When Kachusha Munkanta was 9-years-old, the cycling pro tour came through his hometown of Philadelphia. Inspired by the energy of the tour and the bright team colors, Munkanta and his brother peddled to the nearest bike shop to buy their favorite fluorescent team hat.
Today, more than 20 years later, Munkanta—-who is affectionately known as Chuey-—sits in front of his Mission District workshop wearing a wool cycling hat of his own creation. As the owner of Chuey Brand, a locally made and internationally known small-scale cycling clothing company, this grown up Philly kid is moving San Francisco bike fashion to the front of the pack. “I happened to start at the right time,” says Munkanta, as he spins a small bike lock in his hand. “There’s this whole urban bike movement that’s happening.”
But cycling and fashion didn’t always go hand in hand. Before he started Chuey Brand five years ago, Munkanta couldn’t find a hat that he could wear both on and off the bike. “I wanted something that I could wear while racing around town and then meet friends afterwards as well,” he says. He also wanted something that paid homage to the racing scene he fell in love with as a kid and had followed around Europe as an adult. So he created it.
What started as a few hats for friends has now grown into a full-fledged brand, which includes hats, vests, and on the horizon-—a three-piece suit. His brand is rapidly growing, but Munkanta is reticent about mass-producing his clothing, because even with the cutter’s elbow he’s developed, he still loves having his hands on the product from start to finish. “This is my baby, and I’ve held it very close to me,” he says.
The production process takes a long time. First Munkanta sources the fabric. His hats are made from everything from 1960s Pendleton skirts that the ladies at Thrift Town save for him, to colorful fabric he found when he visited his father in Africa, to material that he screen prints himself. Then he cuts it by hand, and with only one seamstress, sews it into the form fitting hats worn by cyclists across the country, and even in Europe and Japan.
For Chuey, it’s not just about the hat or the gear; it’s about being an integral part of a culture he loves so dearly. He doesn’t have a driver’s license and is never without a bike. When he talks about cycling, his eyes light up and his signature huge smile emerges, and in his face you can see the 9-year-old Chuey, staring in awe at the colorful peloton that raced past his house.