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 Maya Classen

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’ behavior and mindsets when it comes to garment care and disposal. By offering a take-back scheme for denims, they hope to divert their products from landfill. Through their upcycling collaborations, they also aim to demonstrate the inherent, long lasting value of their products.

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.

Hurdles and lessons learnt

For Kuyichi, prototyping their circular business model confirmed that a combination of upcycling and resale is the way to go. Kuyichi have been around for over 20 years, so there are plenty of Kuyichi products in circulation that can be taken back. However, they do not expect to collect or sell large volumes in the beginning. Knowing this, they decided to start with a resale model that is focused on upcycling used garments to create unique one-off items.

Being a small company with a fast-paced culture, the circular innovation process gave Kuyichi the opportunity to slow down, create structure and dive deep into the topic. Throughout the process, they also learned that things don’t have to be perfect in order to start and that it was more important to find people that can think outside of the box and believe in the success of such a project.

What’s next?

Kuyichi will launch their pilot during the summer of 2021 and begin by rolling out their take-back programme. At the same time they will drop a first collection of upcycled denim, built in collaboration with their partner, Re-bell. This first collection will be made using pre-consumer ‘seconds’ and customer returns. Kuyichi hope that it will give their customers a good impression of what will happen with their old garments and act as an incentive for the take-back programme.

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