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More Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

September 3, 2013
by the gentle author

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

The Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

and take a look

At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

9 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    September 3, 2013

    oh! to wear such a crown. or even just to work in a place surrounded by so much color. YUM YUM YUM

  2. September 3, 2013

    Magnificent women and wonderful portraits. Thank you for opening up this area of London.

  3. Ian permalink
    September 3, 2013

    These beautiful women are as stunning as the incredible fabrics they are surrounded by.

    In Ipswich, where I live, there used to be a large fabric store, with rolls and rolls of fabrics housed on two levels, the upper being a balcony from which you could look down on to the sumptuous, colourful rolls below. I can clearly recall going there with my, mother and being entranced by the whole place: it was a palace of shimmering beauty. Ironically the sales assistants were cursed by drab, brown nylon uniform in a house-coat style, though this was the Seventies when such uniforms were rife.

    That store is long gone and Ipswich has nowhere like it now, so where the dress makers source their material now is a mystery. My Mum often went there to buy patterns rather than the material, but I could have stayed for hours just to look at it all.

    Thank you (as always) for the great photos and stories.

  4. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    September 3, 2013

    When I was a child I loved the smell of new material & used to embarrass my mum by going round a shop sniffing the bolts of cloth!Probably still would if we had fabric shops like that in our neck of the woods!

  5. September 3, 2013

    Wonderful photos ! What style these women have !

  6. Cherub permalink
    September 4, 2013

    I have to hand it to these formidable ladies, they all look colourful and gorgeous.

  7. John Campbell permalink
    September 5, 2013

    Beautiful exotic flowers!

  8. Emily Urey permalink
    December 3, 2014

    I love the clothes I will like to buy some

  9. April 4, 2016

    Dear Sir / Madam,

    I hope you are well.

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    Please let us know what sort of fabric you want to use i.e. width, weight, we are doing so many qualities so your required fabric and information will make the whole costing and sampling procedure easy. Please find attached our detailed profile and list of qualities we are weaving at the moment.

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