More Wax Sellers of Wentworth St
Adetayo Abimbola, Franceskka Fabrics
Two years ago, I asked Contributing Photographer Jeremy Freedman to take portraits of the magnificent women who sell Holland Wax, French Lace and Swiss Voile on Wentworth St. The results were so spectacular that I suggested he extend the portfolio and today you see his complete series of textile goddesses – celebrating these shrewd businesswomen who are bold trendsetters, designing their own fabrics, modelling their creations, defining the fashion and styling their customers too.
When I did my first set of interviews, it was winter and the fabric shops shone like coloured beacons in the gloom but, returning at the height of summer, I found the dazzling colours of the textiles in sympathy with the soaring temperatures. As before, I started at Franceskka Fabrics, opened by Franceskka Ambimbola as the first shop on this street that is now the European centre for African fabrics.
Franceskka was in Nigeria, where she has two other shops, but she had left her international business empire in the capable hands of her three daughters – Abby, Tayo and Joki. “It’s good working for your mum,” admited Abby, “she’s created a foundation for us to build upon.” Abby, who has a degree in Business Studies, deals with textile orders, while Tayo specialises in selling expensive lace and Joki takes care of bridal and internet sales. It is a measure of their enterprise that they now have a full-time tailor on the premises, one of the few men to be employed in Wentworth St.
Just a few doors down, Monique Azenor, who has been running Monique Textiles for more than ten years, had a similar tale to tell of a female dynasty in the making. “It’s a family business – my mum, my sister and my two daughters are involved,” she told me, confirming hers as an exclusively female endeavour. “In Nigeria, the only way you can take care of your children is to open a shop,” Monique explained, “You don’t have much unless you can make your own living and keep your children around you too.”
“I’ve been in this business thirteen years,” Honey of Honey Textiles revealed to me, “I used to have a shop called Honey’s World where I sold everything and ran a hair salon too, but it became unbearable having to stand all day when I became pregnant, so that’s when I decided to digress. I came to see my aunt who ran Benny’ Textiles and told her my plight, and she helped me get this shop.” Today, Honey’s is one of the largest fabric shops on Wentworth St and Honey runs it all from the comfort of an office chair. “It’s mostly women that go into this, it’s a cultural thing that’s passed down,” she assured me, “I like it, it’s something I desired to do and I feel fulfilled doing it. I can stand up and sit down when I please!”
Across the road at Vida Fabrics, Franca Aina prides herself on her bold designs aimed at the youthful, more fashionable market. “Women run these shops because women like buying from women,” she informed me, “A woman can talk to another woman.” Franca has another three shops in Nigeria and her success is characteristic of the jet-setting lifestyle enjoyed by all her colleagues in Wentworth St – women who design their fabrics and visit their manufacturers in the Far East, Italy, Switzerland and Holland regularly, while managing retail outlets in Africa and Europe.
Anna Maria Garthwaite, the most famous designer of eighteenth century silk, who ran her business with her sister from her premises in Princelet St, would recognise more than a little in common with the wax sellers of Wentworth St – they are the noble inheritors of her vibrant endeavour in Spitalfields.
Franceskka Ambimbola, Franceskka Fabrics
Josephine Yokessa, Beauty Solutions
Sheba Eferoghene, Novo Fashions
Tayo Raheem, Royal Fashions
Fola Mustapha, Fola Textile
Onome Efebeh-Atano, Beauty Stones
Honey, Honey Textiles
Bola Ilori AKA Madame Boltex, Boltex Textiles
Veronica Ogunmola, Monique Texiles
Tayo Oladele, Tayo Fashions & Textiles
Benke Adetoro, Benke Fashions
Monique Azenabor, Monique Textiles
Franca Aina, Vina Textiles
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman
You may like to read at my original feature
and take a look