This week, Perspectives talks to Akosua Afriyie-Kumi of AAKS. Handcrafted in Ghana using traditional techniques, AAKS creates bags in styles that maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts characterised by bright exuberant colours.
1. What does AAKS stand for?
AAKS is my initials. Akosua Afriyie-Kumi and my friends have always called me AAKS.
2. Tell us a little about your background and how you ended up starting AAKS
I grew up around basket bags as a child in Ghana, I used 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 colourful with blends of colours which were tasteful and modern with a beautiful finish and detail.
Building on this idea I started researching into bag designs and fibres and found a lot of attractive benefits which were in line with my vision and ethos I had for my dream brand. I established A A K S after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags. 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 so I embarked on my journey to Ghana to make this happen.
3. Did you always know that you'd end up working with raffia and producing woven bags?
Yes and No. I studied fashion design so I knew i will potentially be working in fashion but I didnt know I will end up working with weavers and making woven bags. It was a spear of the moment idea which I run with :)
4. Could you take us through the process of producing an AAKS bag? How long does it take to produce a bag? How many people are involved?
The weaving process starts by twisting the raw raffia fibres by hand after they have been ecologically harvested. After twisting about 10,000 strands or more, we gather the raffia and prepare a dye bath. The dye bath consists of natural and a few chemical dyes mixed into boiling water, sometimes even natural tree bark is used in the bath to create good colour intensity. It takes approximately 10 - 30 minutes to dye depending on the colour we want to achieve, the dyed raffia is dried in the open. To create the base shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skilfully handling the raffia until the bags take shape.
The woven body is then transported back to my studio, a 12 hours drive away in Kumasi, Ghana for finishing. This is where the sewing of linings (usually cotton or linen with drawstring closures), hand stitching of buckles and leather handles finalise the bag. After a final quality control, the bags are then ready for postage to stores such as Anthropologie, Urban Outiftters, Icyhulu and clients worldwide.
5. I was first drawn to your brand because of your vibrant use of colour. How do you decide on your colour selections?
I take inspiration from everything around me, be it plants or generally what people are wearing and I pick good colour combinations from there. I find it very fun!
6. How did you end up working with women's groups in Northern Ghana?
I stumbled across a small community of weavers through my travels and
I loved that they were using old age techniques and weaving by hand and not machines . This was particularly appealing to me as I could see so many different possibilities.
7. Your instagram page is one of my favourites. How important is social media to your brand?
Social media is really important and thats where I get to interact with my clients and meet new people who are interested in my brand and the arts in general. Is more of my ‘escape’ route from my day to day activities in my studio.
8. Which African designers do you admire at the moment? Who would you like to collaborate with?
I admire a lot of African designers especially Maki Oh and I would love to collaborate with her on an accessory line.
9. What's in store for AAKS in 2017?
Colour and more colour. I want to continue pushing the boundary of Made in Africa products with my new collection coming out soon and also diversifying into other areas of fashion. I am working on a new weaving project with the UNHCR in Burkina Faso which launching at the end of 2017! Stay tuned.
Images courtesy of AAKS
Thank you to Akosua for speaking to Ichyulu