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Vlisco launches City of Joy fabric collection

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

25 Nov 2019


Vlisco, a Dutch printer of wax fabrics, has teamed up with five designers including British-Nigerian fashion designer Tolu Coker to showcase a collection of fabrics designed to honour and raise funds for the women of the City of Joy, a transformational leadership community for women, who are survivors of brutal rape and mutilation by soldiers and civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Launching on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25, the new collection of fabrics tells the story of the women of City of Joy, who have made the journey from suffering to a place of love and hope, with each fabric marked by the words ‘Love’, ‘Respect’ and ‘Strength’ to reflect the healing and renewal through sisterhood, love and mutual respect of the community.

The collection is made up of five printed super-wax fabric patterns in bold, bright patterns, with approximately 100 different, vivid colours, created using the old techniques of wax printing. Each fabric design pays tribute to the female form and the natural beauty of the Congo region, and all the profits from the sale of the collection will be donated by Vlisco to the City of Joy.

Gabriela Sanchez, the Vlisco designer behind the collection, said in a statement: “The first thought that came to mind when I met the women of the City of Joy was ‘Is there anyone stronger than you?’ The collection aims to capture their journey from the darkest of places to a place of hope and love.

“It also portrays the great strength that comes from sisterhood. The designs suggest the beauty of the vagina and the respect it deserves, and they depict the forests and rivers and wildlife of the Eastern Congo – a place of fear but also joy.”

Vlisco celebrates the “world’s strongest women” with a wax fabric collection dedicated to City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The five fabrics each represent a different story inspired by the City of Joy: ‘Sisterhood’ showcases intertwined flowers to highlight the bond shared by the women; the base of The Orchid’ fabric represents the waves of turmoil experienced by the women, moving upwards, the striking orchid in full bloom showcases the beauty of the vagina; the ‘Bouquet’ depicts the vagina in a beautiful but stark way using florals; ‘The Congo River’ represents the Congo’s bountiful, lush and green landscape; and ‘The Congo’ features a lion sitting on his perch representing Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Mukwege, the surgeon who, with his team of doctors, has physically healed the women.

Christine Schuler Deschryver, co-founder and director of City of Joy, added: “Taking part in this process has been a very positive experience for the women involved. They have been the driving force in the project and that is reflected in the vivacity and colour of the fabrics and the originality of the designs. It’s vital that the world’s eyes are opened to the atrocities that are taking place here and it’s beyond inspiring that the women who have suffered most are those brave enough to take a stand today.”

To showcase the bold fabric, Vlisco has teamed up with five African female designers including former Fashion Scout Merit Award winner Tolu Coker, Aisha Ayensu founder and creative director of Christie Brown, recognised as a key player in the rise of contemporary African fashion, Bubu Ogisi creative director of contemporary womenswear brand Iamisigo, Ivory Coast-born Rebeccas Zoro from ready-to-wear brand Yhebe, and Nigerian Abiola Adeniran-Olusola who launched her eponymous fashion brand in 2017 after her studies in Paris.

Each of the designers worked with 15 graduates of the City of Joy to create the empowering and personalised garments using the new fabrics.

Vlisco teams up with African designers Tolu Coker, Aisha Ayensu, Bubu Ogisi, Rebeccas Zoro and Abiola Adeniran-Olusola to launch City of Joy fabric collection

Eve Ensler, co-founder of City of Joy, added: “We are so thrilled by this amazing project of Vlisco in collaboration with the amazing women at City of Joy. It’s a project about healing, colour, life force and a celebration of women’s bodies. It highlights the profound beauty of Congolese women who embody the rising energy of the new world. We thank Vlisco for their stunning fabrics and style but mainly for joining their creativity with the struggle to free the women of Congo from violence, so they can shine in their true beauty and power.”

The collection will be showcased to a global audience by the women of the City of Joy at a gala event in Kinshasa on November 25. With sexual violence a defining feature of the civil war in the eastern part of the country, the event aims to put an international spotlight on the issue, as currently more than 150 victims of sexual violence are admitted each month to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and over 55,000 women and children have been treated there since 1999.

The City of Joy fabrics are available directly through Vlisco’s website as well as through key distributors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Europe and Benin/Togo. For every yard of fabrics sold, Vlisco will donate 2 euros to the City of Joy, which provides a place for women to heal themselves from their past trauma through therapy and life skills programming, while giving them essential support needed to help them move forward in life. Since opening, 1,294 women have graduated from the City of Joy.

Images: courtesy of City of Joy by Atong Atem for Vlisco