Having interned at a small business, I love to see new businesses and new creations. Kurtis Paul, a men’s accessories brand, caught my eye for the detail and care that is clearly put into every product. I interviewed one of the founders, Lloyd Rayner, and could immediately tell that he was a thoughtful and earnest person. He answered all of my questions personally and promptly, writing with the refinement that seems so charming to us Americans but is probably taken completely for granted in the UK.
Kurtis Paul was founded in 2015 by two brothers from Manchester, Kurtis and Lloyd. They make handbags, backpacks, duffle bags, beach bags, laptop sleeves, and pencil cases made of genuine top grain cow leather with nylon fabric interiors and brass metal work. They are priced between $52 and $364. Kurtis Paul is a brand for “the man with a desire to succeed, to reach his potential and do it in style”. This involves drinking coffee and working long hours, but also staying in shape, going out at night, and rewarding yourself with a vacation once in awhile. Living in New York City, I can relate. Most days I wake up in Bushwick, take the M train to Greenwich Village, get coffee, and work on my laptop in Bobst library. Yet I also take some time to play board games with my friends in Jersey City, go to clubs in the Meatpacking District, and watch the pigeons and squirrels in Washington Square Park.
Manchester at night
Every Kurtis Paul bag takes on the character of an extraordinary gentleman.
Alfred Leather Weekend Bag = Alfred Pennyworth
Alfred Pennyworth, a fictional retired intelligence agent, was Batman’s butler and sole confidant, advising him to do good.
Arnold Canvas Duffle Bag = Arnold Schwarzenegger
Californians may call him The Governator, but you can’t deny that Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone who can do anything he sets his mind to, in bodybuilding, acting, and politics.
Columbus Canvas Backpack = Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus left his country and set sail across the ocean to a place he never even knew existed.
Cromwell Leather Duffle Bag = Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was a radical military and political leader who attempted to overthrow the King of England in the sixteenth century, and is considered the father of British democracy.
Darwin Leather Backpack = Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, an English naturalist and geologist, introduced the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection in the nineteenth century.
Donald Drawstring Beach Bag = George MacDonald
George MacDonald was a Scottish poet and a pioneer of fantasy literature, known for Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, and Lilith: A Romance.
Sherlock Leather Tote Bag = Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes, a fictional British private detective, was “the master in his field”.
Lloyd and Kurtis Rayner were born and raised in a small village on the outskirts of Manchester and the Peak District in central England, an idyllic place of peat bogs and heather moorland and the home of Britain’s first national park. Lloyd and Kurtis both grew up to work for large corporations, Lloyd in analytics and Kurtis in sales.
They started Kurtis Paul for practical and personal reasons. Their jobs required them to travel frequently, and they encountered many difficulties with luggage. As they tried to find the best options for their travel needs, Lloyd says, “Our experience has found that there were two ends to this market, the cheap, high street brands where there was a tendency to create ‘one time use’ products or the high end brands where a majority of the cost was embedded in the brand name and not necessarily the product.” In other words, when it comes to bags you do not always get what you pay for. They saw a need for “a brand that stood for super high quality, classic design and costed to suit the customer”. As someone who pays this much per month in rent, I am very much in support.
Working at a large company brings affluence and prestige, but there was something missing. “We felt like the processes involved with our former jobs were restricting our creativity. Having grown up in a small village this creativity was a big part of our lives, we were brought up to believe that imagination should be used as a form of entertainment. Having spent years feeling suppressed we knew that it was time to be true to ourselves and express our personalities.” So they took the risk of starting their own business from scratch in order to express their creativity in design. Lloyd is passionate about industrial design, “the heavy duty/oversized look and the space that comes with it”. Kurtis is a perfectionist, “constantly seeing items from clothes to bags and more and imagining what I could do to enhance and make the items unique”.
They envisioned themselves as not only a brand that built quality bags, but a brand built on “class, trust, and integrity”, and they needed a name to reflect that. Lloyd and Kurtis spent an entire Friday afternoon brainstorming such a name. Says Lloyd, “There were thousands of discarded ideas”. They finally decided on Kurtis Paul, after Kurtis Paul Rayner, in the tradition of celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Janelle Monáe, and Charlotte Olympia. “As they say, if you truly believe in something you should put your name to it,” says Lloyd. “We did just that.” I like to think that my name, Brette Nicole, is more marketable than my sister’s name, Darin Leigh, but clearly this pair of siblings is above such pettiness.
