DDW13: A Visit to Vlisco Textiles
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You might assume that Vlisco was a West African company selling to the Dutch, but in fact quite the opposite is true. Vlisco have been making traditional batik fabric in Holland since 1846, when Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen founded the company. Because genuine Indonesian batik was very labor-intensive and therefore expensive, he spotted an opportunity to automate the dyeing process to make the fabrics more affordable.


Combining Dutch craftsmanship with West and Central African fashion, taste and style, the fabrics were known colloquially as ‘Hollandais’ (from the French for ‘Dutch’) and have been sold by local vendors to wealthy Africans for more than a century.


Each design starts with a hand drawing (like the ones pictured above) by one Vlisco’s team of designers who might be based in Eindhoven, but who come from countries as diverse as Mexico, Cameroon, France, Britain and of course the Netherlands.


The designers might find their inspiration from Africa—whether it’s from landscapes, every day objects, traditional kente cloth or tribal art—but increasingly they are also drawing from international trends, Islamic geometrical patterns, modern music and pop art.


Creative Director Roger Gerards said: “A lot of our designs are named by our consumers. As soon as they’ve given names to them, they’ve adopted the product as their own, as if they have baptized it. We are the father making the product, but our consumers are the ones that name them—there is a huge emotional connection there.”


“The designers are so autonomous and free that we can make these bold designs that really differ from each other. They really inspire me. Pattern designs are the source for the whole brand, and how we communicate,” Roger said.


“We have a huge archive as a company and have collected archives from other companies too. We have Indonesian fabrics dating back to 1850,” says Roger. “But we’re on the verge of becoming a new Vlisco, and we’re giving a glimpse of that during Dutch Design Week. We’ve developed bags and scarves in Italy; a completely different collection from the current West African fabrics.”


“We’re certainly going global, which means we will be selling products worldwide—products other than just fabrics, products born of our unique design laboratory,” says Roger.


Our trip to Eindhoven was supported by

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.