Meet The Maker: Akki Brathwaite - Owner of By Akki

Feb 13, 2023by Sean Johnson

Well, friends, would you look at what time it is? It's time for another Meet the Maker interview! This series is one of my personal favorites because we get to share the real people who pour their love and care into the products on our shelves.

Akki BrathwaitePhoto Credit: Akki Brathwaite

You know we celebrate Black-Owned brands all the time, but especially during Black History Month. So this time, we're talking to one of our favorite Black makers—the ever-effervescent Akki Brathwaite—the owner of By Akki. You can check out her collection on our website or follow her @by_akki (more info below the interview). 

A sun catcher orb and glass circle reflecting sunlight onto a floorPhoto Credit: Akki Brathwaite

Your brand motto is “Made with Fun and Love,” and you’ve said your brand mission is to bring extra joy into people’s everyday lives. We’ve seen that these aren’t just buzzwords—your pieces exude a sense of fun and joy. Why did you pick this theme for your brand?

As an adult, I feel like we can lose sight of the smaller joys that fun can bring. I see fun is an integral part of happiness, and I want to help people bring more joy and sparkle into their everyday life. I make all the work by hand and design each piece by thinking of how it would make someone feel more connected to themselves and help highlight their sparkle to those around them.

You’re a lover of doodling, and you encourage others to do so. Do your designs come from a freeform process like doodling or is it more linear? If a design has come from a doodle, which one stands out to you as a favorite?

A bit of both! I haven’t doodled as much recently, but my illustrative work comes from doodles and simple ideas. My Akkitato design is my favorite. It was a self-portrait I drew a few years ago. I was about to fall asleep one night, and it popped into my head; I jumped out of bed and doodled it on a scrap piece of paper. For reasons beyond me, many people seem to relate to it, and I find that very comforting. For my acrylic work, I tend to base my ideas around the acrylic. I’ll see a color or pattern that really excites me, and I’ll figure out a way to make something out of it that fits the characteristics of that acrylic.

The side of a black woman's head. She is wearing red acrylic hoop earringsPhoto Credit: Akki Brathwaite

Some people may not know that you laser-cut many of your charms, earrings, and necklaces. Can you explain the laser-cutting process to those who may be unfamiliar? What are some of the trickiest parts of using this method?

I use a laser cutter called a Glowforge. I use Adobe Illustrator to create designs and layer files in the order it needs to be cut. I upload the cut file to the Glowforge cloud-based software to send it to the machine. The process is fairly simple. The trickiest part is working with new materials or new cut settings. When I first started cutting, I researched a lot of setting adjustments to create smoother cuts and engravings. Different materials require different settings, and it can be tricky to figure that out. I haven’t had too much experience cleaning the machine, but that can be tedious as well. Since most of the machine is made of moving parts, if anything is slightly off, it will affect the cutting process. Putting things back together and troubleshooting takes patience and time.

You once said, “It’s important to have someone who supports your creative endeavors…I’ve been lucky enough to have great supporters in my corner, so I hope to pass that on to friends and strangers alike.”
Who were those supportive people for you? And in your mind, what are some ways to support and nurture a creative person?

I come from a family of creatives who have helped me build confidence in my creative endeavors since I was young. I’ve also had friends who continue to encourage me to make more, provide feedback, guide me to opportunities, and support my business. My partner has also been a great supporter and helps me get through the day-to-day when things are busy. I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by a large number of creatives and supporters most of my life. ❤️

The best way to support and nurture a creative person is to continue to encourage them! Send them opportunities they might not be aware of and if they sell or show their work publicly, help promote them in ways that make sense. Different people have varying needs, and the best way to find out how they’d best feel supported is by asking directly. Resource sharing is always a great way to help creatives grow personally and professionally.

A black woman's hand holding up an acrylic art piece against a white backgroundPhoto Credit: Joi Conti

Last year you collaborated with photographer Joi Conti to debut your August collection. Was this the first time doing Art Direction for a photography shoot? If so, what was something unexpected that you learned from that project?

The Joi Conti x By Akki Collaboration wasn’t my first time working with a photographer, but it was my first time directing a product release shoot with models. I was thrilled to work with Joi and get some experience working with models as well. I usually do things on my own, but seeing my vision come to life was very magical. Not only did Joi capture the pieces beautifully, but she really brought a lighthearted energy to the shoot and helped the models really shine as people too. It was a very fun morning, and I look forward to having another shoot with her again. You can see more of Joi’s work here.

