It is not easy to stand out in the prestigious King’s gallery, located in the heart of Brussels. Yet, among well-known luxury brands and fancy chocolate shops, a bright fashion store manages to do just that. With its enigmatic name and striking designs, Akaso is the kind of place that immediately catches your eye.
Akaso, from the Italian ‘a caso’ – meaning “by coincidence” – refers to the many coincidences that led to its creation. It is the story of an improbable meeting between Belgian designers and Ethiopian artists.
An improbable meeting
The label was born from the encounter of founder Philippe Vertriest with a book on African body painting art containing striking pictures of the Kara people, a small group of about 1,500 people living in South-Western Ethiopia and renowned for their distinctive body painting art using the skin as a canvas. He managed to connect with this closed community with the support of an Ethiopian anthropologist and invited the Kara community to give a new dimension to Kara body painting art.
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From there, Philippe Vertriest, who hates cultural appropriation, developed the idea of a collaborative design label. Each collection grows from a co-creation workshop between Ethiopian artists and Belgian designers from Akaso. Artists from the Kara tribe design drawings themselves, for which they receive a fair payment, and Belgian designers then use the drawings as a basis to design clothes in consultation with the artists. Together, they collaborated on a collection that mixed their art with knit pieces in cotton and silk.
The young brand (Akaso was founded in 2016) has managed to expand its range considerably in only a short time. Starting with T-shirts and sweatshirts, Akaso has since developed a full-fledged accessories line and fine knitwear. The first handbag range celebrates Kara tribe skin scarification culture, for which Akaso developed and patented a unique technique to visualise a three-dimensional print on supple Italian calf leather. The entire collection, which is made in Europe with eco-friendly fabrics, stand out for its unique print and pattern techniques. In November 2017, Akaso opened its first flagship store in Brussels and inaugurated a second store in Antwerp in mid-September. In addition, the brand has now fifteen sales outlets in Belgium. In the Netherlands, Akaso can be found at Avalon in Goes, Nivoo in Venlo and Anne-Belle Mode in Weert.
Originality without sacrificing quality
Akaso works exclusively with suppliers in line with their human and ethical values. Respect for the environment and workers are amongst the brand’s priorities. These high standards and attention to detail are reflected in products of exceptionally high quality. The handbags are especially eye-catching, with patterns looking like the scars that the tribe members use as body decorations.
Too often, luxury brands find inspiration in other cultures without acknowledging their sources or giving back to these communities. The only alternative for lovers of unusual patterns is to turn cheap exotic clothes or accessories whose quality leaves a bit to be desired. That Akaso managed to unite luxury and authenticity while paying an hommage the culture of the Kara people is probably the brand’s greatest feat.
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