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In the late 1970’s statistics showed that nearly eighty per cent of the Swedish population had suffered from back pain at some point in their lives. As the problems were occurring at a younger age, the shoulder bags that were popular at the time got the blame. A backpack that evenly distributed the weight was thought to be a better idea.
Fjällräven’s founder, Åke Nordin, had followed the debate and decided to create an affordable and functional solution. To do this he used A4 ring binders as the basis for the size. The Kånken backpack was born. The success was immediate. Nordin had counted on selling 200 backpacks the first year, he doubled that. The next year 30,000 were sold.
Throughout the years Kånken has seen it all. It has been connected to the left-wing movements of the 70’s and to those who were children in the 80’s it is closely tied to early school field trips. These children are now grown up and are buying Kånken backpacks for their children, if they don’t have their old one ready to be passed down that is.
For Fjällräven everything comes down to functionality, trends are unimportant. That is why the Kånken backpack hasn’t changed with regards to design since its introduction in 1978. It is still made from the same water repellent Vinylon F fabric and has the same spacious main compartment. The only difference is the number of different colours it is now offered in.
Even though it has always been around it wasn’t seen on the streets quite so frequently during the first ten years of the new millennium. But in the last couple of years it has seen a revival. Children have been scouring the back of parents closest hoping to find a Kånken waiting there for them. We took to the streets of Edinburgh last fall to find out why Kånken is still so popular.
“I got it because it is a good size, I didn’t know it was an up and coming thing” said Lara Gibb, a student getting ready to for the start of the fall semester at University of Edinburgh. “I was actually in Copenhagen the other day, everyone has them there, even old people. It’s not as big of a fashion thing there I guess, since everybody has them”, she continued.
Abby Carr, who already owns four Kånken backpacks, said she has been surprised by the fact not even more people have them, “You could never have enough Kånkens!” she stated with authority.
The size of the backpack seems to be the biggest of the secrets behind its success. The ability to fit everything you need without being too bulky was frequently praised as we spoke to people. “I like the size and the fact that it is lightweight – I can fit everything I need in there” said Maddy Hall before heading back out into the Edinburgh rain again.
Another interesting aspect that was brought up was its affinity for travel. Big enough to fit a laptop and still slide easily under the seat in front on a flight, it saves the hassle of having your valuables squeezed into the overhead compartment while still leaving plenty of leg room.
While most people we spoke to were aware of the history behind the backpack, it seems it is still the functional aspects of it that keeps it so popular. There’s nothing to suggest that the popularity of Kånken will lessen anytime soon. Check back with us in another thirty years for the next update on Kånken, chances are it will still be going strong.