Same shape. Same simple design. Same logo. Since 1978. But Kånken is no longer just a backpack. It’s now a piece of art. Or so says Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Arts and Crafts. This non-profit membership association is tasked by the Swedish government to promote Swedish design at home and abroad, and it has now added Fjällräven’s humble little Kånken backpack to its list of protected pieces of applied art. Svensk Form remarked that Kånken is something more than just a functional object. Its design has its own identity.
Kånken was launched in 1978 in direct response to the growing trend for wearing shoulder bags. Children would carry heavy books and folders in single-strapped bags over one shoulder, which seemed to correlate with increasing incidences of back pain. So Fjällräven founder Åke Nordin used his experience in designing comfortable, functional backpacks for trekking to create backpacks for commuting and exploring towns and cities. The main requirements were to hold A4 folders, hardback books and to be appealing enough to draw school kids away from the fashionable shoulder bags of the time.
And with 30,000 sales in the first two years, Kånken seemed to have achieved its goal. The bag’s timeless design, made from durable, water-resistant fabric Vinylon F means it has never fallen out of favour. But it’s now no longer just school children that proudly bear Kånken on their backs. People of all ages and from all parts of the world have fallen in love with Fjällräven’s most colourful backpack. “Like many products that have become icons over the years, Kånken follows a rule of timelessness and simple design. So it’s not surprising that you see a lot of old Kånkens that have been passed on from parents to their kids still in use today,” says Head of R&D at Fjällräven, Henrik Andersson.
By 2015, more three million Kånkens had been sold globally and this number continues to rise. More colours and sizes are being added to the mix as time goes on. But the same basic design stays the same. And it was Kånken’s continuity combined with its ubiquity that caught Svensk Form’s judging board’s eye. “The basic form of Kånken is simple and each separate design detail isn’t particularly unique. However the recognisable rectangular shape, the slim fabric straps that cross the back, combined with the location and design of the logo make it an unmistakable product.”
“All in all, Kånken has a distinct personal touch in design and a distinctive form identity", said Svensk Form’s Opinion Committee.
"In view of these circumstances, we find that Kånken has such a degree of originality that it appears as its own intellectual creation. We therefore consider that Kånken should enjoy copyright protection as an applied art piece. Kånken is one of the world’s best-selling rucksacks. And it has become a symbol of Swedish style and durable design both at home and abroad.”
This is surely something to celebrate! So Fjällräven’s designers put their crafty heads together to create special-edition webbed straps in some of the most popular colours for both Kånken and Kånken Mini. Kånken fans will be able to choose between stripes, checks, graphic patterns and colour blocking as part of the outdoor brand’s Fjällräven Colours Fall/Winter 2017 campaign.
In addition to the new backpacks launching this autumn, Fjällräven is currently running a social media competition. Kånken has a large social media following with more than 90,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram. And this user base is highly active and engaged, submitting large amounts of images and artworks.
Fjällräven is tapping into the creativity and passion of its fan base with the launch of its #kankenart competition. Users can share their piece of Kånken-inspired artwork using the Kankenart hashtag. The six best artworks will each win a Kånken from the new FW17 collection. But they’ll also have their artwork displayed in Fjällräven’s Brand Stores in Amsterdam, Oslo and Hong Kong.
“Our followers have seen Kånken as an art piece for ages now,” says Sarah Benton, Fjällräven’s Social Media Manager. “But now that we’re officially recognised as art by Svensk Form, we thought it’d be fun to give something back to our followers. The competition is our way of showcasing the amazing – and loyal – community that has developed around Kånken.”