What inspired you to set up AAKS?
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 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 my 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 I embarked on my journey to Ghana to make this happen after my studies in the UK.
Tell us a bit about the production - how are the bags made?
The weaving process starts by twisting the raw 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 dyes which are poured into boiling water, sometimes even natural tree barks are 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. To create the shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skilfully handling the fibres until the bags take shape.
The woven body is then transported back to my studio, a 12 hours drive away for finishing. This is where the sewing of linings (usually cotton or linen with drawstring closures), hand stitching of buckles and leather handles finalise the bag. After a final quality control, the bags are then ready for postage to stores and clients around the world.
Why is Ghana such a special country and why do you want to support it?
There is a kaleidoscope of influences and inspiration that I feel is unique to Ghana and of which I can tap into on my doorstep so that is a massive positive of being an entrepreneur here. Coupled with that , I absolutely love the freedom of creativity which comes with being a designer in an emerging country and working in a constantly to help shape our visual world!
What influences your designs?
I seek inspiration from everything around me be it nature, photography or people. There is so much ideas that I get through observation, photography and travelling around Africa and Europe which influences my design aesthetic.
What is does an average working day look like for you?
My day starts at 7:30am most of the time, I check my emails for about an hour each day. My team arrives around 8am and I schedule tasks for them for the day. Since my work is all handmade there are bound to be a lot of mistakes so everyday I am rectifying delays and checking quality control problems. I also research new seasonal shapes and ideas through drawings and work on all our social media chains plus connecting with stores/press around the world.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced in setting up AAKS?
It was challenging at the start to identify the community that could bring my ideas to life, then when I stumbled across the community of weavers with the right skill set we couldn't communicate due to a language barrier. Weavers only spoke a local language so I had to use drawings and hand gestures at the start and later found an interpreter. This challenge was overcome quickly when I started learning the language from the weavers and we are having a joy of a time working together in the community.
What has been the highlight(s) since you launched?
I have had many great highlight so far in my career, having my bags stocked in 64 stores worldwide is a dream and being able to connect with many individuals around the world due to the work I am doing in Ghana is very inspiring and encouraging for me to strive for more.
What does the future hold for AAKS and where would you like to see the business in 5 years time?
I want to continue pushing the boundary of Made in Africa products and also diversifying into other areas of fashion. I am working on a new home decor weaving project with the UNHCR in Burkina Faso which is launching at the end of 2018.
Why is it important for you to use traditional techniques in your production?
Artisans are extremely important to the AAKS brand. Through my work in the community weavers get the much needed income to encourage and harness their skills to become independent through making good and steady work.My weavers have learnt to create products with specifications and making bags for clients and prestigious stores around the world. They are very proud. I plan to have a permanent production base in northern Ghana. Through this, I would like to impact the weavers greatly by ensuring the continuity of weaving as an art/technique that can be passed down to the younger generation, and encourage weaving to be valued as a major income earner for many in the cooperative.