Having met Akosua at previous African fashion events in London I was intrigued by her brand and the product she was making in her home country Ghana. My natural love of the Gold Coast region drew me to learn more about her work and to feature it on our page. Long overdue but we just have to let you know more about it and thought an interview with the amazing designer and her gorgeous luxury product was a must have on our site.
A A K S is the label started by Ghanaian Fashion designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi who had a vision to show the world how they can see luxury and quality grow from traditional designs from Ghana. This is her way of using her label A A K S to change perceptions of Africa through fashion.
The rawness of simple raffia was looked at with potential. She took this to be woven then handmade into bags by a women’s cooperative in Bolgatanga in northern Ghana. The brand now produces luxurious handmade accessories using ethical processes and age-old craft traditions. Akosua has smartly found a way to showcase the unlimited possibilities for the fashion and textile industries in Ghana. By highlighting the use of local skills and techniques that are unique to this part of Ghana, the craftsmanship there has now become the foundation of this luxury brand and now each and every item bares the fingerprints of the maker and she shows this off this authenticity by given each item a signature tag. This is luxury, slowfashion literally kicking the fast fashion mass market to the kerb and showing another way to desirable product.
Hearing that Akosua and her brand AAKS was now part of the Design Network Africa, we invited Akosua to tell us more about her thoughts behind the making of this label and the work that she has put into it along her makers.
AFG: Tell us a bit more about the background to your brand
I grew up in the beautiful sunny Ghana, art was a love from an early age even though I also harboured a dream of being a pilot. Being top of the art class almost every year was a sign to me to pursue art in some form. So I left Ghana to London to study and expand my knowledge in art and design, be around other creative individuals to learn and develop as much as I could.
It was a very intense period of my life when I was in a transition, like so many 20-somethings, and I felt this deep need to figure out who I was and where I was going. It was a truly defining moment where I thought, “Now is the time to make or break, to put myself out there and see what I’m made of.” I knew I wanted to go out on my own and pull together all my passion and talents to create something unique that I could have as an lasting career that would be fulfilling both personally and professionally.
I established A A K S after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags. I have grown 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 colourful with blends of colours which were tasteful and modern with a beautiful finish and detail.
Taking on this idea I started researching into fibres, I knew raffia was soft and could be used to weave and create a different experience for me in the bag I wished to have. More importantly its benefits such as it being an organic, natural, renewal and biodegradable fibre 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.
AFG: What would you say is the basis of your inspiration?
I love traveling and I am also a keen photographer. I take inspirations from almost everything I photograph or come across on my travels around the world. Be it sunsets, nature, architecture or people. My main inspiration for my brand was to create my own basket bag with a twist after numerous occasions of buying basket bags for friends and family. The time was apt for me to create my own bag which was foldable almost leather like so I could travel with it.
I also wanted something colourful to reflect my energy and colourful upbringing. After much deliberation I settled on Raffia although it initially proved to be most difficult to find in Ghana. After travelling throughout the country I then found it serendipitously on our family farm in Southern Ghana. It was being grown minimally and then sold on to string bead vendors and others to basically tie animals on small farms. I knew this was it once I felt it ! The softness and strength was key and then when I started looking into its benefits I was completely sold on it! It fitted very much into my brand ethos as mentioned earlier.
AFG: Who is your target customer? Describe her.
My client base is very diverse. Mostly style conscious women looking for something beautiful, who care about quality, attention to detail and want something a little unusual than what’s currently being offered and also want to promote made in Ghana/Africa products. It being handcrafted certainly is a bonus as it means you get a one off design piece which can be customised if needed. No two AAKS bags are the same, so you are certainly guaranteed a one of kind. Currently I have orders from Belize, Australia, United States, South Africa and Europe. So it tells me there is a wide geographical appeal of which I am very excited about.
AFG: What are the challenges working in Ghana?
Building a fully African-made luxury brand presents tremendous challenges which my team and I are overcoming everyday. The main challenge for us is logistics and the exorbitant cost of importing and exporting in and out of Africa. Sourcing of trims such as buckles and fabrics are a struggle as most suppliers here are limited. Thus our price point is a little on the higher side. We also struggle with inconsistency in production and ensuring a high quality control since our products are all handmade.
We also struggle with infrastructure, simple things like poor telephone network, intermittent Internet connectivity and electricity disruption also poses a lot of inconvenience to our daily work.
However, despite all these setbacks we are persevering and making the best out of everything and taking a competitive advantage when the need arises.
AFG: What are the positives of being a designer based in Africa?
There is a kaleidoscope of influences and inspiration that I feel is unique to Africa 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 Africa is really a dream come true.
AFG: How important is sustainability and ethical fashion your brand?
A A K S is a purpose driven, lifestyle brand for the conscious and stylish consumers, who are willing to help change perception about made in Ghana/ Africa goods and also contribute to a greater good with solid constructions of a product which appeal to customers that takes pride and integrity in each unique piece which has a backing of mindful production and also made by hand.
We can be placed under ethical or sustainable umbrella because we use organically sourced raw materials such as raffia which is biodegradable and renewable. Its an inherent quality and very important part of my business and life because all the choices we pursue now will affect future generations.
We have abundant natural resources and materials which hasn’t been used and through some creative out of the box thinking I feel we will be able to make an impact now and also for future generations
AFG What do you feel about the preservation of african textile crafts and techniques?
It is of complete importance for me as it is an industry which can contribute to the social, ethical and creative economy in Africa. Also I feel the time is apt for us to be pushing a new conversation about how we innovate and design in Africa as a whole and how we sustain traditional methods and techniques whilst making it relevant on a global scale. How we make the art of weaving for example carry on for generations to come and be seen as major income earner for communities rather than as a hobby or something they do in their spare time.
Working with the ITC added to my exposure on creating products that can compete on the international market. It was a great experience to meet other up and coming African designers and get mentored by great designers and fashion editors such as Duro Oluwu and Franca Sozzani. Another thing that stands out for my time with the ITC was that patience is certainly a virtue working in Africa. There will definitely be a lot of setbacks but one needs to be always focused and committed to what they want to achieve as a brand.
AFG: What are your plans for the brand in 2015?
I would love to be stocked by some of the major retailers in the world in 2015 and also be a recognisable brand in Africa particularly and worldwide. I want to grow my customer base steadily and increase my brand awareness and have a much bigger team to sustain production.
AFG: Will you focus on just bags/accessories or just apparel or continue both?
I would love to move into clothes and print design sometime soon as it’s been a great passion of mine. Nonetheless, I am very keen to explore the accessories and home interior area in fashion too. Bag design is still a new venture for me as I only launched my brand 5 months ago and I am enjoying it so far and will be doing bags for some time now before anything else.
AFG: Which other designers or fashion or business stars inspire you?
I am really inspired by YSWARA and Aduna they are not your typical fashion brands but I love the approach they have taken to work and branding their product to appeal to a wide range of people who want to have something luxurious from or inspired by Africa.
AFG: What advice or points would you give to new designers who wish to set up made in Africa businesses?
I would advice any aspiring persons to Start. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the planning of your business and sometimes it’s okay to know what you want and just go for it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
We thank Akosua for sharing her thoughts with us.
If you are interested to learn more then you can see more on AAKS Designs here: www.aaksonline.com/about/ and contact them for sales of bags by emailing email@example.com