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Fishink from African Wax to Aduna Products

October 28, 2013

Fishinkblog 6667 Fishink Wax Designs 7

Creative people that I encounter and readers of my blog often ask me the question ” What did you do before Fishink ? ” so in a small attempt in answering this question, I’ve decided to share a little of the creative journey that has led me to where I am today.

Three years ago I was made redundant from a company who designed wax printed fabric for the African marketplace. I had been working there for about 12 years, and during that time, sadly the larger group who owned the company overseas had imploded, leaving behind, in the UK company a small studio of about 6 designers from a company who, in this country alone, had once employed about 500 workers.

Here’s an article from the Manchester Evening News from last year which explains a little more and here are some of my own designs that I created over the 12 years whilst working there.

Fishinkblog 6661 Fishink Wax Designs 1

The company created fabric which sold in London, USA, Holland, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Benin, and Togo to name but a few places. It was an amazing process to watch a design be printed. Firstly the fabric would be printed with the wax, using engraved metal rollers (with the designs that I created) that scooped up hot molten wax from a trough and placed it onto the fabric in all the areas (on the designs below for example) where the dark linear artwork didn’t appear, i.e. where the coloured areas are. The fabric would then travel through a number of indigo dye baths until the correct depth of shade was reached. The wax was used as a resist, because it literally resisted the indigo dye from reaching the original white cloth surface.

Fishinkblog 6665 Fishink Wax Designs 5

The fabric would then travel through various machinery and get twisted and scrunched in all manner of ways in order to crack the wax and release areas of previously unexposed fabric. These areas would next be printed with the first and second colours. The remaining wax would then be washed off and the last plain colour could then be printed with no wax effects showing in these areas.  Walking around the factory when the machines were in full service was both exciting and deafening at the same time. The factory felt like a cross between Heath Robinson and Willy Wonka, with a myriad of pipes running all over the place and with fizzing steam, thick gloopy dye and hot dripping fabric sitting in huge plastic containers on wheels, momentarily paused on it’s way from one process machine to the next.

Fishinkblog 6664 Fishink Wax Designs 4

Some of the more expensive fabric collections would then have coloured foil design adhered to the cloth, by first printing glue and then using a heat process to fix the foil onto the glue and therefore onto the surface of the cloth. The excess foil would then be peeled off and the surface of the fabric had an amazing shimmer and would catch the light. I can see why the product worked so well under the hot African sunshine.

Fishinkblog 6668 Fishink Wax Designs 8

It was really sad to see the demise of an industry happening around us. We had spent time out in Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin working with the designers who were based there and we were part of a huge global company that had once been a king amongst it’s countrymen. A familiar story with so much of the textile industry today and although six designers still work there, the original site has now been cleared for a new industry to take it’s place.

Fishinkblog 6663 Fishink Wax Designs 3

A lot of the products I worked with were specifically for the Ghanian marketplace. They have a huge wealth of historical symbols and meanings that are part of their heritage and would appear in old and traditional designs that their grand parents might have worn. Familiarity and recognition of shapes, colours and symbols would sometimes determine how well a design might sell in the marketplace. My work was to create new designs that looked traditional, I hoped I managed it.

Fishinkblog 6662 Fishink Wax Designs 2

During my time with this company and since, the designer Yinka Shonibare, who has recently had a huge exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, used the fabrics we created to adorn his mannequins and one of my designs took flight on the sails of his Ship in a Bottle, now on one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square, London.

Fishinkblog 6666 Fishink Wax Designs 6

I was fortunate to be approached by a London based company Aduna who were in the process of creating a health and beauty brand using natural African products. They were looking to work with a designer who had had experience with the African textile market, we met, exchanged a few skype calls, emails and drawings and the eventually first of the designs for their Baobab range was born. That was 12 months ago and I’m now working on the next.

Fishinkblog 6657 Baobab 1 Fishinkblog 6658 Baobab 2

I was really happy with the end design and the company owners are selling it in the likes of Harrods and are in talks with other high end distributors.

Another customer wanted me to design a range of wax inspired cards, which sadly didn’t materialise, due to lack of funds. Perhaps I’ll create a range and sell them at some point in the future.

Fishinkblog 6660 Fishink Cards

It’s nice to think that little areas of wax related products are still in demand and being seen in the UK and abroad. Next time you see some, think about where it may have originated.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2013 9:50 am

    These are really beautiful designs, it must be great to think that your fabrics are being worn by people all over the world. Baobab stuff is really lovely too!

    • October 28, 2013 10:05 am

      Thanks Jane, I did get a buzz when the designs came off the production line in the factory and the first time I was in Africa and saw it selling in the marketplace and then someone wearing it. Great feeling. Must be the same when you see a piece of glass you’ve been working on finally installed and in situ in a school or church ?

      I like being a maker for those reasons.

  2. Wallace permalink
    October 28, 2013 10:44 am

    Wonderful to read about your old work, and hear you taking pride in it. Quite a story!

    • October 28, 2013 10:48 am

      Thanks Wallace, I guess it was quite a piece of the jigsaw, so great to have something visual to show for it and to be a small part of that heritage too : )

  3. October 28, 2013 12:01 pm

    fascinating to read about the processes but mostly to piece a little of your history into place – we connect along the way but don’t really know what went before so thanks for sharing it 🙂

    • October 28, 2013 1:22 pm

      Thanks Claire, glad you enjoyed reading about it. Also pleased that we connected along the way too. Keep providing that burst of colour to my week : )

  4. October 28, 2013 12:15 pm

    Fascinating- may have seen some of your designs in a big show of wax cloth in Holland when I lived there. It was stunning stuff. What a wonderful job! Baobab packaging is great.

    • October 28, 2013 1:24 pm

      Thanks too for your comment. You may well have seen some of my work in Holland as Vlisco (Dutch Wax) we’re our main competitors. I also did some artwork for another Dutch customer too.

  5. October 28, 2013 2:43 pm

    You are incredibly creative; I have the feeling that you have so many designs, colors, inspirations, and thoughts running through your head that you can barely sleep at night! I love your product design–so vibrant and alive! And look, there you are in a photo! Hello! P.S. Is your home decorated with your work? May we see? (I am asking politely!)

    • October 28, 2013 3:14 pm

      Thanks Joy, although that’s not me in the photo, it’s one of the company owners from Aduna. Also there’s very little of my own work up around my home as I find other people’s work more inspirational than my own. The only small pieces I have are bits of the ceramic range I worked on about a year ago, but even then it’s only the decoration on them that’s mine, not the ceramics themselves lol I wonder how many creative people are happy to have many pieces of their own work decorating their walls ?

  6. October 29, 2013 8:21 pm

    Lovely stuff Craig. I have a sneaking suspicion that we might know one or two of the same folks from ABC! Good luck with further work. Best, Gill.

    • October 30, 2013 8:14 am

      Hi Gill, thanks for the comment, I like your retro feel repeats too. Who do you know at ABC and how, it’s a small world after all. Cheers Craig

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