Founder Belgian brand Akaso: “I want to African art and creativity in the spotlight’

Akaso shot to the brain of Philippe Vertriest, a Belgian with a passion for African creativity. The brand grew further from a collaboration between the Ethiopian Karastam and Belgian designers. We talked to the founder about the co-creation with authentic Ethiopian tribe.

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Philippe Vertriest, father of two Ethiopian adoptiedochtertjes, gave two years ago, his job at lingeriespecialist Van de Velde to his own fashion adventure to start. We felt him to the tooth on its label Akaso.

Why the name Akaso, that does not sound Afrikaans or Flemish?

It is, indeed, no African word, and also, what we often hear, no Japanese name. Akaso comes from the Italian. My wife is Italian, and during a visit to her family do we see on the name. I told the story of the birth of the brand to my sister-in-law, who remarked that it all started with a string of coincidences: “a caso” in Italian. My brother-in-law designs logos and came up with the visual style, namely “A ka so’. By the word, as to split, you create a series of phonetic basic sounds, which is very universal for the way in which languages are put together.


I told the story of the birth of the brand to my sister-in-law, who remarked that it all started with a string of coincidences.

And what were those string of coincidences?

The beginning of it all are my adopted children, from Ethiopia. But certainly the discovery of the book “Painted Bodies: African Body Painting, Tattoos, and Scarification” has me to the Karastam led.

When I a friend told them about my plan to go to the Karastam to travel and to work together for a fashion collection, he said that I have a scientific framework would need to have the local authorities to persuade. Through social media I came in contact with an Ethiopian anthropologist. After some back and forth communication via chat and Skype, I was two months later in Ethiopia.

© Michael Marson

There, I started a roadtrip along all levels of the governments. Everywhere we did our story and every day got our jeep more filled. Everyone wanted a companion to be attached to the stem to protect it. When they asked why I wanted to work with an Ethiopian tribe, I told them not on my adopted children. Meanwhile, know they do, but I didn’t want her to be charmed would be because I an adoptive parent. The local authorities found our idea very original. The Kara have already received a lot of international attention, but mainly of photographers and documentary filmmakers. Because we have something refreshing suggested, they were immediately enthusiastic.


The local authorities found our idea very original.

On the fifth day, when we’re thirty miles away from the tribe, we did our story again to the last captain. Who began to laugh and suggested that, instead of a guide himself. He was a member of the Karastam and wanted to take us to his village for guidance.

Everything went smoothly in the village?

© Michael Marson

In the village arrived, gathered the whole tribe is under the tree on the river. At first, they were critical, but they decided quickly that they wanted to contribute to my project. I stayed there to sleep and the next morning spoke to the chef me. The village chief let us know that the older generation six designers had gathered.

The were three men and three women, because I had insisted on that the fair spread would be. Four of the six that were chosen, were the final team of the Kara Six. One of the girls was in the meantime married, and according to the local, therefore, no longer suitable to take part in our workshop.

In Belgium I found two designers, Sandrina Fasoli and Michael Marson, and we were able to go to work. I said my job at Van de Velde, and the ball was rolling.

How did the workshop work?

We talked each morning in a klaslokaaltje, where we worked on various set themes. We started each with drawings on paper and then in the afternoon to go to body painting. The drawings were so strong and pure, that they are at the designs in their original form have used. The contribution of the Belgian designers consists of the choice of materials and the decision which shapes and snits the sweaters and T-shirts were.

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What is the Karastam of the creations?

They were very surprised and touched. Also they were happy that we were back with the finished collection. We had the 2016 summer and winter for taken them, so that they are also their own creations.

They were unanimously pleasantly surprised, especially because the designs are not cliché African eyes. That was our intention also. We didn’t want a ‘in your face’ African collection, or the feeling of dressing up to walk around.

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It is a merger of one of Africa’s oldest art forms and a modern, urban look. Some prints, such as the bones, are very African for a Belgian audience, but the urban look is still not a copy of African costumes.

From what materials are the items?

When I started the brand, I had first the idea of the concept in my head and in the second place, the idea of the product. There could, therefore, different sides assume. Since we are a starting label, we also do not want too fast to crash, but rather refresh.


We are going to be sustainable to work, on different planes.

What was established was that I was in Europe wanted to produce. I have examined, or the production in Africa could be expired, but came from a bare-bones trip back. Here in Europe you have more quality materials and more certainty that the textile workers to be treated well.

We are going to be sustainable to work, on different planes, but I have no fairtrade label.

We opt for natural, ecologically responsible materials. Conventional cotton consumes too much water, so we will use qualitative alternatives such as Tencel (made from eucalyptus) and Modal (made from beech). We are also investigating whether it is possible to work with recycled materials.

© Michael Marson

In addition, I think it is important that the Kara paid well. What is also important is the cooperation with the tribe. The first two collections were a success and we plan to again run workshops with the Karastam and put together collections to create.

What the future brings?

Since I have a different image of Africa wants to sketch, we want in addition to collaborations with the Karastam also in the sea with modern African artists. The continent houses a lot of creativity, and we want to show to the people here. I see my brand as a platform where art and culture from Africa a voice.


The African continent houses a lot of creativity, and we want to show to the people here.

But also in our cooperation with the Kara we want to continue to refresh. That story is certainly not yet the gig is over, we can have many sides, and so it would be sin, and there are already pulling away. We also discover new things in the drawings and learn what starts. For example, the Swipe gesture drawing very well. It is a simple, yet elegant print that is popular among our customers. We can take the time in order for this cooperation to grow and the consumer the story behind the co-creation to tell.

A novelty is that besides the T-shirts and sweaters also work on knitwear.

On Saturday, August 13, organizes Akaso an event, where Philippe Vertriest the photos and the concept of his brand continuously will explain.

You can be there throughout the afternoon and evening, between 14h and 20h, enjoy a Ethiopian koffieceremonie.


Akaso iconoclasm

Until 20 August

Just Julia, Antoine Bréartstraat 7 8300 Knokke

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