Tell us where you are from, the early years of your childhood and what influenced your direction towards design?
I grew up in the beautiful sunny Ghana, art was a love from an early age even though I also harbored a dream of being a pilot. Being top of the art class almost every year was a sign to me to pursue art in some form. So I left Ghana to London to study and expand my knowledge in art and design, be around other creative individuals to learn and develop as much as I could.
Like so many 20-somethings, it was a very intense period of my life. I was in a transition, coming from a family of entrepreneurs I felt this deep need to figure out who I was and where I was going and whose footstep to follow. The defining moment came when I thought, “Now is the time to make or break, to put myself out there and see what I can make of myself.” 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.
My main aim of studies in the UK was to broaden my mind in my field, gain a wealth of experience and finally come back to Ghana to support the creative art and design industry and build a luxury African brand. This happened quickly after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted luxury bags that could utilise locally sourced materials such as raffia coupled with traditional art of weaving. I knew I had something great to work towards and made the big move to fulfil my ultimate dream of owning my own fashion brand and igniting sustainable jobs in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
What does A A K S mean
It reads as A A K S as in letters, it stands for Akosua Afriyie-Kumi and siblings. I have a huge family of 8 and every single one of my siblings have contributed in a wonderful way towards my growth as a person and also my brand. It being knowledge or advise or just egging me on to go for it. They have been my backbone when I was away and moving back to Ghana.
What inspired the initial concept of your line
The initial concept behind my first spring/summer collection was to create my own basket bag with a twist. I have grown around basket bags when I lived in Ghana, I use 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 fold-able and also more colorful with blends of colors which were tasteful and modern with a beautiful finish and detail.
Taking on this idea and after much deliberation, I settled on raffia although it initially proved to be the most difficult fiber to find in Ghana. Coincidentally, after travelling throughout the country in search of the elusive fiber I found it on our family farm in Southern Ghana. It was being grown minimally and only sold to string bead vendors and others to basically tie animals on small farms. I immediately knew this was the perfect material once I felt it ! The softness and strength was key and then when I started looking into its benefits I was completely sold on it. Its benefits such as it being an organic, natural, renewal and biodegradable fiber was an inherent ethical value which was attractive to me and very much in line with the vision and ethos I had for my brand.
Where did your inspiration behind the aesthetic stem from?
I love traveling and I am also a keen photographer. I seek inspiration from everything I photograph or come across on my travels around the world. Be it sunsets, nature, architecture or people. My inspirations are much closer to home. Friends and family inspire me and more importantly the weavers I work with bring a sense of joy and a much greater inspiration to each bag we create which is remarkable.The A A K S brand aesthetic stems from a critical attention to detail and craftsmanship plus a profound commitment to sustainability.
The woman I thrive to design for is diverse, a style conscious strong women looking for something beautiful, who cares about quality, attention to detail and want something a little unusual than what’s currently being offered and ultimately promote made in Africa products. With all these inspirations put together and great color ways, our brand aesthetic flows endlessly.
How receptive were individuals to your ideas before they came to fruition?
A lot of individuals were quite receptive to the idea of me leaving London in my wonderful job and life to Ghana to start up a company. They knew the difficulties involved in starting up a brand and even more difficult in a country such as Ghana or Africa. But I knew I had something great to work towards and made the big move to fulfill my ultimate dream of owning my own fashion brand. A lot were also extremely supportive and wished me well. Now everyone is on board and I am delighted to have their support from an early stage in my career.
What is the strangest comment, reaction or request regarding your work?
People, I think are at times surprised by the level of craftsmanship and attention to quality and detail that we have been able to achieve.There is a perception of made in Ghana or Africa goods not being beautiful or well made so its good to put people at ease.
What would you say to those who don’t have the positive reinforcement of family or and friends when pursuing a passion?
To believe in their dreams, have a clear vision of what they really want and just go for it, you need to create your own path towards your happiness.
What does fear mean to you?
I once saw a poster that said ‘feel the fear, but do it anyway’ which I think flipped the whole ’fear’ paradigm for me. I now purposefully embrace all my fears now and even make space for it and peace with it. I respect it and listen to what it says at times but like the proverbial journey I invite the fear to come along the ride with me but fear never gets to choose my route or plan.
Suggestions or advice for those who are afraid to take the first steps in building a business?
I would advice any aspiring persons to start. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the planning of your business and waiting for a perfect time but I do believe there is never a perfect time for anything and sometimes it’s okay to know what you want and just go for it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
What is the best piece of advice or life lesson you have learned regarding your work thus far?
To go with my instincts whilst embracing uncertainty and knowing that I get to choose every moment who I want to be.
What keeps you motivated?
My wonderful extremely caring and hardworking family and friends.
Current music playlist and favorite book?
Ed Sheeran in the morning and Calvin Harris in the day. My favorite book is Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi it speaks so well to me.
Favorite restaurant and dish you would not want to live without?
Busaba Eathai, its a Thai eatery in London and I am very much addicted to their Pad Kwetio Dish which has a wonderful flavors of chilies and prawns, it tastes so good every time I eat it. I am also into my Ghanaian dishes, fried plantains with a tomato and beans gravy is a must.
Do you have a workout/exercise routine? If so, what is your routine?
I practice a little bit of yoga in the morning and I play golf with my trainer. I love the effort of concentrating.
Set the mood of your work space; do you listen to music, enjoy silence, turn off your phone etc…
In the mornings I tend to listen to a lot of relaxing music in the studio which helps to calm me down for the days work ahead, I don’t turn off my phone ever only leave it on silence mostly. I am also slightly addicted which is not good when I am trying to snooze off. I could do with a phone detox.
Top 5 Favorite Designers
What is your favorite life lesson
If the future seems overwhelming and at times downright gloomy and dim just remember it comes around one moment at a time. So paint as big a picture as you can for your future. Then set about making it come true one moment at a time.
Favorite inspirational quote?
I would love to move into clothes and print design as its been a great passion of mine. Nonetheless, I am very keen to explore the accessories and home interior section in fashion. Bag design is still a new venture for me as I only started my brand last year and I am enjoying it so far and I will be doing bags for some time now before anything else. I am also currently part of the Design Network Africa which is a collaborative network of designers and fine artists. I am delighted to be selected as we have a lot of exciting projects coming up in the next couple of months and also a exciting new stockists!