Sarah Dean


Sarah Dean

James Kamo interview from blog

Rucksack Village is James Kamo - a bespoke backpack designer and maker. Currently nestled in his studio in Brooklyn, NYC with his trusty Bernina XXXX for company, James took time out of his day to chat to ROAM about his beautifully crafted packs.

Rucksack Village is James Kamo - a bespoke backpack designer and maker. Currently nestled in his studio in Brooklyn, NYC with his trusty Bernina XXXX for company, James took time out of his day to chat to ROAM about his beautifully crafted packs.

How did Rucksack Village come about?

I’ve always had a thing about bag aesthetics. I did a foundation year in product design at Central St Martins in London, and then a degree in Performance Sports Design at Falmouth University in Cornwall. When it came to producing a final collection for my degree, I decided to produce 4 bags.


This led to an internship at Hurley innovation team, where I became obsessed with trying to make a backpack with the smallest number of pieces. I’ve got a sustainable approach to my design and making, and I thought this might be the way forward. I quickly realised that less pieces doesn’t mean more efficient use of fabric…from here my focus became being resourceful - producing packs that really serve a purpose but also look good.

From Hurley I went to work at Evisu. Their Creative Director, Mark Westmoreland, has been a huge inspiration to me. He told me for instance that the most efficient bag is made of a goat’s skin? You gauge out the innards, the legs become shoulder straps. MORE ON THIS.

“The most efficient backpack is made from a goat”

My goal has always been to create a bag that doesn’t disturb / simplify roots. It has to be made from scratch. CHECK AUDIO.

The first commission I had was from a colleague at Hurley who asked me to make a bag for her husband for Valentines day.  Then he asked me to make one for her, then a colleague of his wanted one…and it snowballed from there. The first real Rucksack Village bag - with the badge and everything - was for a guy called Mark in 2012.

How do you make your backpacks?

My waiting list always hovers around the 40 mark, and I tell customers they’ll get their pack when they’ve forgotten about it. This might not be entirely true - but it gives me the scope to truly be creative with the packs - no immediate deadlines and the space to create something truly individual. It also weeds out the people who aren’t really interested in the concept of Rucksack Village.

The first thing I do is ask the customer 5 questions: What is the bag for? What are you going to put inside it? Are you left or right handed? What colours or patterns do you like? And which animal would you be if you could choose?

These are pretty important questions. Obviously what the bag is for is going to influence how I design it - if it’s for day to day commuting, carrying around a laptop and books, then a zip top bag works best. If you might use if for your groceries, then a roll-top is great because you can extend the pack and fit more in. For hiking, the fold top with drawstring is still a winning design.  WHY?  

Left or Right-handed is also a big one that you might not think about. Vertical zips on the side of bags are really handy for accessing stuff without having to take off your bag and put it on the ground. Depending whether your left or right handed, I place the zip on the appropriate side so when you slip it off one shoulder you can reach the pocket. Simple, effective.

The animal someone would be gives me an idea of their personality.

How do you make the rucksacks?

I don’t draw the bags in advance, or necessarily have an idea of what it’s going to look like before I begin. It’s a very organic process. I tend to write down the different answers to questions in my sketch book and start from there.

I currently work from my studio in Brooklyn. My bed becomes a cutting room with a bit of hardboard stuck on top. I sew on a trusty Bernina Record made in the 1950s.  These old machines are brilliant. They have no plastic components like today’s machines, they’re built to last and are great with heavy fabrics like the Cordona that I use for the packs.

I’ll often incorporate the answers to my questions into the packs in quite literal but un-expected ways. For example, someone said they love Haagen Daaz ice-cream so I made sure one of the pockets would fit a tub perfectly. Someone else described themselves as XX, and so I embroidered the phrase on the inside of the bag. I like to add personal touches throughout the bags, and in the way I package them for delivery.  One girl really liked rainbows, so I put a bag of skittles inside the pack when I sent it. Sometimes I’ll use scraps of fabric to make bespoke packaging for the bags. I love hand lettering and illustrating so this often comes into play too - in the design of the address label or with a personal note inside. Whatever comes to me - there’s no formula. Each pack in its production and design really is bespoke.

