When did you first have the idea to use these Ghanaian weaving techniques in high end fashion?
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 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.
What impressed you so much with the skill of the weaving?
I was very impressed by their hands skills and the combinations of colours and also the unconscious ethical processes they used in creating baskets. Taking on this idea I begun to explore further into weaving, fibres and what the possibilities could be.
Were they already blending raffia and leather?
No, weavers weave with only straw and I introduce a new fibre which is raffia in the community.
What were the challenges for producing the bags in the way that you wanted?
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 FraFra, 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 was it about what you saw that was so appealing?
I love that they were using old age techniques and weaving by hand and not machines . This was particularly appealing to me as I could see so many different possibilities and I couldn't wait to work with them.
The ethical element to production is very important - can you tell us how the bags are produced?
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, a 12 hours drive away in Kumasi, Ghana 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 such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters in the USA and clients worldwide.
What can people learn from studying the designs and silhouettes of the collections?
They are authentic yet stylish, modern and very easy to carry.
AAKS bags have appeared all around the world and in fashion magazines. What do you think accounts for its success?
I think its believing in my self , my crazy ideas and also having a great branding and branding team that could see my vision from early on and guiding me in the right steps which now appeals to a broad international market.
What can we expect from your next collection?
Colour and more colour. I would love to continue pushing the boundary of Made in Africa products with my new collection and diversifying soon into the home interiors.