Accepted Papers:

The color story: Making markets and standardization in the trade of a Euro-African textile  


Amah Edoh (MIT)

Paper Short Abstract:

Paper long abstract:

Dutch wax cloth, also known as African print cloth, has been designed by Dutch designers in Holland for West African markets since the late 19th century. Vlisco, the company that introduced Dutch wax to the region, standardized its prints' color combinations from the earliest days of trade; for instance, red-blue-gold is known within the company as "Igbo colors," while pink-gold is considered to be Congolese people's preferred color combination.

A new form of standardization is currently at play as the company seeks to create a brand identity for itself and broaden its markets beyond Africa, to European and American consumers. Since 2006, it has been launching four textile collections each year, each characterized by a theme and a "color story." The color combinations prescribed by this "color story" are uniformly applied to the images the company's designers create, leading to visually unified collections and marketing campaigns. This process of standardization is the scene of both harmonization and tension as the cloth moves along its trajectory from concept to design to printed cloth in market stalls and on bodies.

Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Holland and Togo, this paper considers the implications of this new standardization practice, "the color story," as Dutch wax designs move along their trajectory, from concept to consumption. How do actors at each node understand and engage with this standardization practice? What insights does the Dutch wax "color story" standardization yield about the relationship between designers, the corporation within which they operate, and users in the formation of European and African markets for Dutch wax cloth?

Panel F1
Solidarities and asymmetries in spaces of standardisation