I feel really lucky to be able to do this as my job. Handmade is really popular now. I do worry a bit that everyday stuff will become less magical. When mainstream becomes handmade. But maybe this shift will stick around - micro communities making and producing. That’d be great.

For a while I worked at Nike in the innovation team there.   They had an amazing sewing room where I could hang out after hours. I’d sit at a sewing machine and literally make a bag from start to finish - I’d be there all night. The building would be on lockdown so I couldn’t leave the room or I’d risk being locked out.

Big companies like Nike have incredible material libraries. You can spend hours in them finding the ideal material for whatever brief you might have - waterproof, durable, colourful. I prefer to be resourceful. I work with what I have to hand - so scraps from one bag might form an integral part of another. I use new and old materials - bits of old kimonos from Japan that have a pattern I love, or ????

Because I don’t begin with a design, there is always the chance I’ll make a mistake, but I don’t see it that way. A ‘mistake’ becomes part of the finished pack - and leads to more creative solutions, and truly unique backpacks. I really don’t know what the pack is going to look like until it’s finished. Sometimes this can be distressing while i’m making it, but I’ve been happy with all of them at the end. Getting there is a different story!

If i’m disciplined it takes about 6 hours of cutting and sewing non-stop - no loo breaks - to make a pack. But in reality there’s a lot more to it than that. I have all the admin to do as well which is less fun but essential to Rucksack Village. So it’s probably more like 10 - 12 hours making plus the surrounding processes - choosing and ordering fabrics, answering emails, painting designs, so about a week to producing a pack.

What outdoor brands have inspired you?

My most treasured item is a pre-Patagonia Yvon Chouinard bag. It hangs on my wall by my sewing machine as a constant inspiration. I’m a big fan of Yvon Chouinard and I love the brand philosophy of Patagonia - an understanding that any product is essentially doing ‘harm’ by even existing, but that having the intention of not causing un-necessary harm is a good way to go. Yvon Chouinard is also a massive pessimist - which I totally admire.

PHOTO OF Yvon Chouinard PACK

Kletterwerks is another great outdoor brand. They’ve never had to change anything - all of their products have been well designed and thought through since the beginning. Designs from the 1970s still work today. OK, they might be adapted to house a laptop or made with more durable fabrics, but they’re essentially future-proofed, by accident. I actually use a Kletterwerks bag everyday.


Evisu and especially the Creative Director, Mark Westmoreland, remains a massive inspiration. He made me believe that it’s always possible to be more original or quirky, and to make things your own.

Masterpiece is a Japanese company that makes backpacks. They’re not necessarily for the outdoors, but the proportions, the way they are made, just made me go ‘woah, backpacks can be beautiful’.

What do you love about the outdoors?

Growing up we went on family trips to the national parks around the US.  Then at 12, I went to Boy Scouts. It became my everything. Camping, hiking, backpacking, rafting, kayaking. It was amazing. Ironically, I went through a phrase from about age 12 - 15 of hating backpacking.  I’m not sure why, I guess I wasn’t as dirty as I thought I was - having to be without showers, toilets, all that stuff.  And also being tiny carrying a massive pack. I remember we were meant to go on a 5 day hike and I offered my mum all my savings - a few hundred dollars - to allow me not to go! She refused, thankfully, and I’m glad I was essentially ‘forced’ to see beautiful landscapes.

I’d love my backs to get to the top of the Cairngorms, or into the Himalayas.

Where’s your favourite outdoor place?

I’m a bit of an armchair mountaineer - I love adventure documentaries and books. But in the real world, I’d probably chose Trestles in California. It’s my home break. And I’d love to visit Antarctica and Space.


One of my most unforgettable outdoor experiences was crewing for a guy who was running from San Diego to NYC. We drove along epic highways through the Sierras. Huge empty spaces, skating along completely deserted roads. It was incredible.

If you’re interested in a pack from Rucksack Village you can email James to join the waiting list here: