Damien Kelly and his daughter Neve are making the family business hip again, one backpack at a time.
In an era where marketing dictates bold expression, identifiable branding, and micro-targeted demographics, the Kellys are overtly bucking the trend.
Damien, who made a career as a bag designer for top international brands for 18 years, has partnered with his 14-year-old daughter to create the Little Black Bag, or LBB, an understated yet elegant canvas backpack trimmed with vegan or genuine leather that will retail for $99 and $149 respectively. The bag will be released under the Kings Road banner, named for Damien’s parent’s denim shop in the U.K. back in the 1970s and ’80s.
A Kickstarter campaign, featuring a multi-generational video, ends Friday, Dec. 6. “It’s absolutely versatile,” said Neve, a student at Don Ross Middle School. “That was really important to us. We live a very diverse lifestyle. It’s perfect for biking or hiking, but then you can wear it to a nice dinner or a day shopping in the city. But perhaps most importantly, it’s not just a cute bag – it’s practical and well made.
“And black,” she added. “Everyone loves black.”
“We want it to work for men and women and for multi-generational use. We like to say it’s a bag for the generations,” emphasized Damien. “And we realize that covers a whole bunch of territory, so it has to be a versatile product – but that doesn't mean it has to be overly complicated, right?
“The world is full of niche solutions to every problem. We've taken the opposite approach; we're not going to be niche – which is really hard from a marketing standpoint. Our audience is everyone, and that's been a huge challenge.”
The process of father and daughter working so closely together has been special.
“It was really easy and really natural. It's actually been a great collaboration,” said the elder Kelly, who also has younger sons, River and Indy.
“Of course we’ve had struggles,” added Neve, with a laugh.
“Neve really directed the fashion and the vibe of the brand. I'm good at the design and putting the pieces together. But she pushed me to make it cooler.”
Neve interjected, with a broad smile, “Dad, it's because you work with, like, outdoors brands your whole life.”
The branding is exceptionally understated. To look at it when the bag is worn, you wouldn’t know who made it. On the underside, the panel that rests comfortably against the back, you’ll only notice a black top-stitched tree, which Damien explains represents family. “It’s a strong, solid oak that has deep roots and has seen a lot of history.”
“There's no logo or wordmark on the front face of the product,” said Damien. “We feel it’s super important for people not to be billboards. We want the bag to enhance the person – the person is most important – this is just an accessory to their lives. A brand shouldn’t make a person who they are, so we've hidden our branding. You can certainly enjoy it if you take the bag off you look at it. You'll see it, it's there, just not when you're walking around town.”
“There's some thought behind it,” said Neve.
Keeping the project simple to start was a key strategy, but there are already plans for more bags, and even clothing down the line if there’s an appetite for it, according to Damien.
“We're happy we started with a single bag. We don't want to over complicate our lives yet. I mean, my parent’s original store, King's Road, was a jean shop in England. So who knows, maybe jeans, are in our future?”
For Neve, the process of designing her first bag and learning the ins and outs of marketing and the business has been invaluable.
“Working with my dad is really fun. And I definitely know this is something I want to do when I get older. I’m going to take it over, run it. I want to be a boss.”
Dad couldn’t be more pleased as this whole process seems to dovetail perfectly with aspirations for the future of his children.
“That's part of my vision as a parent. If I can set myself and the kids up in a great business that we all are fulfilled in, maybe they're going to have less anxiety. Not every kid's gonna fly to the moon. Instilling a good work ethic at a younger age, and letting them know that there's a future – not a free ride — but a path that's been laid out if they want to get involved is a good thing.”
The LBB will be available in March of 2019 at retail and direct to the consumer.