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AAKS: Handcrafted Luxury Handbags

Ghanaian designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi is one of the hottest names in African fashion. Her luxurious handmade accessories are inspired by and hand-crafted in Africa, using ethical processes and age-old craft traditions. She originally wanted to be a pilot, but fell in love with illustration and decided, against the odds, to pursue a career in design.  

Akosua left Ghana at the age of 19 to spread her creative wings and soak in all she could at Kingston University in London. After interning and working with fashion designers such as Peter Pilotto and William Tempest in London, she embarked on her own path almost two years ago to set up her accessories label in Ghana.

A A K S produces raffia bags handmade by a women’s cooperative in the Northern Region of Ghana - not too far away from Aduna's baobab processing centre in the Upper East region. Here the 28-year-old fashion designer tells us her inspirations behind the brand and about her love for Baobab! 

Tell us the story behind A A K S:

A A K S is a luxury accessories brand that seeks to create handcrafted quality bags in styles that maintain the spirit of Africa through weaving with bright exuberant colours. 

Based in Ghana, the essence of A A K S design philosophy is a complex combination of thoughts and design element which ensues from a critical attention to craftsmanship, authenticity and ethical values in their production. Each collection silhouette is unique and tells a different story through detail, colour and shape. Akosua is connected to every stage of the design and production process to oversee and ensure that the end result is imbued with the spirit and soul worthy of the A A K S stamp.

Each and every bag you create is so beautiful, what is your inspiration behind them?

I am a keen photographer, I take inspirations from almost everything I photograph or come across on my journeys around Ghana and the world. Be it sunsets, nature, architecture or patterns. My main inspiration for my brand was to create my own basket bag with a twist; a bag that was foldable - almost leather like - 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 travelled 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 when I started looking into its benefits, I realised as it is an organic natural fibre, it is also renewable and also biodegradable. This quality combined with inherent ethical values was very attractive to me and very much in line with the vision and ethos I had for my brand.

Bolgatanga is famous for its Baobab trees, what do they mean to you? 

The magnificent tree of life, the baobab tree, stands so tall in the Northern region of Ghana. In the stifling heat of the midday sun in the savannah it beckons you to hide beneath its wings, be it laying down or sitting and catching your breath perhaps, and to reflect on your journey so far. Its uses are vast; men and women sit under them to weave, sleep, have a little rest or even build underneath it. Locals are known to also use it as food, as the fruit it bears is a superfood with its very high levels of vitamin C. Thus there is a medicinal use to it and also they use it to feed their animals. I see it to be an inspiration and a giant natural manifestation and a wonder of creation that watches over me when I travel in the north. Immediately, when I see it on the horizon, I feel quite centred. I sit underneath it to draw, write in my journal, at times meditate and reflect. Almost every time something happens there is a baobab tree for me to sit under rest, rethink and regroup! 

How do you see A A K S making a positive impact in the fashion industry?

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 towards 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 them 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 form and a technique that can be passed onto the younger generation with weaving seen as a source of pride and major income earner for many in the cooperative. I hope this will make an impact in the fashion industry and promote 'made in Ghana' products on the luxury market. 

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