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Kuyichi, Manchester

The Dutch ethical brand’s first standalone store shows that being green need not damage your style credentials - although it could put a dent in your wallet.

The name shouts Japan, the location is Manchester and the origin is, in fact, Dutch. Kuyichi is an ethical denim and casualwear brand that takes its name from the Peruvian rain god (apparently) and was set up by environmentally aware Dutchmen in 2001. Since then it has grown and boasts 150 stockists worldwide. Now it has taken the retail plunge and opened its first standalone store on King Street, one of central Manchester’s more upscale retail locations.

And for all the world it looks like a well-designed better-end store of the kind found in this part of the city, rather than a knit-your-own-yoghurt enterprise. As store manager John Weaver puts it: “This isn’t about being a hippy. The clothes have to stand up in their own right. Even when they find out we are about ethical clothing people keep looking, because it looks good.”

This is the first of several stores planned to open before the end of this year, with further branches set to open in Paris, Brussels, Cork and Liverpool. And if matters ethical really are your hemp bag, it’s probably worth noting that much of the cotton used in the clothing comes from Peruvian farmers on a fair trade basis.

Kuyichi is also an ethical brand that has a dose of reality about it. “We’re not hypocrites. We realise, for example, that you need to heat a store but when we fitted the store out we used the previous heating system. We try to do the right thing,” says Weaver.

Key looks and merchandise

“Price points start at high-end high street and then go up to top luxe,” says Weaver. This is apparent in the pricing of the store’s key commodity, denim, of which there are 11 jeans styles for men and the same number for women. Starting at £90 and rising to £450 (the most expensive item in the shop) this has to be seen as designer-style shopping. The £450 pair, for the sake of information, is made of hand-picked US cotton that is then washed and distressed in Japan. The distressing is carried out by a single worker and each pair is supplied with a wicker basket, into which it can be placed and steamed, rather than washed (a bit like dim sum), to ensure the finish stays intact. This may sound like a gimmick, but of the eight pairs in the UK currently, one was sold last week to a shopper who wanted exclusivity, according to Weaver.

Elsewhere, the story is recycle and reuse, but make sure that the clothes meet muster as far as style is concerned. Take the men’s padded jacket, on sale at £200. Half the polyester in its shell was created from reused plastic bottles. It is down-filled and looks just like any other jacket of the type - you could be shopping in neighbouring Timberland if the Kuyichi branding was removed.

Colours for men and women are generally muted, with an intense purple and lilacs being about the greatest concession made to hues that are different from the black, white, cream and shades of green and brown that are on offer. It’s worth noting the hooded shawl-collar chunky cardigan with cables down the front, at £220. This is the handiwork of Peruvian Indians: a world away from the brightly coloured knitted caps with dangly earlobes that spring to mind when knitted products from this region are mentioned.

There’s a novel twist on recycling jeans, too. At the time of writing, shoppers bringing in their own jeans in part-exchange for a pair of Kuyichi denims were offered a 10% discount; 15% if they were wearing the old pair at the time.

It’s a good range, if a mite too premium for most people’s pockets.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

The windows are probably the best VM element, with bell jars filled with raw kapok and display cases that tread a fine line between being obviously reused and looking like a collection of rubbish. Clothes in the window are worn by slick black and gold mannequins and the store sets out its ethical credentials with a notice instructing shoppers to “Love the world” and giving the reasons for doing so. This may sound a little preachy, but it’s not so overpowering that the onlooker is left feeling that they don’t measure up.

In store, a louche male mannequin sprawled across a raised plinth sets the tone - communicating that this collection is about style first, and it happens to have an ethical provenance.

Score 7/10

Service

The store had been open for a little over two weeks when Drapers visited and it was the Tuesday morning immediately following the August bank holiday. The reason for this degree of specificity is that it goes some way towards explaining why no shoppers walked through the door during the 50 or so minutes of the visit. For this reason, it is hard to assess the level of service that would be provided, although the enthusiasm of the store manager did point towards a shop that was being cared for. The score given is therefore by way of default.

Score 6/10

Store appeal

A little bland, but with some nice design touches might be the best way to describe this single-floor space. The wooden-planked floor is, of course, formed of recycled wood and in mid-shop the same boards extend up the walls and across the ceiling to divide the shop neatly. Around the perimeter, display rails are suspended from steel wheels on an overhead rail and jeans are housed in floor-to-ceiling pigeonhole-style dark wood boxes.

Score 7/10

Would I buy?

Maybe. All in all, this is a very good effort at getting away from the kind of range that is normally associated with ethical clothing - just because it’s green doesn’t have to mean you won’t want to wear it. Perhaps the pricing could be examined as it does still appear to be on the wrong side of expensive.

Score 6/10

Verdict 33/50

At last, an ethical store that doesn’t tell you off for being insufficiently green. There is much to be said for what is being done at Kuyichi, but it will be a relatively tough sell at these prices, even in fashion- conscious Manchester.

Essentials

Address 28 King Street, Manchester

Number of floors One

Year brand was founded 2001

Where does the name come from? The Peruvian rain god

Top price point A distressed pair of denims at £450

Most unusual fabric Polyester created from recycled plastic bottles

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