Tuesday, December 8, 2015

GTP African Textiles Factory Tour

Tour guide Angelina answers a question
I recently had the opportunity to visit an African wax print factory, GTP, which is located in Tema, Ghana.  They print under their own label and others such as NuStyle and Woodin. GTP is partially nationally owned and partially held by Vlisco group.  African wax printers are becoming a rare thing because there are Chinese printers who can produce an adequate product and sell it cheaper.  GTP's business strategy is compete by producing a superior quality product.
One of the coolest things about the GTP labels is that they try to source their fabrics from Africa.  The actual GTP line begins as cotton grown and picked in northern Ghana.  That cotton is shipped to the eastern Volta region in Ghana and made into cloth called Grey Cloth.  The Grey Cloth then goes through the process seen in the picture below. 

The Grey Cloth is fed to a machine in which a caustic chemical is applied to the fibers to open them for the dye process.  Heat is applied (see inset) and then the chemical is washed out and the fabric is bleached to white.  It is now prepared for dye.

GTP then has several different methods to dye the fabric.  We were shown a traditional stamping process, a wax process with etched copper cylinders, and a laser cut cylinder printing process.  This photo is of the etched print process.  The white is the fabric back, the black is wax resist and the blue is the dyed fabric.  The fabric will go through as many dye baths as necessary.  After the fabric may go through machines that heat the fabric to give the wax bubble and crackle effects.  The wax will be removed and then the fabric is heated at a very high temperature to set the dye.
The photo below shows the hand stamping stations for the traditional fabrics.  We were given an opportunity to try stamping.  The stamps are very large and hard to handle.  The stampers use many layers of gloves to make their hands larger.  GTP recognizes that this work can give repetitive stress injuries and so they provide a pension package for these workers that takes that into account.
The small photo below is the processing bay for decontaminating water.  There are many toxic chemicals from the dyes and fabric treatments. The water is treated to make it as inert as possible before it is put back into the environment.

For the finishing, the fabric is washed, baked (to dry and to set the dye) and then rolled into bales.  The fabric reviewed for quality and sorted.  It is hand folded and labeled on large tables.  The labels have a scratch off area, a newer development so consumers can check the fabric is authentic and not pirated.  Below you can see a couple of guys at the machine that helps them wrap it in plastic and tamps down the label.
GTP will print institutional fabrics (organizations like schools or churches) and from individuals.  I am looking printing a with Dakar Women's Group to print a fabric for their organization.  At this time, those prints are only available on Spoonflower.