After graduating from Kingston University London with a degree in Fashion, Akosua Afriyie Kumi returned to Ghana with an enviable wealth of experience to establish her own brand, A A K S. She hoped to fix herself within the country’s fashion and design industry but with her own distinct style. Akosua was drawn to revamping mundane Ghanaian aesthetics, so she travelled to Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East region to learn more about hand-woven raffia baskets.
Akosua’s design elements teamed with the weaving techniques of the women in Bolgatanga to birth a brand that boldly exhibits the weaving industry in the northern part of Ghana. Akosua outlines her designs with this statement, “Handcrafted in Bolgatanga, A A K S creates bags in styles that maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts characterized by bright exuberant colours.”
A A K S is now a global brand with shops in Cape Town, London, Paris, and a new shop that will launch in Paris this December. Although A A K S is still quite fresh, it has been nominated for the ReCONNECT GH Spotlight Fashion Honorees.
We caught up with Akosua and had a talk about the A A K S brand, her distinct approach to making handbags in Ghana and what A A K S is up to next.
ADA: Can you tell us about the concept behind A A K S?
AKOSUA: A A K S is a brand that is truly African in origin, nature and tradition. We capture true African luxury. By revising the skills and craftsmanship, we also preserve and promote African weaving and its heritage. The design philosophy is a culmination of inspired thoughts and design elements that translates into a finished product. At production level, critical attention is paid to craftsmanship and authenticity. A high value is also placed on the identity and quality of each product. Each collection silhouette is unique and tells a different story through detail, colour and shape.
ADA: You studied fashion and also worked as a designer in the UK. What influenced your relocation to Ghana?
AKOSUA: I left Ghana for London to expand my knowledge in Art and Design and also to be around other creative individuals to learn and develop. Through studies and a great wealth of experience in London, I established A A K S. This was after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags.
I knew I had something great to work towards in exploring different areas of Art and Design. Ultimately, I hoped to break the mould in local sourcing and skills to create a luxury product in Ghana. This influenced my move and I wanted to contribute towards the development of fashion design and textiles in Ghana.
ADA: How was it setting up your brand in Ghana since you were fairly new to the fashion and design industry here?
AKOSUA: I came to Ghana with a preconceived idea of life in London and how swift things would be. It struck me when I had to build relationship with weavers first before work. I had to plan my day around weather patterns and ceremonies such as funerals and weddings. This was a very different approach to work that I wasn’t used to so it was extremely difficult to begin and understand. Now it’s part of my business and it has helped me to slow down and appreciate life more but I also plan work in advance.
ADA: You work with handcrafted bags woven by women in Bolgatanga. How did you locate these women and how have their works contributed to the A A K S concept?
AKOSUA: I went travelling around Ghana searching for the perfect place to make my hand-woven bags. I chose Bolgatanga because of the unparalleled skill set of the women and also I fell in love with city. The scenery was a big plus. It was a much unexplored area in Ghana that I wanted to put my own stamp on and bring it to life on the local and international market. I wanted people to search and read more about Bolgatanga. Additionally, the women’s great reception and kindness were remarkable. They have helped me to think technically of how I can achieve three-dimensionality, which has contributed greatly to the A A K S concept!
ADA: Tell us what some of your design elements are and how you come up with the names of your bags.
AKOSUA: My design process is slightly complex but simple at the same time. I start by establishing a mood that fits with my clientele’s lifestyle and my design aesthetic. I seek inspiration by visiting my favourite places and exploring new environments through travel. I am an avid sunset photographer so I normally pick beautiful hues from pictures I have taken from travels which then form part of my colour palette. I draw my bag designs from photographs, historical and contemporary fine art, and fashion photography pictures which resonate with me, as well as architecture. I base my design process around photographs or inspirational pictures I have come across in my everyday life. I put them all together in research and start from there. The names of my bags are biological names of raffia – the raphia plant with a twist on them. Some of the names are the founders of the plants and scientists who have worked on them.
ADA: How has your brand impacted the lives of the Bolga women who weave the bags?
AKOSUA: Creating something handcrafted has always been the goal of my brand. Words such as empowerment, passion and lasting is what I feel these group of artisanal weavers bring to each creation of an A A K S bag and we hope our customers also get that sense by ownership. Additionally, weaving gives the women a much needed income to encourage them in this line of work. By seeing this as a prospective full time job or a small entrepreneurial business, the women can definitely make a good living.
ADA: There is almost a worldwide thirst for everything ‘African’ now. Does this give you more access to the commodity market or are African designers not benefiting?
AKOSUA: African designers can benefit from the desire for everything African by thinking laterally about our resources and also the design process. We have such wonderful inspiration around us, be it nature, our way of seeing the world, customs and culture which can give us a huge creative outlet and advantage. We also should be more innovative in our ideas by putting new twists on old and even tested techniques, products and materials to make it more fresh and contemporary. There is the tendency at times for some African designers to just rehash what everyone is doing without the need for their own unique creativity.
ADA: For A A K S, what’s been your social media marketing strategy? Is social media the best platform for marketing these days?
AKOSUA: I have been using social media for years before I set up my brand. I had an interest in seeing and hearing from like-minded individuals around the world. It’s a fantastic marketing tool for me as a new brand, especially when my budget for marketing is limited. Social media allows me to reach out to people I would never have come across in my life and these connections are an invaluable part of the growth of my brand. For this, I am very grateful.