I discovered this week’s DREAM JOB feature on Instagram. Andrea Pippins (who is one of my favorite creative ladies and designers) mentioned the launch of a new handbag line on her feed one day, and I immediately started following this new designer. I’ve been so inspired by Akosua and A A K S ever since. Her branding is so high-end, professional and gorgeous (so are her products), and she takes her mission of providing sustainable employment for African women very seriously. When Akosua agreed to be a part of the DREAM JOB series, I was so excited! What she’s doing is absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait for you all to learn more.
Dream Job Interview //
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi of A A K S
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi // Brand Founder + Creative Director // Year Launched: 2014
How did you get started in handbag design? How did you know this is what you wanted to do?
I studied womenswear fashion at Kingston University in London. Handbag design is still a new venture for me, but I have great childhood memories of buying beautiful basket bags for family as gifts, and I’m an avid collector myself. I have grown up around [basket bags]; they are part and parcel of my life but I’ve never seen anything new done with [the design]. I wanted to make my own basket bag that was almost leather-like, fold-able so I could travel with it. [And] I wanted something colourful to reflect my energy and colourful upbringing. After much deliberation and research, I settled on Raffia [as the material for my bags] after reading about fibres online. [Turns out] it was the most difficult fibre to find in Ghana. I traveled throughout the country [and] then found it serendipitously in our family farm in Southern Ghana! It was being grown minimally and then sold on to string bead vendors and others to basically tie animals on small farms.
I knew this was it once i felt it! The softness and strength of the [Raffia] was key; then I started looking into its benefits (it’s an organic, natural fibre [that is] renewable and also biodegradable). The quality and inherent ethical values were very attractive to me and very much in line with the vision and ethos I had [in mind] for my brand.
What were you doing before you launched A A K S?
I studied, and [then I] worked in Fashion after University. I was a co-owner of and design assistant for a small fashion brand in London, which showcased at London and New York Fashion Weeks for numerous seasons. I also interned with great designers such as Peter Pilotto and Matthew Williamson. This wealth of experience was invaluable to me, especially when starting out.
How did you make the transition to entrepreneur?
The transition to entrepreneur came almost natural to me, as I have always wanted to own my own fashion brand. My main aims of [my] studies in the UK were 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.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? How long was it before you started seeing a profit?
My business is relatively new (only a few months old), [so] I’ve used my own savings from day one to fund my business.
What do you enjoy most about owning your own business?
The freedom is great. But strangely enough, I wake up earlier than I did before, and I work more [often] because it’s my own and I want to put all my efforts and energy into making it good.
What do you enjoy the least about owning your own business?
The accounts are always tough to juggle, but I am learning something new everyday, and [my business] has made me appreciate numbers. [Numbers are] first when it comes to any business.
Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?
Sadly, many times. A lot of people didn’t understand what I was doing. I worked tirelessly and [lived] out of my suitcase in remote areas most of last year, so to have my website live and have people appreciate my products is a huge achievement for me, personally. I still pinch myself everyday!
How have you gotten the word out about A A K S? How have you established your social media presence?
I’ve gotten my brand out through social media; it’s my number one free tool. I’d been using it a while before I launched my brand. This was important to me as I had an interest in seeing and hearing from like-minded individuals around the world. Social media was an eye-opener from day one and a fantastic marketing tool for me as a new brand, especially since my budget for marketing is limited. Social media allows me to reach out to people I would never have come across in my life, and these connections are an invaluable part of my brand’s growth, for which I am very grateful.
What’s a typical day like for you?
My day starts with a good healthy breakfast (oat porridge) around 8:00 AM. Then whilst checking [and responding to email], I have a huge bowl of fruit salad! I then speak to my production team (they’re 12 hours away!) to check on progress of items and if we are in schedule to meet deadlines, etc. I also then have a chat with my assistant who works with me in my studio about tasks for the day. Mostly I research new seasonal shapes and ideas through drawing. I take my design sheets with spec measurements, colour ways and finishes to my weavers every 2 months. I fly to the Northern Region of Ghana where I brief weavers about my inspirations and ideas for the season. 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. My studio, which is located in Kumasi (in Ghana), is where I do all the finishing touches to the bags. Once they’re finalised, [the bags] are presented to stores and clients around the world.
What’s been the most amazing moment for your business thus far?
The most amazing moment is when my first client bought my bag and took a chic picture of herself carrying it in Marrakech (in Morocco) on holiday. I knew I was on to something good; she came back and ordered 3 more for her friends!
What advice do you have for aspiring handbag or accessories designers?
Find a niche or something in particular that hasn’t been done before. Or if it’s been done before, have a new twist on it. Take opportunity in stride, and just do it. We have a lot of people who have great ideas, but [are] so scared to put [themselves] out there. I was one of them a few years ago. Letting go and sharing was my greatest tool!
Many thanks to Akosua for sharing her fantastic brand with an equally fantastic and utterly inspirational interview! I mean, seriously…she lived out of a suitcase in a remote village in order to pursue her dreams.
I so admire her passion!