Breaking the internet one collection at a time, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi longed to introduce the world to the Ghanian designs and craftsmanship she grew up around as a little girl. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for her vision to become reality after founding brand AAKS in 2014.
Built upon childhood memories, Akosua noticed a lack of handcrafted bags on the market, more specifically those that didn’t shortfall of colour. And with this, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
So Akosua gathered a team of women in Ghana, who are talented weavers and experts in raffia, to create artisanal raffia basket bags. They not only fit timelessly into your wardrobe, but bear stories behind every piece of those who made them – with unmatchable quality to make sure they last. This was all of course whilst working to conserve the provenance of weaving as an art form, an important foundation that AAKS was built on.
What’s the journey been like since 2014? Keep reading for Akosua’s own story on how AAKS became to be and how the journey’s been (so far)!
What was your brainwave moment?
I grew up around basket bags as a child in Ghana, I used to give them as gifts and 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 with blends of colours which were tasteful and modern.
Building on this idea, I started researching into bag designs and fibres – and found a lot of attractive benefits in-line with the vision I had for my dream brand. I established AAKS 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.
How did you research the field?
It was challenging at the start to identify the community of artisans that could bring my ideas to life, due to lack of information online. But through traveling within Ghana, researching and word of mouth, I stumbled upon a group of artisans weaving under a Baobab tree and through trainings we were able to work together and craft my products.
What do you draw upon for inspiration for AAKS designs?
I seek inspiration from everything around me, be it nature, photography, or people. There are so many ideas that I get through observation and travelling around Africa and Europe which influence my design aesthetic.
Can you describe AAKS bags in one sentence?
Colourful handwoven accessories bags rooted in sustainable craftsmanship!
Do you consider AAKS an ethical brand?
Yes! We strive on being a transparent, sustainable brand that designs small capsule collections so we can focus on quality and authenticity. All of our bags are handwoven by craftswomen using organically sourced materials. Our weavers are directly paid fair wages and alongside this, their skills are developed greatly. In the long run, we hope that our brand will go some way in contributing to the revival and sustenance of weaving as a thriving art.
Which setting do you find most inspiring?
The outdoor garden at my home in Ghana. We have a variety of over 100 plants that my family and I collect. The colours, patterns and different shapes are so inspiring.
Can you describe the journey of an AAKS bag, from sketch to shop?
The weaving process starts by twisting our raffia raw fibres by hand after they have been ecologically harvested. We gather the strands of raffia and prepare a dye bath. The dye bath consists of both natural & fibre reactive dyes which are poured into boiling water, sometimes even natural tree barks are used in the bath to create good colour intensity. It takes approximately 30 minutes to dye the strands depending on the colour we want to achieve; the dyed raffia is then dried. To create the shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skilfully handling the fibres until the bag takes shape.
The woven shell of the bag is transported to my studio, a 12-hour drive away 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 packed and ready for shipment to clients around the world.
Love AAKS’ story and want to dive into their world of vibrant, wonderful designs? Shop their new collection on Monsoon Bazaar now.