Globalization from below in wax print fabrics


(Image source)

Globalization is often portrayed as something that is imposed on people in Africa, not as a process which they can seek to mediate or even actively participate in.  Nina Sylvanus has a piece on Togolese imports of Chinese-made wax print fabrics (gated) in the April edition of African Studies Review which challenges this narrative:

[Fabric trader Antoinette] Mensah’s first experiences with the Chinese were in 1995. She had brought a set of samples, mostly non–wax prints, to Bangkok, and she wished to reproduce them as economically as possible. She met a Thai entrepreneur who introduced her to a colleague in Hong Kong who was the head of several textile manufacturing units. She worked with this Chinese manufacturer in Hong Kong for several weeks, and recalls his many misconceptions about African tastes. She had to point out repeatedly, for example, that her concern for her profit margin did not mean that she would accept goods that were shoddy or cheap…  [The] fabrics met with immediate success [in Togo]… [However, by] 1996, she was confronted with a … challenge: a group of Togolese traders had her prints reproduced in India and copies of [her] fabrics entered the market.

Over at Living Anthropologically, Jason Antrosio makes a similar point that 21st-century globalization can only amaze us if we forget the past.