SET back from one of Bradford’s busiest thoroughfares, Kahn Design sits among a seemingly endless assortment of car dealerships.
But to mistake the building for a car dealership would not be doing justice to the work that takes place inside. Indeed, the outside does not reflect its automotive persuasions either; clad in smoky blue panels with deep black tinted windows, Kahn Design has an attitude which makes the Volvo dealership opposite look just a little ordinary.
‘It’s a laboratory,’ says the owner, Bradford-born Afzal Kahn, in complete seriousness. ‘We are a laboratory that focuses on innovation and design – and that is what this business is all about.’
Sitting in the dark grey office that he shares with his employees, Kahn is the mastermind of this slick operation. The business is a design house for wheels, interiors and cars – in fact, it is more than that: it is a tailor’s shop where the most personalised cars can be clothed.
The business’s roots date back more than 20 years with Kahn owning his own alloy wheel business selling fashionable aftermarket wheels. His design breakthrough came with the wheel named RS-R in 1996 – now perceived to be a design classic.
‘I was 17 years old and had a successful business selling other people’s alloy wheels,’ he says. ‘I became good at what I did and I knew what design of alloy wheels would work. I went back to basics and designed a very simple five- spoke alloy wheel and soft-lined it. At that time there was no such thing as soft-lining, so I created one and designed it in a way that made it look bigger than it actually is.
‘I took out two small adverts in Auto Trader and Top Car and had the wheels sold before I even landed back in the UK.’
Since then, Kahn has developed a famous range of alloy wheels that can adorn a Rolls-Royce or a Renault, not mentioning his flair for stylising cars. He can count celebrities such as Simon Cowell, Katie Price and Amir Kahn as his customers.
‘I begrudgingly went into styling cars,’ he says, straight-faced. ‘Clients and customers urged me into stylising and personalising cars for them and I have never really looked back.’
‘We don’t touch the Veyrons. Well you can’t can you? You can’t better perfection.’
Kahn certainly hasn’t. To his left sits a showroom of supercar exotica that ranges from a gold Aston Martin Cygnet to a pair of Bugatti Veyrons – one of which is awaiting collection by its new French owner who paid £790,000.
‘We don’t touch the Veyrons,’ says Kahn. ‘Well you can’t can you? You can’t better perfection.’ One brand Kahn most certainly does try to improve for his customers is Range Rover. It’s arguably his bread-and-butter product and is one that has attracted many a rich customer for its range of personalisation options.
It’s not just Range Rovers and Sports that get the Kahn treatment, though; the Evoque does too. It’s another addition to his product portfolio and one that has already seen customers clamouring to buy one. ‘The showroom’s example has been treated to Bugatti red paintwork, a brand new leather interior, and wheels worth £5,000,’ says Kahn.
‘The thing I am most proud of is the brand, as these days it is the hardest thing to create one and get it global. I could have shut up shop years ago but I am proud of what I do.’
Just looking at his desk reveals that passion – it is adorned with various design ideas including a miniature bidet – naturally designed by Kahn himself. Kahn is also playing with a gold metal badge. ‘That’s our next adventure – we’ve got an association with Harris Tweed and will be
introducing it to our Range Rovers. I am trying to get people to understand that we are not a customise shop like you see in the USA. We are more of a fashion business.’
But these are not just ideas; Kahn is putting them into practice. ‘We are starting with Harris
Tweed because it is the core of this country and we are bringing it all the way to being modern.
‘I will be talking to a lot of fashion houses and will introduce a range of nice products and cars under that brand.’
Kahn is as bold in talking about the future as he is when he’s speaking about the present. This year’s major focus is his brand new product – the Jeep Wrangler (see panel).
‘I could also see Kahn dealerships in the future and this is something we are discussing,’ says Kahn. ‘We are currently looking for a flagship dealership to show off what we can do for our customers.
‘We’ve demonstrated in this market and in this recession that people who want something different come to us. We’re not like some of our competitors who are a car sales business and sell cars with bodykits on them. We are a true manufacturer.’
To emerge from humble beginnings to become a world famous manufacturer is a true tale of success.
It is, however, a little more than that – Kahn Design is a British success story and shows that when it comes to innovation, it’s to Britain that the world comes.
And with the possibility of even greater plans to come to fruition, the future looks even more exciting for this British innovator.