Monday, December 17, 2012

Lorene from Akhu Designs; SweetShop Interview!

Happy Monday SweetShoppers! This week we’re featuring yet another interview with of the SweetShop C.I.A.(C.rafters I. A.dmire), culture diva Lorene Rhoomes of Akhu Designs!

Lorene, surrounded by some quality Akhu Designs

I met Lorene twice, actually, in very different contexts. The first time we met, I stopped her while on a walk through Manchester and complimented her on her gorgeous hair (she and her son both have beautiful locs!). She was walking in one direction, I was walking in the other, I’m a sucker for a great head of natural Afro hair, and I never really thought I’d get to know her any better.I was just blessed by her confidence and great personal vibe and wanted to return the favor.

Imagine my surprise when Esra, aka Asoratti (interviewed here last week) invited me to a Manchester crafter’s networking meeting and there was Lorene! We introduced ourselves to each other and struck up a fast friendship that hasn’t suffered at all from being suddenly separated by 4000 miles. I’m very happy to be featuring her here today on the blog.
So, all that said, let’s get into the Q&A, SweetShoppers…
Hi Lorene! Can you first tell us all about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do? How did you learn to sew and design?

Greetings Mama! My name is Lorene Rhoomes and I was born and raised in London. For the past 6 years I've set up home in Manchester. I recently launched my own business Akhu Designs, making home furnishings, accessories and other items from ankara, which are traditional African wax fabrics.
I hail from a family of seamstresses on my mothers side but never showed any interest in learning how to sew myself until about 5-6 yrs ago. As a child I would watch my mum and grandma sew but I was only ever interested in playing in their button boxes or draping myself in the colourful fabrics. When I moved up to Manchester I enrolled in a dressmaking class at the ALC (adult learning centre) next door to my sons school and never looked back. In hindsight i guess it wasn't a case of IF I would ever learn to sew but WHEN.  

I think many of us have had that experience of learning how to craft many years after seeing our mothers and grandmothers do so. I think this ties in a bit to the name of your company...can you also tell us about that? What does your business name mean?

I called the business AKHU which means "the shining ones". They are the immortal souls of those who have gone before us, our ancestors. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our ancestors play an active role in our lives, guiding and teaching us through the legacies they have left behind. I wanted a name for my brand that would pay respect to those whose wisdom exceeds our own.
Equally the logo had to be strong and just as meaningful as the name. The sun and its rays represent positive energy and brightness and the feather of Ma'at represents truth and wisdom. If you know who you are and where you come from and always remain true to yourself then you can always look forward to a bright future. So that's what the logo represents: A BRIGHTER FUTURE!
Akhu Designs, bringing you the vibrance of Africa! 

That is actually a really deep answer, and I appreciate you elaborating on that. How do you think culture and ancestry influence your work?

I was raised by a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father in a very traditional African household, so culture is the backbone of who I am today. It naturally spills out into all aspects of my life and especially in my work. I grew up in a house laden with positive African images, a plethora of African history books and an array of the most exquisite fabrics and foods.(Bloggers note; me too, although my cultural ancestry is slightly different. Fist bump to Lorene...but now I'm hungry and need to go find my copy of Listen, Children!)

Life was always vibrant and my love for ankara has always been there. My mum used them to tie us on her back as babies, they were used to decorate our house and we wore the most elaborate luxurious costumes made from them at times of celebration. It was inevitable I would choose ankara as my primary design fabric.(Blogger's note; Lorene makes everything from pillowcases to makeup bags to bedspreads to shirts and beyond out of this amazing colorful fabric...)
Some Akhu Ankara designs...order HERE

What inspires the things that you design from ankara?
I get inspiration from just about anything and everything. Colors and textures stand out for me so nature is a huge inspiration. Autumn is my favorite time of the year because there are so many colors and different types of weather, everything is constantly changing. I'm also greatly inspired by African culture. We are such expressive people in our music, the way we dress, how we move, our resilience and in our creativity. Despite the struggles we have encountered as a people we remain strong, beautiful and still we rise!
Yes, we do! Speaking of rising...what are some of your business and creative goals for this year and beyond?
In terms of the business well... having launched in late July, it's still only a baby so the only way is up! I have had such a positive response so far to my designs, the fabrics and many people want to learn more about the culture and traditions in West Africa (where my family is from and where most of my fabrics are sourced). If I can give people a positive experience or educate them about our culture through fabric then hopefully they will want to learn more about other aspects of our community.

I would love to eventually have a space where people can come and do workshops and learn more about the history of Ankara as well as trying out some of the traditional techniques...and of course I want people to purchase some of my designs too. I want people to see that Africa is more than a continent plagued with poverty and disease as so often portrayed by the media. We are a talented, extremely resourceful, well educated, cultured and beautiful people and I for one am proud to be African!
On a personal note, I am a mother of five and it was important for me and my partner to involve our children in the process of starting the business. We wanted them to see that no matter how many responsibilities you may have in life anything is possible provided you are willing to put the hard work in and sacrifice certain things like  SLEEP!! I have never been happier and probably should have done this years ago!
Thank you so much Mel for interviewing me. Stay Blessed n Beautiful! x

Well, thank you very much for the interview and best of success to Akhu Designs!

Lorene is a fun, vibrant person, SweetShoppers, and I own several of her designs...they're awesome! They truly do bring a ray of African sunshine into my life and I highly recommend her work.

If you want to buy your very own Akhu Designs item click HERE
To follow Akhu on Twitter click HERE
And for Facebook, click HERE


  1. what a great interview! totally enjoyed it :) xx

  2. Glad to hear! Thanks for your part in introducing us! :-)