Chic brands of knapsacks have soared in sales – and the trend is being driven by women.

These backpacks were once carried by awkwardly-looking children in school or by hikers. They were more popular with men than women. The humble backpack is now everywhere, whether you’re in a high-rise, an office, or on a packed rush-hour bus.

According to Lyst, global fashion search platform, rucksack searches are up 37% monthly. The annual UK backpack spend has increased every year since 2014. In 2014, Euromonitor International reported that the retail spending was PS112m. It predicts that the figure for 2022 will be PS219.5m.

Ralph White, UK managing Director of Fjallraven’s Swedish rucksack brand Fjallraven, says that there has been a significant shift in attitudes toward day packs.

Domitille Parent is the product director of .Eastpak. The brand has been making backpacks for more than 40 years. Domitille says that women are buying more backpacks each year. Nearly 60% of all online UK sales are made by women and this number continues to rise every year. According to NPD market research, the US has seen a 28% increase in sales of women’s backpacks over the past year. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are the top three growth areas, while sales of mens backpacks have fallen.

It is not surprising that women now prefer a bag that is both practical and stylish. It took a change in attitudes to get the backpack mainstream acceptance in workplaces, and gender parity. Miuccia Prada, like many other things, was a pioneer when she created a nylon rucksack from military parachute fabric in 1984. All the other bags around were, she said in a recent interview with Vogue magazine, “so formal, so lady, so traditional”.

woman holding disposable cup

Susie Lau (aka Susie Bubble) was a style blogger who has cited the Phoebe Philo effect. Philo, a former Celine designer, was the one who pioneered what many brands consider “ugly” fashion. He designed everything from Birkenstocks and Clogs to backpacks.

Moving forward to 2016, Burberry’s monogrammed backpacks are the version that inspired Cara Delevingne and others to adopt the look. Sarah Jessica Parker was the woman who inspired many a tiny handbag trend at the Tribeca film festival in 2016. She was seen wearing a rucksack while on the red carpet. They were worn by Kaia Gerber and Gigi Hadid on the Prada men’s AW19 catwalk. Chanel’s 2020 Cruise show featured a tweed backpack.

Rucksacks are now made by many top-fashion brands like Gucci and Coach. The mid-range market is seeing an increase in sophisticated designs, from Herschel and Dr Martens to more than 400 styles on Asos. Backpacks have advanced a lot since the days of Power Rangers bags or My Little Pony bags.

The rise of gorpcore has helped the rucksack become more fashionable. This neologism was created in 2017 from the acronym “gorp”, which stands to “granola oats raisins, peanuts” and covers all types of camping attire. Rucksacks are less back-of the-bus now that luxury sportswear is so popular. The urban hiker look has become very popular, and the field trip look is now in high fashion. White says that the outdoors has become more trendy. It’s also been introduced to cities.

They play into the love of Scandi, with some of the most well-known brands coming from Sweden. As White explains: “There has definitely been a rise in the popularity of Scandinavian culture – from hygge to fika.” Fjallraven has a Scandinavian approach to product design. Its iconic Kanken, which was created in 1978 as a bag for Swedish kids, is now a household name.

Its practicality is also a benefit. Georgie Tym, a Lecturer at Cordwainers (the shoes and accessories brand of London College of Fashion), says that backpacks are “easy-to-wear, hands-free, fuss-free, comfortable, and easy to use”. Functionality seems to have trumped any archaic, gendered double standard. According to Danielle Drake (PR manager at Sandqvist), “the backpack among bags is as flats among high-heeled.” “The pressure to stuff all your gear in a shoulder bag for the sake of outdated perceptions about women’s work attire is no longer necessary.”

woman wearing backpack facing concrete building

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