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New subscription box brings African textiles into your closet

By FashionUnited


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Jacqueline Shaw has built her career helping entrepreneurs and fashion brands build sustainable businesses with African-made goods. Her mission has been to open up the African opportunity; to help brands reimagine their supply-chain; and to interpret centuries-old textile traditions and techniques for the global market, specializing in creating sustainable solutions. Now she is launching her own monthly subscription box business, Wax & Wraps.

From the menu of “treasure boxes” you might choose the Sewist box which challenges the skills of the home sewer and includes a sewing kit, specialty fabric, sewing patterns, threads and trims, or perhaps the Stylist box for reimagining headwraps, headbands or night bonnets. FashionUnited spoke to Shaw about the increased interest in the Made in Africa label and why she thinks we’ll be making our own clothes soon.

How and when did you first connect with the African market and how did that lead to what you do today?

My first connection with Africa was through an exploration of my own Caribbean heritage where my parents were from. When my grandfather, a Jamaican Maroon, died, it pushed me to explore Africa, making my first Sub-Saharan trip to Ghana. I saw the fabrics, the possibility, and felt excited with this re-connection to my origin.

What does Africa have to offer brands that is perhaps being overlooked or that other global sourcing hubs can’t provide?

Africa’s craft industry is offering brands the sustainable story, with its array of traditional textile skills and nascent fashion industry. Brands can have a slow fashion story and actually start afresh by working with Africa. On top of that Africa is a relatively young continent in demographics with a fast growing population, which offers a strong labour force and marketplace for the near future.

What do you think are consumers/brands biggest misconceptions about African goods?

Many feel Africa cannot make fashion as we know it in the west. This is untrue. Many do not trust that the skill is there. I have worked for over ten years to help change this perception by sharing stories of what African businesses can and are doing. 

Why did you decide on a subscription box model for Wax & Wraps?

During the first lockdown I was wondering, as an industry leader, how I could help serve my clients and people more. I had a subscription-based business previously and saw the power of this model but with an African focus as a solution. I launched Wax and Wraps with a group of my students first because while we have all been at home the crafts and sewing hobby market has been gaining traction.

How do you source your wax prints?

I work with waxprint houses and suppliers in West and East African countries. I also supply batiks and other handprinted textiles as I want to directly support the skilled artisans. These have proved even more popular than the traditional batiks.

Has 2020’s global BLM movement spurred tangible interest in African artisanal goods and Made in Africa?

I believe it truly has. I have heard from other Black-owned business owners who saw a spike in growth and sales. My concern is if this will maintain or if it’s only for a season. I do believe though that it has driven more Black-owned business owners to decidedly support others Black-owned businesses and this is a positive for the community.  

How can we prevent the human rights abuses associated with fashion’s supply chain in other parts of the world from occurring in Africa?

This comes down to many factors, government being one, raising awareness, advocacy, transparency within the supply chain, and exposure where this may exist already.  

How is the global pandemic impacting your business positively or negatively?

As I trade internationally it has caused a slowdown on the shipping and logistic side of things. But because I have both digital and physical businesses I was able to switch between the two. If anything, I saw huge growth often doubling in sales from month on month.  

In this era of fast fashion why do you think the consumer is ready to invest the time into making their own garments with Wax and Wraps textiles?

There is a phrase I use with Wax and Wraps: “take back control of your own wardrobe and have fun with prints.” Supporting body confidence can come from making your own clothes. As someone with a typical Caribbean/African body shape, curvier in the hips etc, I haven’t always liked shopping and struggled to find things to fit my hourglass shape. Therefore I tended to make my own clothes for events, nights out, or weddings. Nothing felt better than wearing clothes that I made myself and that actually fit in all the right places. I want to help other lovers of African fabrics, and fellow sewists, to feel this confidence and to have fun.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos provided by Jacqueline Shaw

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