Creativity… transmission… trends: the creeds of the Afrikalab boutique in rue des Grottes in Geneva are tagged on the wall. In their stall, beauty products, spices and specialties sit alongside loincloths, kimonos for some in wax, this fabric with floral, animal or geometric patterns that has become one of Africa’s new calling cards.
Five percent is the proportion of wax fabric manufacturing that manages to maintain itself on the continent, against 95% of “made in Asia”. It is on this 5% that Caroline and Perrine, the two managers of the Afrikalab boutique and founders of the WaxUp Africa collective, have decided to bet. Caroline has been passionate about fabrics for twenty years and Perrine, a Franco-Cameroonian mestizo, seeks to pay tribute in action to all that the continent has brought her. Their slogans: defend “made in Africa” and “buy conscious”.
The impulse of Beyoncé or Rihanna
WaxUp Africa (WUA) was conceived in 2013 not only as a collective but also as a movement. It brings together 15 active members and 50 supporters, manages an internet platform, is present in major French-speaking festivals, offers its ready-to-wear collections, produces accessories for ethical companies, has provided the city of Geneva with the fabric that allowed migrants to make homemade masks at the start of the pandemic. Perrine also leads workshops on textiles and the team coordinates meetings and awareness-raising activities on Africa to convey a “different vision than the catastrophic one generally conveyed in schools and the media”.
About ten years ago, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Alicia Keys and others began to appear with clothes or accessories in wax. Agnès B, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney or Victor & Rolf: the big brands were the first to spot the trend and to integrate wax into some of their collections. One thing led to another, African designers are entering Fashion Weeks and stores. For Vincent Jacquemet, founder of Afrodyssée, a market (and fashion show) devoted to African fashion which has been held every spring in Geneva since 2015, “even if industrialization is still problematic, there is potential, which goes well beyond wax ”.
It is indeed the concern, the wax, today in the hands of the Chinese, was yesterday in those of the Dutch factories which produced these loincloths intended for the African market on fabrics inspired by Indonesia … Undoubtedly one of the reasons why some African designers of the new generation have returned to their place of origin for inspiration. “Each ethnic group has several different clothes and weaving techniques. This heritage is a huge reservoir. Current designers are taking the African dress out of folklore to make it a luxury product, ”summarizes the young Ivorian-Swiss entrepreneur.
The wax is pan-African, unifying and allows anyone to identify with it regardless of their place of origin.
Imane Ayissi, Cameroonian designer, won the holy grail by being a guest for several seasons in haute couture fashion shows. This former model and dancer does not like wax and its colonialist hints. He prefers the kente of the Akan population or other traditional materials that he places “at the same level of excellence as Western fabrics”, as the anthropologist specializing in textiles and African fashion Anne Grosfilley observes.
Author of several books on the subject, she continues at the end of the line: “Wax is not an African fabric strictly speaking, so it is not sacred either like most other traditional fabrics. Which means you can do whatever you want with it. It is pan-African, unifying and allows anyone to identify with it regardless of their place of origin. ”
A future sewn with African thread
In the Afrikalab concept store which offers the work of more than 56 designers as well as delicatessen, jewelry, cosmetics and home design, the clientele is mainly female, Afro-descendant or passionate about Africa. But the imprint of wax patterns in our company is not confined to specialist shops. Consumers who are less sensitive to questions of traceability and ethical trade have inevitably seen one or the other of the characteristic designs of the wax during a Naf Naf collection or Body Shop products.
Anne Grosfilley hopes that the wax will be the first sign of “a craze for other African fabrics”. The specialist advised Dior for its 2020 collection where the brand’s Toile de Jouy patterns dialogued with those of wax in compositions made by African designers. She explains: “Whether they are designers or photographers, the creators of this new generation allow Africans to define African identity. It is no longer the eyes of the European that determines what is beautiful. ”
Young people from the continent as well as from the diaspora have well understood the identity strength of these new clothes. And Westerners are also familiarizing themselves with these new aesthetic standards which they adopt and adapt to their tastes.