Adventurist Backpack Company packs a lot of dreams into its backpacks. Husband-and-wife founders Kelly Belknap and Matilda Sandstrom want to sell stylish, efficient products for an affordable price. They also want to help feed families in need. So for every backpack sold, the Colorado-based company donates 25 meals through Feeding America.
Belknap, a Colorado native, graduated from Colorado State University, where he studied psychology. "It was fun, but I paid more attention to my social life. I was working in real estate after I graduated, and I didn't like it that much," he says. Sandstrom, who is from Sweden, worked as a nanny and also studied interior design when she first moved to the United States.
The concept of joining forces to form a new kind of backpack company emerged on the road.
"In spring and summer of 2017, we traveled all over South America and Europe, and we already had the idea of making a minimalist backpack," Belknap explains. "When we were out there, we wanted to spread kindness and give back to those in need. We met and witnessed a lot of families who were homeless or hungry, and we wanted to do something kind and spread a little bit of hope to them. We would go to the supermarket each morning and buy bread, apples and other ingredients we could make into meals ourselves — nothing fancy, but food and water. We were able to fit about 25 meals in our big backpacks each time. We figured we have this plan to start this company, we want to do something good with it, too."
"It was like three months of traveling," Sandstrom says. "We were ready to come back home afterward."
Come back home, and start their company.
"Neither of us had any experience with product design or business development, so it was all unknown for us when we started," Sandstrom admits. "But we were very enthusiastic to learn and grow."
"We wanted to make something that is fashionable, high-quality, but not super-expensive," Belknap says. "Some backpacks can cost $150 to $250, or even thousands of dollars for designer brands. It's hard to part with that kind of money when we didn't have much when we started. A backpack is only fabric and zippers. The brand is what people pay for. We wanted to make it more accessible. Like Warby Parker, which makes high-quality and fashionable eyeglasses, we wanted to make something that was accessible and high-quality."
They also wanted to give back like Toms, the shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. "Toms was the main inspiration for our brand," Belknap continues. "It's so simple to use entrepreneurship and business to do something actually good, and we think in capitalist America, it's the company's responsibility to do something to help solve problems in the country and world."
The couple created their backpack together; Sandstrom, who grew up surrounded by Scandinavian design, sketched the prototype. "We wanted to use that idea of keeping it simple, and that is why the backpack has clean, straight lines; we don't have excessive pockets and straps," she explains. "It is also durable. Sweden is snowy with lots of bad weather, like here in Colorado. We wanted to be sure it holds up in any environment. It's waterproof."
"Once we had something we liked, we sent it out to manufacturers to create samples," Belknap continues. "We received some strange-looking samples in the beginning and changed some stuff with each design until we ended up with this, the backpack that we sell today."
The basic backpack, available in four colors, sells for $65, and other models are in the works. "We have two new designs on the way," says Sandstrom. "We have a smaller backpack, maybe for a night out or when you go to an event and don't want to carry much, just the essentials, and then a larger design for a weekend trip." They plan to stick with their "nothing over $100" product price point.
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"Less is more," says Sandstrom, quoting the company mantra. "With the backpack, you really don't need all of these zippers and straps and pockets; usually you are fine with the essentials."
Belknap adds: "You don't need to go overboard. We love sleek designs that are functional. It doesn't need to be overly functional. Backpacks have been around a very long time, since the days of hunter-and-gatherers. We noticed as time progressed, backpack designs kept getting more and more technical. We're not concerned with that. If it looks good and it gets the job done and is durable, that is important. Less is more."
But they're doing more with less. By working with Feeding America and Food Bank of the Rockies, Adventurist Backpack has helped provide over 50,000 meals since the company's founding. By the company's second anniversary in September, they hope to raise that to 100,000 meals.
The company's backpacks are currently carried at the I Heart Denver store and Buffalo Exchange in Denver. In July, Urban Outfitters will also start carrying Adventurist Backpack products. You can also buy them on the Adventurist Backpack site.