usually when i discover something that i love i want to write and blog about it immediately. i don’t have much patience for waiting – probably because i’m too excited to get the word out. but sometimes i come across a project that’s still in the making, and i watch it unfurl and develop before i can share it. that’s what it was like following Akosua Afriyie-Kumi on Instagram, the creator behind Ghanaian bag line A A K S. every day she would post beautiful behind-the-scenes images like this and this and this, and finally her website was launched.
i got in touch with Akosua and asked her a few questions about the story behind her bags, which are hand-woven by a group of women that she works with in Bolgatanga, in northern Ghana. you can see the first collection here, and follow the journey of A A K S on Instagram. an online shop is launching in the new year, but in the meantime you can contact them directly if you’re interested in getting your hands on one of these beauties.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to establish A A K S
I grew up in beautiful sunny Ghana! I remember always carrying a notepad with colourful pencils with me as a child. I will scribble, draw and make caricatures of things I saw. I had an eye for colour and patterns, and being first in my art class almost every year was a sign that this was something I could excel at if I pursued it further and ultimately be my vocation. I traveled to London for university to expand my knowledge in art and design and also to be around other creative individuals.
A A K S is inspired by my passion for art, which I felt could contribute towards the fashion and textile growth in Ghana and Africa respectively.
Through studies and amassing a great wealth of experience after graduating, I felt the timing was apt for me to establish A A K S, after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags. It was a new venture which is inspired by my passion for art which I felt could contribute towards the fashion and textile growth in Ghana and Africa respectively.
I knew I had something fun and quirky to work on which would be great if sourced fully in Ghana/Africa. I also felt it was time the notion of inferiority was dropped from ‘Made in Ghana’ products. I passionately believe with dedication to the craft and a keen attention to detail ‘Made in Ghana’ can compete with the best in the world of design. Ghana can do luxury, modern and on trend without losing its African soul or aesthetic.
above: Akosua, the creative force behind A A K S
How did you come to work with the women who are hand-weaving your bags and what have they taught you about their craft?
I traveled through out Ghana trying to find the perfect place to make my handwoven bags. I stumbled across a small community on my travels which had the perfect tranquil setting. I could see myself living there and making bags for a life time. I decided to test the weavers skills and see if they could achieve what I vaguely had in mind at the time.
The weavers have taught me to slow down and appreciate their art and also the time and difficulty it takes to achieve a handmade product.
This was a tough journey as the weavers had never used raffia which is a material that has great ethical value that I wanted to push forward in my brand. We started from scratch, I spent a year teaching weavers how to make the products to a standard and quality that I could tick off as luxury. The weavers on the other hand have taught me to slow down and appreciate their art and also the time and difficulty it takes to achieve a handmade product. I am also a keen learner of the art of weaving and in a great community of very talented women.
Tell me a little bit about the process that goes into making one of your bags.
I start by establishing a mood that fits with my clientele 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 and also architecture.
I am an avid sunset photographer, so I pick beautiful hues from pictures I have taken from travels which then form part of my colour palette.
After drawing and deciding on a set of ideas, I take my design sheets with spec measurements, colour ways and finishes to my weavers in 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. We then begin by twisting the raffia, we also dye the strands with organically certified dyes then leave to dry in the open sunshine. Preparation normally takes 3 -4 weeks before weaving can begin.
Weavers then start making 3 dimensional shapes of my designs with critical attention to detail and and then we achieve sample shapes for the season. I bring the samples to my studio 12 hours drive away from the weaving community and start putting together finishes touches such as linings, trims, labels, leather handles and buckles. I go through each piece to approve quality and I pick the final pieces which is then presented as my final collection for a customer and then stores.
Is weaving in Ghana a thriving industry, and do you feel like you are contributing to “something bigger”?
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.
I hope that A A K S will contribute 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 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.
Any interesting future plans for A A K S?
I would love to move into clothes and print design as its 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 started my brand this year and I am enjoying it so far and will be doing bags for some time now before anything else.
all images courtesy of A A K S