Durable denim meets circular business models: The case of Kuyichi

Kuyichi’s take-back programme and resale model connect their loyal customer base with a younger generation in search of garments with a story and values they can support.

By Gwen Cunningham and Andreea Theodora Baniceru

the team

Kuyichi are an organic denim brand with a simple stance: ‘timeless essentials, fairly made, to last’.

A lean core team of department leads joined the Switching Gear project:
CR Manager
Brand Creative
Brand Director
Production Manager

the urgency

The idea of a circular business model had already been on Kuyichi’s mind, long before joining the Switching Gear project. As a purpose-driven brand, they have a strong track record of creating garments made from sustainable and circular fibres and built for longevity. A circular business model was the natural next step. It is Kuyichi’s way of taking responsibility for their products at end-of-life—and truly appreciating and preserving the craftsmanship behind each pair of jeans. At the same time, it is a great opportunity to receive feedback from their customers on the quality and durability of their products, post-sale. 

The customer need

The Kuyichi resale business model serves two different customer needs. The take-back programme offers loyal Kuyichi customers who want to consciously clear out their closets an easy way to give their old denims a new life. Meanwhile, the upcycled resale collections aim to attract a younger generation who are in search of unique items with a cool story and values they can get behind. 

The business model

Kuyichi see resale as a natural extension of their current model and believe that they will gain plenty of non-financial value from it. So the model in itself does not need to drive revenue growth—it just needs to sustain itself. To this end, their focus is to start with small volumes and grow the model over time.

The expected positive impact

For a brand like Kuyichi - which keeps sustainability at the core of their business - a resale model is a natural extension and a way to change customers’ behaviour and mindsets when it comes to garment care and disposal. By offering a take-back scheme for their denims, the brand hopes to divert products from landfill. Through their upcycling collaborations, the brand also aims to demonstrate the inherent, long-lasting value of their products. It supports their ‘Unfashion’ message that goes against the fast pace of fashion. 

The prototype

To test their resale model, Kuyichi offered customers the opportunity to return unworn Kuyichi denim products—jeans, jackets and shirts, for example—in exchange for a discount code on their next purchase. Customers could return their garments directly via retailers or postal. Although the take-back programme was marketed across Europe, the majority of garments came from the Netherlands and only included jeans, giving Kuyichi a clear geographical and product scope for their pilot launching in 2021.

PILOT OUTCOMES and lessons learnt

Kuyichi's pilot was launched in September 2021 in GreenUp Utrecht - the largest sustainable department store in the Netherlands.  In a dedicated section of the store, the brand collects, upcycles and sells its reworked denim collection. The store takes back used Kuyichi jeans from customers, but also accepts defect items from the warehouse stocks. The collected items are reworked by Petra van de Laar from Indigo Ravens, into a variety of unique items, from patchwork jackets to bucket hats or even made-to-measure items, which are then sold in the GreenUp store. The price points vary depending on the work that has been done - some with repairs are sold at a lower retail price than the originals, while upcycled items have a premium price due to the handwork and time they require. 

What’s next?

One of Kuyichi's main challenges is to scale their product take-back and renewal, due to logistical pressures on their team and the warehouse they work with. Thus, the brand realised it needs to find an external partner with the capacity and specialised knowledge to support them. In the upcoming year, Kuyichi is planning to collaborate with Responsible, which will provide a tool that will enable Kuyichi to buy back worn products from their customers in return for store credit in their webshop. Responsible will then repair and renew the items, reselling them on their platform for the next wearer to enjoy. The collaboration will first launch for the brand’s main European markets, but they hope to spread the initiative across Europe over time.

What advice does Kuyichi have for other brands that are looking to build a circular business model?

Logistics is underrated. You have to work with a proper logistics partner, especially if you are a small brand, because it’s quite time intensive. It’s almost like building your own new company. Find the right partner. Find a partner that has that in-house knowledge you need or is willing to build it,” says Zoé Daemen, CR Manager at Kuyichi

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