House of Solo catch up with the designers behind the luxury menswear luggage brand based in Manchester. From the birth of a classic brand to the steps behind crafting such beautiful products, we sit down and talk about a gentleman’s most coveted accessory.
Tell me about your history as a designer and the building of the brand?
So the brand is a family run business between myself and my brother Kurtis , we both worked with big brands within a corporate machine and spent days at a time working for someone else and not feeling involved or contributing on a personal level to the structure of the company. We would say that the brand came about through both our jobs, I would travel a lot, for work and pleasure – taking trips around Africa, Asia and Europe and it was here that we realised there is a real gap in the market for creating a quality product.
Oh incredible, how so?
We noticed the market lacked a product that catered to an everyday use from the practicality of work to travelling. There were two scales that existed, one that catered to the high street – this was often lower in quality and wouldn’t last the duration of a trip away and then there was the complete opposite, products that sat on the luxury market that obviously was superbly designed but it would cost a fortune and not everyone has the budget for that and that is where the brand fits perfectly in between the market.
So there was definitely a market for Kurtis Paul to grow and where did the brand name come from?
Oh definitely and that is a funny story on reflection, it was decided during a brainstorming session in Starbucks, both of us sitting at separate ends of the coffee shop, paper and pen in hand and not coming together until we had a list of names. We both wanted a name that was classic and resonated with our vision – hence Kurtis Paul.
My brother’s name is Kurtis Paul Raynor and although he was over the moon that the brand would be named after him, it was a name that embodied both of us and our vision, it works as it sounds right and embodies the culture we are surrounded by.
How has the company as a family run business been an advantage compared to a corporate brand machine?
There are so many advantages that we love, as in we both have known each other all our lives so therefore we understand one another and how each of us work. It is so natural for both of us when working together and we think the same, so our vision and design process are integral to our meetings and relationship. It also does help a lot that there is no political rivalry between us and we acknowledge and work with one another’s strengths and weaknesses – it honestly helps when running the brand.
Wow thats amazing, would you say there are any disadvantages?
I would say that its probably the fact that we are always talking about the brand, but even then it doesn’t feel like a disadvantage – as a family run business it has been incredible and often does not feel like a chore as it is something that we truly love. We are constantly taking inspiration from our environment, family and friends – the fuel that surrounds the family is definitely what fuels the brand.
Talk us through the process from sketches to being available to buy?
So the process is quite iterative, we start with the problem or the opportunity, for example the idea of the beach bag and we then research the concept to see where it sits on the market, what is already out there and will it integrate with our other ranges and not overlap. From that point we would spend a few days sketching ideas and get dummies mocked up for us to physically try the product. We would then use this time to iron out any glitches or design outlets we could perfect.
The process is definitely hands on then?
Oh absolutely! we will walk around the office with the product on, we would see if the product was practical in movement and mirror a real life environment. – so all this will go on before we sign off a product that we are completely happy with.
What is it about the ‘Gentleman’ that has tailored and inspired your designs?
Okay so when we talk about the Gentleman, we carry this concept in high regard as we are clear and concise with what we do. The Gentleman has an impact within the world, he is ambitious and strives for success, his growth is integral to his success and as a demographic this is how we design our product – with this gentleman in mind. A gentleman that loves to travel, immerses himself within different cultures and understands the importance of exploration, he is the type of customer we use to create the canvas bag for example. The canvas bag has to be durable it has to be a product that could take the heat of an African terrain but also the office space – it has to be a product that the gentleman can take from an everyday setting to a work or trip abroad.
Where do you see the brand heading within the next 5 years?
Wow thats a tough question but we would have to say to continue with our clear focus – even if we explore different areas. Currently we are trying to perfect the everyday product such as the gym bag. The gym bag is a continuous professional development that we want to use as a product that fits in between the working life, but it is all about trailing new things and adapting our vision and brand.
Do you plan to stay in Manchester?
We certainly have no plans to move just yet but if the opportunity arose then most certainly, but there is an element that exists within Manchester that we cannot get elsewhere and the city sits so well with the brand as an industrial backdrop. The inspiration behind some of our designs function from the Manchester environment such as the brass features on our bags, it was taken from the industrial backdrop of the mills and machinery that Manchester is so famous for.
When you launched Kurtis Paul, you said there was little to no middle ground when it came to travel bags for men – has the competition gotten fiercer over the years?
We wouldn’t say that competition hasn’t arisen over the years but it is never anything that has knocked us off our guard.
That is a good way to look at things, what is your favourite style of bag/leather good and why?
Okay so for my personal use, it would have to be the canvas duffle bag – mainly because I like to hit up the gym after work but as a collective it would have to be the canvas backpack because I love to travel and from my travelling history it has taken me through mountains in Africa without leaving my back.
What have you learnt from launching a business?
It is definitely a process that I recommend in terms of creativity as we no longer have to answer to bosses because we are the bosses – its a great feeling! But honestly, its great to see our vision come to life as we have created something that we are proud of. Obviously there have been highs and lows, in terms of the business rather than the brand as you have to know everything. It is not like working for a brand and you know an element or concept, that wont work when running a business, your time, patience and energy work through the brand so you need to know everything but as we grow, the business grows and our brand expands to overseas – hopefully!