GHANA

CU­RA­TOR KA­RINA EASTWAY MAKER AAKS BAGS IN­TER­VIEW WITH AKO­SUA AFRIYIE-KUMI PHO­TOS CON­TRIB­UTED BY AAKS BAGS COUN­TRY GHANA

SHIBUI Issue - - CONTENTS -

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

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