CURATOR KARINA EASTWAY MAKER AAKS BAGS INTERVIEW WITH AKOSUA AFRIYIE-KUMI PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY AAKS BAGS COUNTRY GHANA
Harvest, twist, dye, weave, repeat. How one designer is taking on the fashion world in an explosion of colour.
IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPREHEND THE QUANTITY OF RAW RAFFIA FIBRES WHICH PASS THROUGH THE SKILFUL FINGERS OF WEAVERS IN NORTHERN GHANA. AFTER HARVESTING, AROUND 10,000 STRANDS ARE HAND-TWISTED IN PREPARATION FOR DYEING, BEFORE THE RAFFIA IS WOVEN BY HAND INTO BASKET BAG SHAPES. AKOSUA AFRIYIE-KUMI IS THE LOCAL DESIGNER BEHIND THE FASHION LABEL A A K S, TAKING HER COUNTRY’S GENERATIONSOLD WEAVING TRADITION TO THE WORLD IN AN EXPLOSION OF COLOUR, STYLE AND AUTHENTICITY.
NAME AND POSITION AT A A K S?
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, owner and creative director.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY AND WHERE ARE YOU BASED NOW?
I am from Ghana and currently based in Ghana.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU BECOME A DESIGNER AND IN PARTICULAR, WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE TRADITIONAL CRAFT OF WEAVING IN GHANA? WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND YOU CREATING THE BRAND A A K S?
I grew up around basket bags as a child in Ghana, I used to give them as gifts and also 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 also more colourful with blends of colours which were tasteful and modern with a beautiful finish and detail.
Building on this idea, I started researching into bag designs and fibres and found a lot of attractive benefits which were in line with the vision and ethos I had for my dream brand.
I established A A K S 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 after my studies in the UK, I embarked on my journey to Ghana to make this happen.
TELL US ABOUT THE PRODUCT AND VILLAGE WHERE THE BAGS ARE MADE?
The community that I work with to produce my AAKS bags uses a traditional weaving technique to produce the main body of the bag which has been passed down through generations in Ghana’s northern region. There are no machines used in the weaving
process. Because the bags are hand woven by individuals, each bag retains an inherent uniqueness and this is what our handcraft entails.
The weaving process starts by twisting the raw raffia fibres by hand after they have been ecologically harvested. After twisting about 10,000 strands, we gather the raffia and prepare a dye bath. The dye bath consists of natural and a few chemical dyes mixed into boiling water. Sometimes even natural tree bark is used in the bath to create good colour intensity. It takes approximately 10-30 minutes to dye each strand, depending on the colour we want to achieve. The dyed raffia is dried in the direct sun. To create the base shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skilfully handling the raffia until the bags take shape.
The woven body is then transported back to my studio for finishing, a 12-hour drive away in Kumasi. This is where the sewing of linings, the hand stitching of buckles, and leather handles complete the bag. After a final quality control check, the bags are ready for postage to stores such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters in the USA, as well as other clients worldwide.
HOW DO THE A A K S BAGS SUPPORT THE MAKERS?
Through my work in Ghana, we support the community greatly, by providing employment to local weavers and ensuring the continuity of weaving as an art/technique that can be passed down to the younger generation. We also encourage weaving to be valued as a major income earner for many in the cooperative. I hope that our brand will go some way in contributing to the revival and sustenance of weaving as a thriving art.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT CULTURAL TRADITIONS IN GHANA AND WHAT ITEMS THE WEAVING TECHNIQUES WERE ORIGINALLY USED FOR?
The baskets were originally made as home décor, shopping baskets and storage baskets.
CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOMETHING A TRAVELLER TO GHANA SHOULD DO (TRAVEL TIP)?
My ‘must do’ in Ghana is to visit the Cape Coast coastal beaches and go on the adrenaline rush canopy walk through the Kakum Forest!
COULD WE GET A FINAL INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FROM YOU?
She was born wild and curious. A cage is no place for someone like that. I play with the fire of my own truth. I'll burn for the things I love. (Mia Hollow)
PREVIOUS PAGE Baw pot handmade raffia bags THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT The beautiful process of making Belle Ruffle bags: legs intertwined, materials, community spirit and togetherness Crafting the Baw pot bags; Oroo tote bag in the making
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT A A K S founder and creative director, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi with Baw pot bags; Lamé handcrafted raffia bag