Last summer, while walking along 3rd Avenue in The Hub, I spotted a bright, new store with gorgeous, African print fabrics. Holland Textiles advertise themselves as the “number one African Fabric retail outlet in the world…” and they have planted their first roots in America in The Bronx neighborhood of Melrose.
Many shoppers to The Hub often stop to look at the beautiful, high quality fabrics on display, myself included, but after much curiousity, I decided to finally go inside and find out more about this shop that landed in our borough.
Upon entering, the first thing you notice is not just the sheer amount of what seems to be endless yards of countless African print fabrics (at any given moment there can be well over 1,000 varieties), nor how perfectly everything is kept in order (you feel like you just walked into an art gallery) but how friendly the staff is. Right away you’re personally greeted by the staff and asked if you have any questions on the variety of fabrics etc.
The first person I met was Osei Bonsu, Holland Textiles’s Business Developer who hails from Ghana (The Bronx is home to the largest Ghanaian community in the country). When asked about the client base, he said, “Most of our client base are Africans living in The Bronx and throughout the New York region but what struck me the most interesting of all was the number of Honduran clientele we were getting.”
This isn’t much of a surprise actually due to the fact that many Hondurans here in The Bronx are Garifuna, a people with strong ties and descendants of West and Central Africans.
While I was at the store, I ran into a few shoppers and in particular Pink Makeleni who is originally from Zimbabwe and finds herself shopping at the store quite often due to the high quality. “I come here often and shop and he makes my dresses,” pointing to Jerry Anyaene, a fashion designer who works at Holland Textiles, as she smiled and laughed.
Jerry Anyaene’s journey began in his native Nigeria and early on developed an interest in fashion and design which took him through Europe, The Netherlands, China and many other places across the globe. He now works at Holland Textiles and consults with clients on designs for their outfits or simply creates them for them.
The history of the store goes back to over 30 years ago in France and then eventually opening up another store in The Netherlands as well as London, UK. and the fabrics, like Vlisco, goes back as far as 1846 in Holland.
“The Bronx store is our biggest store yet,” said General Manager, Cheick M. Camara who came to the country from Guinea (See a pattern here? The store employs and has clients who emigrated to the US from a number of African countries).
“Although we have a diversified customer bases, and a lot of places to choose from, we know a very large group of our customers reside in the Bronx and surrounding communities. It’s only natural that we come to that group, not only for convenience it does offer, but by so doing be part of the social fabric of the people we serve…We have Africans and African Americans customers. We have designers, students, researchers, fashion industry specialists interested in the latest trends. We also have a huge operation in our wholesale division that covers all of North America store keepers.” said Camara.
The Bronx African community has steadily grown and New York City leads the nation as of 2012 with 160,000 residents born in Africa and 212,000 in the New York Metropolitan region alone.
“Here in the Bronx our company is very much involved in all kind of social programs by sponsoring such activities as youth sport events, church gatherings, parades, birthday celebrations, festivals and funerals. In return we feel very welcomed by the people we cater to.” added Camara.
So what makes this store so special besides the people who work here, the clients and the beautiful fabrics? Well, it’s in the very fabrics themselves.
Mr Camara said:
“If you are familiar with Vlisco, you know that since 1846 that company remains the biggest and most admired manufacturer of African fabrics in term of quality and designs. In the US, our company Holland textiles is the biggest distributor of their products. On top of that we also manufacture our own lines of fabric. The SUPREME lines, it’s made in Holland with uncompromising quality, affordable to anyone. No other fabric store in the US comes even close to the variety of our Supreme lines or the multiplicity of the motives on them. In our wholesale division our customers know we don’t impose any limit to buy. We go further, by providing a distributorship program to those interested in becoming wholesalers themselves. For our retail customers, we have a whole range of prices that fits any budget. Our sales team is made up of trained designers, seamstresses and tailors. Once in our store we go through the entire process with our clients: From explaining the history of a particular fabric they are interested in, to the style that will go well with that fabric. If a customer chooses, our tailors are ready to sew a dress with a style in his or her liking, ON THE SPOT! It’s truly one stop shopping experience only Holland Textiles provides.”
And it really is a one stop shop experience at the store based on my observations and the interactions with the clients coming in and out during my stay.
Victoria Blain, from Gambia and the store’s Operations Manager and Stylist also stressed the quality of the fabrics saying, “Many shops that carry African prints do not carry the high quality we offer and they tend to be a lower grade fabric.”
The store truly is a special place and I encourage folks to visit, shop, shop, and SHOP and support our local, small businesses. Living in The Bronx and having seen many stores that carry African fabrics and prints, I have yet to come across one like this. Tell them Welcome2TheBronx sent ya!
Holland Textiles is located at 3037 Third Avenue and can be reached at 718-513-6280.