How Backpacks With Attitude Hooked Beyoncé, Kevin Durant, and Your Kid
It’s back to school time, but leave that sad little book-bag in the closet. There’s a hot company selling style, star-power, and street cred to wrap around junior’s shoulders. And maybe yours, too.
Flaming hundred-dollar bills cover one of the new, already sold-out backpacks from a bold label called Sprayground. Another style has rubber spikes down the spine, surrounded by lizard scales for the Godzilla look. A one-eyed Queen Elizabeth, scowling with shark’s teeth, also makes an appearance on a bag called “Trap Queen.” Whatever the design, Sprayground’s bags signal one simple ideal: rebellion.
“You’ve got to be a little ballsy to wear these bags,” said David Ben-David, the youthful Bronx, N.Y., native who started Sprayground in 2010. “They’re kind of bold.”
It seems the insolent image is what teens want. Sprayground has been on a roll: It’s scoring big licensing deals, pushing into new markets, and diving into fresh product categories. Celebrities from Beyoncé to Kevin Durant are often spotted with Sprayground bags on their backs. The company, part of Moret Group, owner of Danskin and 2(X)IST, declined to share internal revenue figures but said sales have at least doubled each year of its existence. A back-to-school report released by Google in August listed Sprayground as one of this fall’s top trending backpack brands, bested only by the multibillion-dollar Victoria’s Secret Pink label.
As Ben-David tells it, the omnipresence of basic, black backpacks from JanSport and North Face bored him and his co-founder Eddie Shabot. The simple JanSport bag with the extra pocket sticking out was a design inspiration for Ben-David–an inspiration to rebel. Sprayground’s main bag shape, the DLX, purposely lacks that chunky pouch.
From the beginning, the idea was to recreate the tribal nature of sneaker culture with bags. Vibrant, urban styles draw the eye in the same way the newest Jordans or Ultra Boosts do. That’s the feeling Ben-David is going for, anyway. “These people are rocking dope-ass sneakers and shirts, but they don’t have a cool bag,” he said.
Sneakerheads have adopted various products to complement their shoe-borne lifestyles over the years: G-Shock watches, Stance socks, 9Five eyewear. Sprayground went right for the core, initially showing off its wares alongside the hottest new kicks at 50 sneaker boutiques around the country, hoping to develop credibility within the subculture. The way Ben-David saw it, the trendsetting kids shop at those kinds of elite sneaker shops, and if you can get them into a brand, they’ll spread it around.
All of Sprayground’s backpacks–it sells more than 100 styles–are limited-edition runs. Whether it's a simple bright Rastafarian print or an exclusive collaboration with New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., don’t expect the styles to remain available forever. (The company's best-selling bag ever was the origami money wings bag. It looks exactly like it sounds.) This here-today-gone-tomorrow dynamic is meant to force shoppers back to stores over and over again.
It's a strategy that also necessitates an endless barrage of new designs. Early on, Ben-David was the lone idea man. He came up with a bag that said “Hello My Name Is”–yes, just like the stickers at a new-hire mixer–with a big white strip wrapped around it. The design was a hit with celebs. Then came a backpack emblazoned with stacks of money, another home run. These days, he boasts a team of designers to help him after he’s sketched out an idea. Sprayground now makes all sorts of patterns with licensed partners, including Marvel, Hasbro, and Viacom.
“No two kids can be wearing the same two bags,” said Ben-David. “We’re always creating new, new, new. Fresh, fresh, fresh.”
Though teenage kids were the first ones buying up Sprayground backpacks, Ben-David has noticed some moms have started getting into his bags too, along with older men who have more aggressive fashion attitudes.
Gear bags called Battleground are Ben-David’s latest expansion, courting people going to the gym, field, or courts. These bags are bigger than Sprayground’s usual styles, with lots of room for shoes and other gear. Print basketballs will be released in conjunction with the start of the NBA season, too. Outerwear also hits stores this winter, marking the brand’s second year trying to sell cold-weather coats.
“These athletes would come to the office and say, 'Hey could you make a bag that I can put my ball in it and my sneakers and such,'” said Ben-David. “There’s a problem in the market, and they’re coming to me for the solution.”