Behind the Brand | A A K S

A few months back, I had the privileged of meeting (via Twitter) Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, founder of A A K S.

"Handcrafted in Bolgatanga, A A K S creates bags in styles that maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts characterised by bright exuberant colours."

At the time, A A K S had not yet launched, and I was eager to see what she had in store. Now, after the launch of her site and line, she agreed to do a short interview with me for my Behind the Brand series. I'm so excited to share a little about her story and a peek behind A A K S.

Tell me a little about yourself and your background.

I grew up in the beautiful sunny Ghana, scribbling in my note pad was what I use to do after school. I had a knack for art, colour and patterns, coming from a family of 5 with siblings into the sciences and maths, art was my escape route and where my heart laid. I was first in my art class almost every year , this was a sign for me and something I knew I had to pursue it further in my studies. 

I left Ghana to London to expand my knowledge in art and design and also to be around other creative individuals to learn and develop my art. Through studies and a great wealth of experience in London. I moved back to establish A A K S after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags. I knew I had something great to work towards which would explore different areas of art and design and ultimately break the mould of local sourcing and skills in creating a luxury product in Ghana. I wanted to contribute towards the early development of fashion design  and textiles in Ghana and also ignite sustainable jobs in Ghana and Africa.

What led you to start A A K S?

I wanted to produce a luxury brand that was truly African in origin, nature and tradition. I also had childhood memories of beautiful basket bags and buying them as gifts and also for storage.

I wanted to create my own basket bag with a twist, a bag that was foldable almost like a leather bag so I could travel with it. I wanted something colourful to reflect my energy and colourful upbringing. After much deliberation and research I settled on Raffia after reading about fibres online and it was the most difficult fibre to find in Ghana. I traveled throughout the country then found it serendipitously in 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 then I started looking into its benefits such as it being an organic natural fibre which was renewable and also biodegradable. This quality and inherent ethical values was very attractive to me and very much in line with the vision and ethos I had for my brand.

You work closely with the women creating your pieces. How has this influenced your business?

Weaving is a dying art in Ghana unfortunately. 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 using straw. I hope that our brand will go someway 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 modernising it to meet international standards of design and hence compete with the best in the world.

In the bigger picture I plan on having a permanent production base in northern Ghana, which will provide employment to the local community, ensure the continuity of weaving as an art and technique that can be passed unto the younger generation and weaving seen as a pride and major income earner for many in the cooperative.

What is one thing you now know that you wish you knew when starting A A K S?

I came to Ghana with a preconceived idea of life in London and how swiftly things would be. It struck me when I had to build relationship with weavers first before work, plan my day around weather patterns and ceremonies such as funerals and weddings. This was a very different approach to work with which I would say I wasn't used to so it was extremely difficult to begin and understand but now its part of my business and it has helped me to slow down and appreciate life more but also plan work in advance.

Where would you like to see A A K S in one year?

I would love to be stocked in major retailers in the world in the next year and also be a recognisable brand in Africa particularly and also worldwide. I want to grow my customer base steadily and increase my brand awareness.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone looking to start their own business?

I would advice any aspiring persons to observe their location, find a niche or something particular that hasn't been done before or even if its been done have a new twist on it, take the opportunity in their stride and just do it. We have a lot of people who have great ideas but so scared to put it out there. I was one of them a few years ago. Letting go and sharing was my greatest tool!

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A big thank you to Akosua for her time. Be sure to connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (links above).

All photos provided by A A K S.