Vlisco's first contacts with the Netherlands East Indies date back to 1846. The factory's origins go back to the firm of textile printers and dyers Sutorius in Helmond, that was established in 1802. This business ran into difficulties in 1840, when the trading company Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij was no longer in a position to be their major customer. Therefore, in 1843, Sutorius sought to strengthen its financial position.
A rich Amsterdam merchant, Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen - Pieter I - came to the rescue. An agreement was entered into stating that his son - Pieter II -, aged 17 at the time, would eventually take over the company. The agreement spoke of a partnership. However, Pieter I died soon thereafter and, in 1846, Pieter II carried on Sutorius' business. He added several buildings to the factory and the company was renamed Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen & Co.
The Batik Association
In the initial period of the company, two of Pieter's uncles - Frits and Paul - played an important role.
Frits Fentener was a banker and owned a trading house in Batavia (present-day Jakarta). For most people, hand-made batik was extremely expensive. Frits Fentener sent his nephew small samples of batik from the Netherlands East Indies, to have them imitated in Helmond. After lengthy experiments, the Helmond factory succeeded in producing batik fabrics on an industrial footing. For the people in the East Indies, these fabrics served to replace the costly hand-dyed batiks produced locally.
Paul Fentener, the other uncle, was co-founder of Werkspoor, a manufacturer of rolling stock. He saw to the transport to and from the East Indies. This family cooperation became known as the Batik Association.
In 1873, Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen III took over the company. He played a very important part up to his death in 1927. Difficult market conditions forced him to shift the company's emphasis from the Asian and European markets to a number of other areas in the world, among which Africa.
In the 1920s, two of Pieter III's sons took over his work. Pieter IV concentrated on the European market, whereas his brother Jan became increasingly focused on the African market.