Vlisco, a Dutch manufacturer of printed fabrics for West and Central Africa > Fabrics and prints

At first, the batik manufactured in Helmond served as a good alternative for the East Indies. However, this market became less and less attractive, on the one hand because of the invention of the tjap - a copper or wooden stamp with which a series of patterns could be printed quickly and at the same time - and on the other hand as a result of protectionist measures taken by the local authorities, which nullified the great price advantage offered by the Dutch imitation batiks. Therefore, Vlisco was forced to look for new markets.

From the East Indies to West Africa

Trade with West Africa started in 1876 when orders came in for wax block prints closely resembling the locally highly prized original batik fabrics, i.e. including the clear irregularities and crack lines.

Over the years, and especially since the last quarter of the twentieth century, styling took a different course and batik patterns are now rarely produced. They have been replaced by a vigorous, direct and striking style that is found nowhere else in wax block prints. Java prints and patterns in glue printing were also restyled.

Java prints

Originally, Java prints stood for imitation batik prints that were made without the use of wax blocks and displayed a much higher degree of perfection. By using many different dyes, Vlisco succeeded in creating a unique, vigorous and complete palette of colors giving the Java prints distinct characteristics. The styling applied to these prints is also most original, giving them a distinctly exotic look.

For a long period of time, Khanga were also manufactured in Helmond and exported to East Africa. Kangas are pieces of printed fabric with a border and a design in the middle, printed in primary colors on very thin fabric. They are no longer part of Vlisco's product range.

The European market

Next to prints for overseas markets, Vlisco used to manufacture large quantities of printed cotton and other textiles for the European market. The increasing share of imports from low-wage countries badly affected the Dutch textile industry and Vlisco ceased producing for Europe in 1981.

There is one exception, however. One ‘European' product is still very much in demand and is one of Vlisco's specialties: foulards, once used as handkerchiefs or worn around the neck or over the head, they are now a multipurpose piece of cloth. A small but stable range of these items is still printed in Helmond and sold on the Dutch market.

Examples from this collection Vlisco, a Dutch manufacturer of printed fabrics for West and Central Africa

View all images of this collection