Backpacks and bags live at an interesting intersection where function and fashion meet utility and style. They are a necessary part of our everyday lives, worn on our body and only one step removed from apparel. Interestingly, they can occupy very different spaces in the consumer’s psychology. Women’s purses and handbags are historically high fashion statement pieces and status symbols. Most backpacks and everyday men’s bags are largely utility purchases based on specific consumer needs. Luggage occupies its own space and is highly distinct as a category. Is there a future where these distinct categories merge into something more than the sum of their parts?
In the course of my own career I have designed, developed and sold quite a few bags but I had never actually had any hands-on experience constructing a backpack. I wanted to close the loop and fill this gap in my knowledge as well as gain insights into the category from one of the industry’s leading experts.
Recently I attended a bag making workshop at The Brown Buffalo, taught by Doug Davidson. Doug has been involved in bags and backpacks for more than 20 years. He’s held leadership positions in the category for many leading brands as well designing and developing collections and collaborating with artists and brands of all kinds. He has a wealth of knowledge about the category on every level from the smallest construction details to the largest white space in the market.
So many of my friends and associates are highly skilled makers and craftspeople that I admire. Having a background in design but completely lacking a background in craft, I felt compelled to learn a bit about what it’s like to actually cut and sew a backpack. Over the course of a week I did just that, cutting the pattern pieces and sewing a backpack together. Doug and his assistant Mark were patient with me, a first-time sewer, as I slowly stitched my way through the process. They helped me complete many of the more challenging aspects and the final construction that led to my finished bag. The end result is far more polished than I anticipated—and I now have a new perspective on bag design and a new appreciation for the sewers who implement my designs.
Sneakers occupy the same type of everyday need/utility merged with fashion/personal expression and have a robust culture surrounding them that has exploded over the last decade. I feel they are the closest analog to the Bag and Backpack category on many levels. Could a new era in bag innovation and design be approaching where the category is recognized as being more in line with Sneaker culture?
Doug told me he felt the recent collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Supreme directed by Virgil Abloh will be looked back on as a key moment that pushed the category forward. Connecting classic high fashion luggage with modern streetwear and inspired creative on a large scale is something really unprecedented in the category’s history. It may be looked back on as a sea change moment that opened the aperture and inspired young designers to approach this category as a primary focus rather than an afterthought.
As we move into the future, perhaps a new generation of designers will re-imagine what our everyday carry looks like. If the facilities and technology available to sneaker designers were applied to this category in a cohesive way, it would certainly change things rapidly. But will people start to consider the category as collectible, aspirational and fashionable? Will we see lines out the door when a new bag collection drops in the way that we see for footwear and streetwear? Or will it forever be an aside from those categories, a necessary accessory but not the center of a culture?
POV by Benji Wagner, Creative Director at INDUSTRY