspirational women.
The exhibition in Helmond, called 1:1/UN a UN, opened on September 18th 2016 and highlighted the remarkable relationship between Helmond and Africa, between manufacturer and customer and between the Vlisco designs and the stories that are told around them. Alongside 1:1/UN a UN the Gemeentemuseum Helmond exhibited the work of the British/Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare MBE, who often uses Vlisco designs for his stunning art.
Helmond is still very much the heartbeat of Vlisco, where its factory dominates the town’s landscape and where its workers pass down their knowhow over the generations and where its priceless archive of designs also resides.
The Vlisco celebration demonstrates how, over these last 170 years, art has come together with industrial manufacturing, Helmond has come together with Africa. These are faces of some of the guests at the grand event.