Meet Ghana's Ethical Handbag Designer, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi

Isabelle Pitman

Meet Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, Ghanaian designer and entrepreneur. Akosua was born and raised in Ghana, before moving to London to study fashion design. She now owns her own brand in Ghana, A A K S, and is dedicated to creating handcrafted, ethical handbags. She employs local raffia weavers and utilizes traditional African techniques to craft her colorful creations. We interview Akosua to find out more about her global success.

Akosua with one of her designs

Tell us a bit about the creation of your brand, A A K S. Was possessing your own label a particular goal of yours?

For a very long time I wanted to work on something which would explore different areas of art and design. Ultimately, I wanted to break the mold by utilizing local sourcing and skills to create luxury Ghanaian products. I traveled throughout Ghana after my studies in London, trying to find a place to make my hand-woven bags. I stumbled across a small community, which had weavers and a perfect, tranquil setting. I began working and experimenting to make my ideas come true. It was a tough journey at the start, it still is! The weavers had not used raffia before, but I wanted to push this material forward in my brand due to its ethical value. I spent a year teaching weavers how to make the products to a quality standard that I could consider as luxury. After many trials and errors, A A K S was finally born.
How would you describe your style to people that view your designs for the first time?

Handmade and eclectic!

The Happa bag

Tell us about the first moment you knew you wanted to be a designer.

I have had a passion for art from an early age and studied art throughout my childhood. There wasn’t a very big art scene in Ghana during my childhood, so I moved to London to pursue it, expand my knowledge and meet other creative individuals. After graduating with a BA (Hons) Fashion degree from Kingston University, I worked and interned with numerous brands including Peter Pilotto, Matthew Williamson and William Tempest. My transition to designer and entrepreneur came almost naturally to me, as I have always wanted to run my own fashion brand.
You have spoken about ethical values before now, is this a concern that motivates your creativity?

Yes, very much so. Creating something handcrafted has always been the goal of my brand. My ethos is to preserve traditional techniques by combining them with modern design and usability. My weavers and I bring empowerment, passion and durability to each creation. I hope that my brand will help to contribute to the revival and sustenance of weaving as a thriving art. I want to ensure that weaving continues to be a major source of income and a profession of pride for the weavers. At the same time, I also hope to meet international standards of design and compete with the best in the world.

Traditional weaving techniques

Tell us a bit about the contemporary fashion design scene in Ghana.

Ghana is a flourishing creative hub. There are great skill sets here that haven’t yet been explored fully or artistically. Traditional techniques such as tie dye, weaving, and batik making are going through a revival on an international level. It’s appealing to the new African person who cares about where their products are made. The fashion scene is definitely growing rapidly, which I am excited about.
You travel a lot, is travel something that inspires your work? If you could take a design tour across one country in the world, where would you go?

Traveling definitely motivates me. I like to see the beauty and unique differences in each culture. I haven’t had much chance to travel this year but my dream location would be somewhere in Asia. I’d love to see the processes behind their hand made products and observe the comparison between slow and fast fashion on the continent.

Local raffia

What can we expect to see from you in the near future? Are you working on any particular projects at the moment?

I have just finished my new Spring/Summer 2016 collection which will launch at the end of October. I am very excited to share the new bags we have in the collection with the world.
What is the best piece of creative advice you have ever received? Who was it from?
My mother, who is the backbone of my brand, wrote to me at the beginning of its inception. She told me not to let the fear of failure stop me from achieving what I really want. Those words have stuck with me for a very long time.

Aninya weaving the Palma clutch

If you could sit down and have a meal with one fashion designer in the world, who would it be and why?

I would love to meet with Mary Kantronzou because she moved from home to study in the UK, like me, and she has created an amazing, inspiring brand.
Where would you advise culture lovers to visit in Ghana?

Bonwire, the village where they make colorful cloths in the South of Ghana, is a great start!
The best gallery or museum for design lovers in Ghana?

Omanye House in Accra is a great place for anyone wanting to explore art.

Aberima carrying dyed straw

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