Out Of Asia

Vlisco cloth with a design of Indonesian-style hairpins on a green ground, early 21st century. Vlisco cloth with a design of Indonesian-style hairpins on a green ground, early 21st century. TRC 2015.0416
Published in Out of Asia

8. VLISCO and Asian textiles

The Dutch company of Vlisco was founded in 1846 when Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen bought an existing textile printing factory in the town of Helmond. At that time the company was called P. Fentener van Vlissingen & Co. after its new owner.

The initial aim of the company was to produce and sell hand block-printed material within The Netherlands and elsewhere. Initially, they produced chintz style cloth and furnishing fabrics, as well as kerchiefs and bedspreads.

Following the invention of roller printing techniques to print designs on cloth in the late 18th century, and the further development of these techniques in the early 19th century, it became possible to reproduce a wide range of designs cheaply and in quantity.

The company soon changed from hand to machine printing and started to export imitation batiks to what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). These textiles were much cheaper than those that were produced locally, and eventually these imitations were banned from the East Indies. The company was then obliged to look for new markets for their goods.

Since the early 19th century, Dutch trading companies had been involved in selling hand-printed textiles in West Africa (some parts of which were a Dutch colony in the 19th century), including items produced by Fentener’s company. So it was a natural development for the company to start sending their roller printed batik-style cloth to this vast market.

In addition, many West Africans had served as soldiers in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and so were familiar with Indonesian batiks. Returning soldiers responded enthusiastically to the appearance of Indonesian-style batik designs in their home countries and so started a new trend in some West African markets.

In 1927 the company changed its name to Vlisco, a contraction of Vlissingen & Co., but by this time their printed cloth had become widely known as 'Dutch Wax' or 'Wax Hollandais', and these names were also adopted.

From 1963 onwards, all Vlisco fabrics had the text 'Guaranteed Dutch Wax Vlisco' stamped on the border. The company is still based in Helmond and is still producing roller printed textiles, both for the Asian and the West African markets.

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