Akosua Afriyie-Kumi on AAKS, Ghana, and Helping her Community
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi and her wonderful designs hail from a small women's cooperative in Bolgatanga, Ghana. Her fashion brand, A.A.K.S.--which she started in 2013--produces luxurious handmade accessories and raffia bags in elaborate styles many of which are not often seen anywhere past the borders of Ghana.
The bags are all produced using ethical processes and age-old cultural traditions and each bag takes upward of a week to make. The time spent further helps to emphasize the care and dedication the women who make them put into their work.
Akosua's brand has become so successful that she had been featured in numerous magazines, ELLE Decoration, Forbes Woman Africa, Harper's Bazaar, and even smaller niche magazines like the UK's SUITCASE Magazine to name a few.
Below she shares her story with us on how she got started and what drives her to give back to her community one handbag at a time.
How did you get started in your creative career?
I grew up in the beautiful and sunny Ghana, and art was a love from an early age even though I also harbored a dream of being a pilot. Being top of the art class almost every year was a sign for me to pursue art in some form. So I left Ghana to go to London to study and expand my knowledge in art and design, and to be around other creative individuals to learn and develop as much as I could.
Like so many other 20-somethings, this was a very intense period of my life. I was in a transition, coming from a family of entrepreneurs I felt this deep need to figure out who I was and where I was going and whose footsteps to follow. The defining moment came when I thought, “Now is the time to make or break, to put myself out there and see what I can make of myself.” I knew I wanted to go out on my own and pull together all my passion and talents to create something unique that would be fulfilling both personally and professionally.
My main aim of studies in the UK was to broaden my mind in my field, gain a wealth of experience and finally come back to Ghana to support the creative art and design industry and build a luxury African brand. This happened quickly after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted luxury bags that could utilize locally sourced materials such as raffia coupled with the traditional art of weaving. I knew I had something great to work towards and made the big move to fulfill my ultimate dream of owning my own fashion brand and igniting sustainable jobs in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
What are your main sources of inspiration for your designs?
The initial concept behind my first spring/summer collection was to create my own basket bag with a twist. I have grown up around basket bags when I lived in Ghana, I use to give them as gifts and also use them for storage. I remember having a lot of ‘I wish it was more like this, I wish it was more like that’ moments. I wanted it softer, almost foldable and also more colorful with blends of colors which were tasteful and modern with a beautiful finish and detail.
Taking on this idea and after much deliberation, I settled on raffia although it initially proved to be the most difficult fiber to find in Ghana. Serendipitously, after traveling throughout the country in search of the elusive fiber I found it on our family farm in Southern Ghana. It was being grown minimally and only sold to string bead vendors and others to basically tie animals on small farms. I immediately knew this was the perfect material once I felt it! The softness and strength were key and then when I started looking into its benefits I was completely sold on it. Its benefits being an organic, natural, renewal and biodegradable fiber, and was an inherent ethical value which was attractive to me and very much in line with the vision and ethos I had for my brand.
Was your decision to have AAKS based in Ghana an important one to you? Why?
There is a kaleidoscope of influences and inspiration that I feel is unique to Ghana and of which I can tap into on my doorstep so that is a massive positive! Coupled with that, I absolutely love the freedom of creativity which comes with being a designer and working in a constantly evolving field which helps shape our visual world. The start of every project is open and full of potential and building a brand for myself is very exciting and doing that in Ghana is really a dream come true.
What can you tell us about the cultural history behind the designs?
Unfortunately, weaving is a dying art in Ghana. It's been relegated to a small scale industry with few communities in the South weaving Kente cloth and in the north weaving baskets and bags out of straw. I hope that our brand will go some way in contributing to the revival and sustenance of weaving as a thriving art. Additionally, we aim to renew some of these old skills and techniques by modernizing it to meet international standards of design and hence compete with the best in the world.
What is your favorite piece that you've ever designed?
The AAKS Ambi and Are Bag clutch bag.
Why did it speak to you more than others?
The simplicity of the weaving was a winning factor.
Who are the three most influential people that have given you guidance throughout your career?
My parents, my siblings and Social Media! [Akosua laughs]
What advice can you give to someone wanting to start their own business but aren't sure where to start?
I would advise any aspiring person to just start. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the planning of your business and waiting for the perfect time but I do believe there is never a perfect time for anything and sometimes it’s okay to know what you want and just go for it.
When you're not on the clock, where do you like to go to unwind and relax?
For more information on A.A.K.S. and where to find these lovely bags, click here.
Photos: Akosua Afriyie-Kumi
Copyright Rose Huet 2017