The Story Behind L.A.’s Best Leather Backpacks

Behind the scenes at Killspencer’s Silverlake factory.

As Sunset Boulevard winds through the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the bustle of tourists in Hollywood, a short drive away, is forgotten. Nestled on the end of a nondescript block across from an empty carniceria parking lot, Killspencer’s storefront and factory is an outlier in the area. The luxury accessory brand, founded by Spencer Nikosey in 2008 manufactures and develops its wide range of products — from backpacks and messenger bags to laptop cases and footballs — in this open-concept building. Through selling products only in his storefront and online, Nikosey has had more freedom to develop and expand his offerings. “We do not follow the traditional fashion cycles because we aren’t selling to stores or going to trade shows,” he said. “We’re constantly building.”

Before Nikosey started Killspencer, he studied industrial design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. While in school, he developed an interest in making bags and backpacks and bought himself a sewing machine to teach himself the process. “Just being able to understand the power of that tool allowed me to come up with ideas and make them happen,” he said. Nikosey was inspired after visiting a military museum, and began sourcing army canvas tarps to make backpacks. To flesh out the military aesthetic, he sourced mil-spec webbing, metal buckles, vintage rolls of Korean War-era cotton canvas and waterproof Riri zippers.

While in school, Nikosey met Bobby Chang, the co-founder of Incase. After graduation, when Nikosey wanted to start his company, he traveled with Chang to China where he toured Incase’s factories, which were producing around 30,000 bags a day. After seeing the scale of production, and learning the extent he would have to travel to oversee manufacturing, Nikosey decided to build his own factory in L.A. And by December of 2008, he launched his first collection of durable, minimal, military-inspired bags: a weekender, a special-ops backpack and a messenger bag, all made in California. Since then, Killspencer’s line has grown to include 134 products, though it is still rooted in high-quality bags with thoughtfully placed pouches, compartments and zippers.

More recently, Nikosey has developed a range of luxury sporting goods, including soccer balls, footballs, baseball gloves and basketball hoops. “We started getting into sporting goods as a function of scrap material,” Nikosey said. After noticing all the scrap leather left over from making bags, he decided to design a boxing speed bag that would match the aesthetic of his storefront — smooth black leather, natural wood, black hardware. In the last year, Killspencer has crafted custom baseball gloves for Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals and Howie Kendrick of the L.A. Dodgers. “There’s something special about being able to realize a childhood dream,” said Nikosey, of designing professional-level luxury gear. “Being able to make a football and throw it and have it spiral is really rewarding.”

Since graduating college, Nikosey has given back to his school as faculty, helping to start the Entrepreneur Mentorship Initiative, a separate entrepreneurship program. As his company grows, Nikosey is also looking for a new space to house his growing business. He hopes to have a new building that can house a state-of-the-art production facility with robotics, 3D printing and a photo studio. “By combining design and engineering and photography and film you can create just about anything and solve any problem,” he said. “And I want to solve problems.”

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