My previous photographer collaborations were with Isra (now residing in Chicago) for the Doodles Series. We worked together to make a photoshoot experience using hand-drawn backdrops and handmade doodle props. Aside from taking pictures while interacting with tangible art, we set up a doodle station where people could make their own doodles. You can see more on that project here.

What is the reason behind conducting an end-of-the-year survey for your customers, and why do you think it's important? Do you have any recommendations for other artists who are sensitive to feedback and are considering conducting a survey of their own?

I strive to improve my business and make sure my supporters feel heard, seen, and part of the process. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them, and it’s important to me that I include their input in my business goals and practices. If someone takes the time to give me input, I like to compensate them for their time and for being open with me. I’m constantly changing and updating the way I present my work to people, and I want to know what works and what doesn’t.

Unsolicited feedback doesn’t always feel great. A survey or polls can help welcome ideas and feedback in an easily digestible way. It’s also a good way to keep track of feedback that’s recurring or overlooked by being too close to your own work. Just because you get feedback doesn’t mean it has to be put in place either. There have been times when multiple people have asked for something similar, but I haven’t put it into practice because it’s not practical for me at the moment. I do have a backlog of ideas and suggestions I’ve received for when I have more resources or time to put into them. I love data, so having a place to compile and analyze it is helpful for me.

Two keychains placed next to each other on a piece of cloth. One is orange with an abstract design. The other is green and has the words "Do Things Make Stuff" on it.Photo Credit: Akki Brathwaite

We mentioned that you’re a prolific market vendor in the Austin area. We imagine that you have built a list of connections around town. So this is a three-part question: Can you share 3-5 pro tips/hacks for someone just getting started with pop-up vending? How do you grow and cultivate your network? And finally, how fast can you set up a 10x10 tent?

Pro Tips:

Take notes of each market you participate in

What did you like about it? What could have been better? How was their marketing strategy? How was their communication? What was the expected foot traffic vs. actual foot traffic? What was your profit/loss? Etc.

Be prepared

Bring backup power banks, charge all your devices, bring cash, bring a backup card reader, tape, extra bags, bandaids, etc. It can be very frustrating to find out you’re out of battery or run out of packaging material in the middle of a sale.

Talk to the coordinator and other vendors

If you vend frequently, you’re bound to run into the same vendors at some point. They essentially become your coworkers (and friends!) Chatting isn’t for everyone, but it’s nice to at least become familiar and get to know the people you’ll be working alongside

Building your network isn’t as hard as it might seem. Talking to other vendors, asking questions, and interacting with them online and offline are great ways to build a community. Promoting other people is a good way to show support and show you care too! Focus on how you can help others, and your network will grow organically.

I haven’t timed myself, but I’m confident I can pop my tent up in about 2-3 minutes on a good day.

A black woman's hand holding a sticker illustration of a person in a potato costumePhoto Credit: Akki Brathwaite

We think anyone can look through your work and find a design to love. Of course, we love your jewelry and sun catchers, and we’d never felt so seen by a design until we saw "livid smiley face". But enough about all of that. Please. Explain Akkitato.


I was about to fall asleep one night, and it popped into my head, so I jumped out of bed and doodled it on a scrap piece of paper. I used to wear red glasses at the time, so that part doesn’t match up now, but the general essence is still the same. I am potato.

In the spirit of Black History Month, do you have any favorite black-owned brands, makers, or small businesses?

New Origin Shop - Lifestyle Shop (Editor's note: Awww 😊)

Black Pearl Books - Austin Bookstore 

Luv Fats - Vegan Ice Cream

Cranky Granny's - Bakery

Word of Mouth Bakery - Bakery

The Cook's Nook - Collaborative Hub of Culinary Professionals  

Black Makers Market - Nonprofit Organization for Black Businesses  

Build Your Own Dreams - Creative Agency & Lifestyle Brand

June & Sage Co. - Herbal Apothecary 

Sadé Lawson - Visual Artist 

Cosmic Holiday Studio - Visual Artist

Fanm Djanm - Headwraps & Apparel

Tawa Threads - Apparel & Home Decor

What do you love most about Made by Akki, and what do you hope for the brand 5 years from now?

I love that I can make things that people feel connected to and excited about. It’s a good feeling seeing people’s reactions to my work and being able to share the joy. As a brand, I hope to sell more work in other places and make more art pieces (I miss painting but also want to make larger pieces with acrylic) and work on more collaborations. As an artist, I hope to have a studio and/or small retail space within the next 5 years to be able to have a space people can visit and occasionally work at.


See more from Akki on Instagram: @by_akki

See Akki's full list of offerings on her website and threadless collection


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