It’s early in the morning in Accra and we have just been picked up from our hotel. We are with Roger Gerards, Creative Director for Vlisco, a fashion fabric brand whose colourful Dutch Wax textiles are worn across Central and West Africa. “I know you’ve seen our textiles being designed and produced in Europe; now I want to show you where the brand becomes part of women’s lives,” he says.
The driver navigates through Accra’s busy streets and drops us off outside Makola Market. “I’ll wait for you here,” he says, then adds, “Don’t mess with Makola Market. Go with the flow, give in or go under.”
“What does that mean?” I ask Roger, as we merge with the crowd of market goers.
“I think it means that it’s a big market and easy to get lost,” he replies, “but don’t worry, I’ve been here before.”
We head into a labyrinth of stalls piled with food, household goods and fabrics. We zigzag left and right until we see a small shop selling Vlisco’s distinctive Dutch Wax textiles. A woman is looking through the different designs.
“Once she finds one she likes, she’ll buy six yards of fabric – the standard length needed for a complete outfit – and ask a tailor to create a unique piece for her,” Roger tells us. “Vlisco is a fashion brand that can be completely customised.”
As we walk towards the shop, the woman wraps a turquoise bird-print design around herself. She looks in the shop’s small mirror and smiles. The shopkeeper gets out her scissors.
“Vlisco has many facets,” Roger says. “It all starts with our designers, artists working in their ateliers, imagining and creating. Then there are the people working in the production plant, in charge of producing a high-quality fabric. From there the product goes via our trade partner to the wholesalers and retailers and on to the end users in West Africa. The end users take the fabric to the tailors and transform it into customised fashion.”
We ask the shopkeeper about the fabric she just sold. “The bird design is called fortune,” she tells us. “If the woman wears a dress made from that fabric, it will bring her good fortune. She said she is applying for a new job, so she made a good choice!”
We leave the shop and turn right. “Isn’t that the way we came?” I ask. Anouk looks uncertain but Roger seems confident. We follow him down another narrow alley.
“Most of our customers are currently in West Africa but it is clear that there’s a market for Vlisco fabrics in other regions too. As part of our development, we want to open a centre of excellence in Accra where our African and European designers and brand, marketing, retail colleagues can exchange knowledge and inspiration,” he tells us, turning left again.
We stop to orientate ourselves. “Isn’t that the same shopkeeper we spoke to 20 minutes ago?” I ask, pointing to a lady in front of a textile shop. “And isn’t she standing in front of the same shop we visited 20 minutes ago?”
“I’m afraid you’re right. We’ve gone in a circle,” says Roger. “Let’s ask her for directions.”
“I’ll ask my son to show you back to your car. He’s only 10 years old but he’s Makola born and raised,” the shopkeeper says with a smile. “And we don’t want the good people of Vlisco to lose their way.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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Tags: Storytelling, CoolBrands, maarten schafer, anouk pappers, coolbrands global, coolbrands storytelling, global storytelling campaign, around the world in 80 brands, around the world, around the world in 80 days, 80 brands, hristina vasileva, coolbrands meeting vlisco, meeting vlisco, vlisco, vlisco the afro-european love brand, meeting roger gerards, roger gerards, dutch wax, love brand, meeting Patrick Liversain, Patrick, Liversain, roger, Gerards, Patrick Liversain, African textiles, Netherlands, Woodin, GTP, Uniwax, CoolBrands meeting Vlisco, Max van Lingen, Max, van Lingen
By Maarten Schäfer – By Maarten Schafer