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Vlisco Group
Date of original investment: 2010
Deal type: Management buy-in
Deal size: $US151m

Fashions fade, but style is eternal

For more than 160 years the Vlisco Group has led the way, creating and manufacturing the most coveted wax fabrics in Africa. As synonymous with West Africa as Thailand is with raw silk or Italy is with leather, their branded fabrics have a long history of design and innovation: grounded in traditional African culture but now tailored to the tastes of modern women in the region’s growing middle class.

An esteemed history

Established in the 1850s and still headquartered in the Netherlands, the company originally exported printed batik to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. In 1876 it expanded into Africa. It now sells more than 51 million yards of fabric each year to nine countries across West, Southern and Central Africa, not to mention growing online sales to the African diaspora in Europe and America, and a range of branded accessories.  

A broad supply chain

The company’s brand portfolio includes Vlisco, commonly known as Original Dutch Wax, the mid-range Uniwax and GTP, which are manufactured and sold in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and the younger, more contemporary Woodin brand which sells across the region. 

The group employs more than 2,100 people of whom 1,500 are based in West Africa. But for every person it employs directly, ten more jobs are created, with business for salesmen, shopkeepers and tailors driven by Vlisco’s products. And in the face of cheap imitations and imports from China, Vlisco’s products endure, not just because of their quality but because the company’s heritage and fabric archive mean that women today can wear the same prints as their grandmothers did, creating a loyalty and affection for its designs that is hard to match.  

Actis: a like minded partner

As a company that also sits in a developed market but whose reach is pan-African, we felt an affinity with the Vlisco Group, and knew we could bring Actis’s knowledge of consumer companies gained from other emerging markets to help it meet the increasing demand for its products. 

To drive this change, we introduced CEO Hans Ouwendijk, formerly of Mexx and Laura Ashley. Our aim is to double the size of the business in the next four years and shift it from a production focused organisation to one with a developed sales and marketing culture that manages all of its brands together. This ambition includes expanding into East Africa, growing the Woodin brand and establishing a presence in Nigeria.