Akosua Afriyie-Kumi is here to brighten up your wardrobe with her sunny bag brand

Akosua Afriyie-Kumi’s ethical fashion brand AAKS has been producing handcrafted luxury handbags in Ghana since 2014 and these days she's spreading the love worldwide. The designer blends traditional African textiles and craftsmanship with contemporary designs – an approach that is a result of her experiences both at home and abroad as well as a reflection of how deeply interwoven she is with her canny business strategy and heartfelt creative vision. And as her blazing SS17/18 collection makes abundantly clear, she’s rather partial to African sunsets, too.

Raised in Ghana’s second city, Kumasi, roaming the sprawling Kejetia Market as a child sparked her fashion flair. “Having baskets around me every day, I always wondered why nobody had done something new with them,” she recalls of her initial inspiration. “I’d always wanted to study in the UK to gain experience, be around creative people and learn, and after that come back to Ghana to help employment here. Growing up I realised a lot of people didn’t have work, especially in the remote areas.” So she moved to London to study womenswear at Kingston University, where the next piece of the puzzle fell into place. “I would see how people carry cross-the-body-bags or tote bags, so these were all influences that I took into consideration when I started.”

Upon returning, Afriyie-Kumi spent a year travelling around the country looking for ways to bring her ideas to life, which she admits was not easy. In the south she found her material, raffia, but the talent she needed to weave it resided far from there. “The northern part of Ghana has a concentration of weavers. I started to look into the history of it as I thought they might have migrated but they’ve actually remained in that region the entire time. It’s a skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation.”

“This collection is about what’s here - all that clash of colours and blending it in with scenery and geometric shapes and patterns”

Finding a craft specific to Ghana felt serendipitous for a young designer looking to bring African identity to the fashion forefront. “Coming from Ghana and having weavers here who make these baskets was just perfect,” she says. Each bag takes up to a week to make, during which it’s twisted, dyed and handcrafted to her specifications by one of the 30 weavers that she now employs. Each collection has proved more popular than the last, thanks in part to her beautiful Instagram feed, and she hopes that with the growing success of the brand,  she can build her own weaving centre so that she can expand into other categories including interior objects and hats.

For SS17/18, her forth collection to date, Afriyie-Kumi continues to look locally to come up with styles including pom-pom festooned shoppers (Oroo), ruffled handbags (Belle), go-to buckets (Baw pot) and her new every day shape (Hana). Each bag has leather detailing and together they radiate a rainbow of warm, dusky hues. “My biggest influence from Ghana would be the colour and the sun,” she says. “This collection is about what’s here - all that clash of colours and blending it in with scenery, geometric shapes and patterns.”

She's recently showcased her collection in Milan and been featured in CNN and continues to supply global chain stores such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. Yet Afriyie-Kumi still feels it’s important to play a role in Ghana’s growing fashion industry where her in-demand work has synergy with fellow ethically-minded brands like Studio One Eighty Nine and Osei-Duro. “Everything has changed in the sense that because of social media, people are seeing how others dress around the world. So we have a lot of people who are wearing African prints but keeping a modern style to it. I love that blend,” she says of the Accra look. “The scene is really emerging. People are paying attention and it’s cool to be a part of it.”

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Published on 10/12/2017