Kurtis Paul is headquartered in Manchester, where all of their design takes place. Manchester is considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. At the turn of the nineteenth century it was the most productive center of cotton processing and the largest marketplace for cotton goods, earning the nickname “Cottonopolis”. The engineering firms that made machines for the cotton trade started producing machinery for general manufacture, Manchester exported machinery in addition to cotton, and the city’s population exploded as people flocked from all over England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in search of opportunity. Lloyd and Kurtis take much pride in this heritage. “Elements of this great city can be found in most of our products,” Lloyd explains. “For example, each of our bags is finished using brushed brass fixtures, chosen specifically for their strength, and they mimic the style of industrial machinery.”
Manchester during the day
The design philosophy of Kurtis Paul is that “products should be designed to fill a purpose. The creation of all our bags starts with a problem, as in what problem are we trying to solve.” The Alfred weekend bag solves the problem of needing sturdy luggage that can be used for years without wearing out. The Arnold duffle bag solves the problem of needing a bag that can be used anywhere all day long, from the café to the office to the gym. The Columbus backpack solves the problem of “fashionable exploration, how to create a bag that looked classy [but] was practical.”
According to Lloyd, “Our most proud achievement is the creation of the Canvas Collection.” This collection of duffels, backpacks, and beach bags stands apart in the market for its extreme durability. While most canvas bags are thirteen to eighteen ounces thick, the Kurtis Paul cotton canvas is twenty ounces thick. To visualize this difference, think of taking your average canvas bag, then adding the weight of a standard 5oz. baseball, all of which will stand between your things and the sand, dirt, and concrete outside. Lloyd says, “We have kept the design of the bags as simple as possible, opting for more of a minimalist feel. For example we decided to strip the backpack of conventional side pockets, giving it a more civilised look.” (By civilised he means not hipster.) “Whilst on the outside these products may look simple, a great deal of attention was paid to every detail.”
Besides making business trips, Lloyd has backpacked “all over the world, covering many parts of Europe, Asia and Africa”. For him, backpacking is “the perfect freedom, a period away from connectivity, rules and schedules”. He prefers going “off the beaten track” and living like a local to checking off a list of tourist spots. His ability to travel to so many different parts of the world in this manner intrigued me. I have always been interested in learning about different places and ways of living, have known the name and location of every country in the world since I was five years old, and have researched 371 different languages, but my self-consciousness holds me back from actually traveling. More specifically, I feel stupid if I cannot communicate with a person in their language. So I asked Lloyd for advice. His first suggestion was to “blend, if you stand out as a tourist you’re an easy picking for anyone to take advantage”. That said, he doesn’t think traveling to foreign countries is any more dangerous than the usual hazards of everyday life. He suggests traveling with friends because “groups are always safer but travelling is also meant to be a social event. Find someone you can share your experiences with, it will make them more memorable.” His perspective really inspires me to move out of my comfort zone.
In the course of his travels, Lloyd came face-to-face with extreme poverty. He has seen “people who have self mutilated because they are so poor and feel it is the only way people will help”. He was especially moved by seeing the Kibera slum in Nairobi, a place where 1.2 million people live within a single square mile, over 10 percent of the children are orphans, homes are made of mud and corrugated iron, and “sewage runs freely through the streets”. Last year, Kurtis Paul donated their entire profit, from August through December, to African Children’s Haven, a charity that combats extreme poverty by improving shelter, health, and education. Extreme poverty is defined by living on $1.90 per day. To put this in perspective, the poverty threshold for a single person in the United States is $11,770 per year, or $32.25 per day.
A slum in Namibia
As a small family business, the Kurtis Paul brand is able to stay true to themselves, creating a richer vision to show to their audience. Their Instagram already has 19,000 followers, which is incredibly popular for a small emerging brand. They are proactive about reaching out to people and seeking collaboration. They invite suggestions, design ideas, and modeling submissions from the public through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and want to see “your stories, your successes and your adventures” with the #shareyouradventure hashtag.
Namibia and the Maldives
Lloyd and Kurtis are inspiring people, they make exceptional products, and their hearts are in the right place. I encourage anyone in search of a bag or a gift for the men in their life to look no further than Kurtis Paul!