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Chic Chats #26 – Akamae

New York entrepreneur Cara Boccieri is committed to freedom, both the cultivation and the promotion of it. She founded Akamae in 2014 with the explicit aim of transforming the fashion industry by co-creating high-end fashion products with artisans. Cara currently spends most of her time living in a bamboo hut in the jungle on the Thai-Burmese border, but Lawfully Chic managed to speak to her whilst she was visiting family in New York. 

Photographer credit: Haviwah Thundersong

LC: So, Akamae means freedom… Can you expand on this?

CB: Freedom, yes. Freedom to create, to change, to be and to hear our inner wisdom. It’s about freedom within ourselves, no matter what our circumstances – political, environmental or otherwise. Freedom to choose love over fear.

LC: And how is that freedom nurtured?

CB: That’s where co-creation comes in. We take as our starting point that all humans are worthy, and capable of meeting all of our / their own needs. This is about self-reliance, but also the way we connect. Akamae’s approach is different to our current humanitarian aid model, which is one that tends to create dependency and deficit; it looks at people with pity and coming from a power imbalance and wants to help. What we do, however, is approach communities with the idea that we’re all creative beings and know our traditions. When I think about the issues we have globally in terms of sustainability, whether it’s fast fashion and cultural appropriation or global sustainability issues, I see the connection with self as the missing point. How can we find solutions in a changed paradigm, one where we are connected with ourselves, first and foremost, and then each other, and create from that space? Co-creation is only going to happen when we truly value each other and ourselves. When I work with designers I take them through a process that encourages them to connect with themselves, nature and the oneness of life. Often people are surprised when they come to a workshop run by me – they didn’t expect to be going on such a spiritual journey I suppose. It’s a little esoteric I guess, a little different from most business models out there.

Akamae founder, Cara Boccieri
Photographer credit: Johanna Patton

LC: Yet Akamae really is a business, and not a charity, right? You’re working this way with a view to make money and change the world?

CB: Absolutely. I have international development Masters students coming to intern for me and they agree this (the connection element) is what’s missing from their classrooms and been left out of the curriculum: what can be created when we’re truly connected. That co-creation part is what leads something to be cultural appropriated too. As for Akamae being established as a business – that’s not an accident either. As I say to the women I work with every day, I’m not a charity. I’m here because I believe that your skills and creativity are valuable. Designers and artisans do their own marketing and sales to promote the pieces they produce, and I make the connections – those are my skills (not sales).

LC: You’re actually more of an academic, aren’t you? How did you end up founding a jewellery and accessories company?

CB: My background is with the United Nations and refugees (in 2011 I carried out research in refugee camps for example) and my career path has been about working with people affected by conflict and migration, rather than in the fashion industry. If I look back to my undergraduate degree in the early 2000s, though, I was studying fair trade whilst majoring in Environmental Sociology. This was before fair trade was a commonly known phrase (more about coffee, chocolate and bananas – not fashion). From the beginning I was interested in looking at fair trade fashion. Nowadays I actually think fair isn’t good enough – I think we can do better than fair! For me the solution to everything comes down to connection. The business models that I develop along with the artisans – because of our intimate relationships and connections – involve a great deal of honesty around money for example. We don’t pay salaries but buy directly from the co-creators, and I feel we’re being more than fair.

LC: What’s your strongest vision for how Akamae can create positive change?

CB: I see the work that we are doing as (ideally) changing the global narrative that surrounds refugees, from one of fear and lack and pity, to one of abundance, wholeness and creativity and connection. I see that the fashion industry has the potential to really share what we’re creating. The governments and media tell us to be fearful when refugees arrive in our countries, and to see them as ‘less than’… I envision Akamae being able to go in and facilitate a co-creation with a major designer and newly arrived refugees / artisans such that that is the message the public receives – one of creation and beauty and opportunity.

Photographer credit: Cecilia Battich

LC: Who have you had support from and where have the challenges been?

CB: Some of the biggest challenges are the overall global stories that are a part of our humanitarian aid industry. I’m often working with people who have been told every day for the past 30 years, via NGO support and charities, that they aren’t creative, valuable or good enough to enter into our capitalist society.

Photographer credit: Johanna Patton

LC: What does it mean to create a stronger connection with oneself in this context?

CB: I suppose I look at the fashion industry and see that we’ve fallen victim to an external creation of desire. We should spend time asking ourselves what we really want, what we see beauty in, what values we want to honour and respect and how we feel about our consumption and purchases and impact. If we see ourselves as powerful beings rather than looking to others like the media or fashion industry to tell us what’s important, we’ve immediately got a stronger connection with ourselves and I think we’ll generally find our values align with good intentions.

Follow CB / Akamae on Instagram @akamae_