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Akosua Afriyie-Kumi

Interview by Scott A. Sant’Angelo
Photography courtesy of A A K S

Originally published in Issue No. 7

A A K S produces raffia bags handmade by a women’s cooperative in Northern Ghana. The brand produces luxurious handmade accessories using ethical processes inspired by old-age craft traditions, which are not often seen beyond the borders of Ghana. However Ghanaian fashion designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi wants the world to see how luxury and quality can grow from traditional designs and is using A A K S bags to change perceptions of Africa through fashion. 

After interning and working with fashion designers such as Peter Pilotto, Matthew Williamson and William Tempest in London, she embarked on her own path in 2013 to set up A A K S in Ghana. Against all the odds A A K S is a brand that seeks to showcase the unlimited possibilities for the fashion and textile industries in Ghana. Using skills and techniques that are unique to this part of Ghana, craftsmanship is the foundation of this luxury brand. It takes approximately one week to complete a handbag, which attests to an unwavering dedication to modern style and interpretations using traditional methods. Made by hand each bag bears the fingerprints of the person who fashioned it and a signature tag is added to prove authenticity. 

Since launching in September 2014, Akosua has showcased her work internationally in Paris, London, New York, Milan, Johannesburg and Cape Town. The brand tells an exciting story of Ghana, offering a different perspective of Africa as a whole. The visual inspiration behind every design is reflected through the images of Ghana and the crafters as they create these handbags shared by Akosua on social media. She is building an African brand ethically and conscientiously one handbag at a time.

Scott A. Sant’Angelo (SAS) — First and foremost, your work is absolutely beautiful and the attention to detail is apparent. What drove you to create you own collection and share your love of the weaving techniques done by the women of Ghana? 

Akosua Afriyie-Kumi (AAK) — Ghana is my home, a beautiful expanse of land, people and culture. It’s also where my family lives and of which I am very fond of. My main aim of studies in the UK was to broadened 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 will utilise locally sourced materials such as raffia coupled with traditional art of weaving, I knew I had something great to work towards and made the big move to fulfil my ultimate dream of owning my own fashion brand A A K S and igniting sustainable jobs in Ghana.

(SAS) — Explain your design process, do you do a lot of sketches, notes and do you make things by hand when you start? 

(AAK) — Yes lots of sketches, then establishing a mood that fits with my clientele lifestyle and my design aesthetic. After drawing and deciding on a set of ideas, I take my design sheets with spec measurements, colour ways and finishes to my weavers where I brief them about my inspirations and ideas for the season. Weavers also bring on board their ideas of technical know and how each bag would be executed.

(SAS) — How has your environment shaped you as an designer? What would you say is a constant inspiration? 

(AAK) — 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 of being an entrepreneur here. Coupled with that, I absolutely love the freedom of creativity which comes with being a designer in an emerging country constantly helping to shape our visual world. I seek inspiration from everything around me be it nature, photography or people. There is so much ideas that I get through observation and travelling around Africa and Europe which influences my design aesthetic. 

(SAS) — I love that everything is made by hand, locally sourced and you are employing artisans whom have had their skill sets passed on from generations. What are some of the challenging aspects to working in this way? 

(AAK) — Building a fully African-made luxury brand presents challenges which my team and I are overcoming everyday. The main challenge for us is logistics and costs of importing and exporting in and out of Africa. Sourcing of trims and hard wear can sometimes be a struggle as most suppliers here are limited. However, despite all these setbacks we are persevering and making the best out of everything and taking a competitive advantage when the need arises.

(SAS) — As a young entrepreneur, with her own brand, what advice would you give to someone attempting to start something of their own? 

(AAK) — I would advise any aspiring designers to find a niche something new that hasn’t truly been explored on the market and create to a high standard with attention to detail which will be eye catching for buyers and customers around the world. It is really easy to get wrapped up in the planning stages and never take the final leap of faith but sometimes you have to know what you want and just go for it.

(SAS) — Lastly, what is on the horizon for you, what should be looking out for? 

(AAK) — We just launched our new spring/summer 2020 collection which we are very excited. We are also collaborating on a basket bag with big USA store. Other future plans is to open our own shop in Ghana to give access to clients who travel through Ghana to purchase our bags. 

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