From Ghana To John Lewis, Aaks Founder Akosua Afriyie-Kumi Shares Her Story

Akosua Afriyie-Kumi grew up in Ghana, a place she describes as a “beautiful expanse of land, people and culture”. It’s also where her brand AAKS was born.

After studying in the UK, to further broaden her mind, Akosua took her experience back home to Ghana to support the creative art and design industry and build her dream luxury African brand. This all happened “quite quickly” she admits. After seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted luxury bags that utilise locally sourced materials such as raffia, coupled with traditional art of weaving, and igniting sustainable jobs in Ghana, AAKS was born in 2015.

Fast forward to today, and her sustainable, authentic pieces can be found at ethical platform Gather & See, as well as John Lewis. Here she talks candidly about life in the sun.

Where do you  live and can you tell us a little about life there? 

I live in Ghana. It’s a burgeoning creative hub. There is a kaleidoscope of influences and inspiration that I feel are 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 to help shape our visual world.

Do you have a studio in Ghana?  

Yes, I do, I have a small studio in my family home in Ghana. My weavers however are 9-10 hours away from me in the Northern region of Ghana. In Kumasi, the South, where I live its very green in nature, hilly almost and a complete contrast to the North where the weather is almost desert like. So, I can draw inspiration to design my bags from two juxtaposing sides of nature.

How do you champion sustainability as an individual and as a brand?

Sustainability is always on the agenda. We impact the area greatly by providing employment to the local community and ensuring the continuity of weaving as an art/technique that can be passed down to the younger generation. We also encourage weaving to be valued as a major income earner for many in the cooperative. I hope that our brand will go someway in contributing to the revival and sustenance of weaving as a thriving art. Our materials are organic and all of our weavers are directly paid fair wages.

We strive on being a transparent, sustainable brand that designs small capsule collections. We focus on quality and authenticity. All our bags are handwoven by craftsmen and women using organically sourced materials.


And can you talk us through the process of creating a bag?

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 to 30 minutes to dye the strands depending on the colour we want to achieve, and then the dyed raffia is dried. To create the shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skillfuly handling the fibres until the bags take shape.

The woven body of the bag is then transported back to my studio, a 12 hour 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 finish the bag. After a final quality control check, the bags are then ready for postage to stores and clients around the world.

What is it about the brand that you think resonated with stores?

I think they wanted something colourful and new that wasn’t already everywhere in the market. Also being an ethical brand is very relevant, as is a brand that tells an authentic story. We were approached by John Lewis in 2020, via email, the buyer had seen my brand on social media and it resonated with her. We spoke and it all fell into place – John Lewis was a shop I spent time in during my university days in the UK, so it was a special partnership

Can you share your favourite three pieces from the current collection?

The Baw Pot bag, the Tia Ruffle bag and the Baba Berry bag.

Do you have any daily/ weekly rituals in Ghana? 

My weekly ritual is to go for a long run, early on a Sunday morning, it helps me to feel reenergised for the week ahead.

Where’s your favourite place to travel to?

I love traveling to Europe specially France or England in the summer as it’s beautiful and everyone is happy and smiley, it reminds me of Ghana and adds a different perspective to my life and work.

Do you have a favourite hotel in Ghana? 

Labadi Beach Hotel in Ghana. It has a great spa, and a cool African-inspired theme!

Can you tell me about about a couple of your favourite independent businesses?

I love discovering new small brands online and buying from them as a small brand myself! I love South African Jewellery Brand Pichulik, Beauty Brand Liha Beauty and Enamelware Brand Bornn Enamel.

 Favourite shop stocking independent brands?

Since we don’t have many small independent stores in Ghana I tend to go online to make my purchases. But there is one store in Accra, Ghana called Elle Lokko which has some real gems. They stock my bags and also sell a lot of beautiful products from various African brands in the store.

 What was the last thing you bought from an independent brand?

Moringa Tea from Aduna!

Do you have any plans/ hopes/ dreams for when travel restrictions are lifted? 

I am hoping to do a long road trip through the UK cities this summer!

Can you share 9 pics from Insta that sum up your life? 

Discover more at @a.a.k.s