by Anya Lawrence
With Central Europe's creative scene rapidly evolving, Budapest-based backpack maker YKRA is one of the most exciting emerging Hungarian brands out there. Set up by creative all-rounder Balázs Lakatos in 2012, the brand's colorful canvas backpacks were born out of a love for the ruggedness and durability of mountaineering equipment as well as the color palettes of the '60s and '70s.
Much of founder Lakatos' inspiration comes from his parents’ experiences of Hungary during that time. As a landlocked country with little freedom of movement, a vibrant hippie camping culture within Hungary’s 20-somethings quickly evolved. Young Hungarians would flock to Lake Balaton, creating instead a sea of color in the form of tents, cars and clothing. “All of our backpacks are inspired by an era when people wanted to be free inside a system that was actually not free at all,” says Lakatos. “I knew from the start I wanted to bring back the vivid colors of the 1970s in YKRA.”
In tune with the brand's love of nature and the great outdoors, the bags are all made from natural materials: canvas, metal and leather. Lakatos is very much against the throwaway culture of today and—as a result—YKRA prides itself on making durable bags that last a lifetime. “I have a real nostalgia for well-made things,” he says. “What we (YKRA) are really about is the era when things were made with a bit more human touch. Our goal is to create items that have a bit more soul, last you a bit longer and will age with you.”
He continues, “It is very important for us to keep production in Hungary, we see a lot of social problems here and one of the ways you can make a change is by giving people a job. Hopefully as YKRA grows this will eventually lead to more jobs for people in Hungary. We also have the backpacks sewn by a company that employs people with disabilities and for us, this is a really good thing."
All the bags are designed and prototyped onsite in a tiny workshop tucked two floors below YKRA’s newly opened shop. The workshop's walls are covered with inspirational paraphernalia: vintage skis, squash rackets and fabric patterns. Every single backpack is made with a great attention to detail and genuine desire to make each to perfection.
Opening just several weeks ago, giving the brand its very first permanent home, the shop doesn't only showcase YKRA. Alongside the backpacks, delicately hung on the wall by beautifully simplistic wooden pegs, the shop also stocks some of Hungary's best up-and-coming designers. Kezemura, is a range of ceramics that developed from one creative's anarchic refusal to drink tea out anything made by someone other than himself; the result being a series of beautifully designed ceramic mugs. Faun, also stocked in the shop, specialize in handcrafted longboards lovingly made from raw maple and bamboo which delicately lean against rails of Kele Clothing, an emerging fashion label which takes its inspiration from nature to create simple, understated clothing.
Lakatos says, “Pretty much all the projects we do in Hungary are some sort of collaboration. Because we don’t have the financial means to compete with big brands, you have to collaborate in order to be successful here. All of our photo shoots are done with friends and we built the store with friends—that is how we get about, we rely a lot on our friends and we do a lot of things for them in return.”
It's a big deal for YKRA to have a physical shop—something really tangible that locals can visit. "We are really happy that finally we have a store in the place we come from. Right now Budapest is a very special place at a very special time. There’s a huge cultural boom and it is very much alive, like Paris or London 40 years ago.”
YKRA backpacks start at €110 and can be found on YKRA's online shop, at their brick-and-mortar store (located in the 7th District of Budapest—above an art gallery and creative hub, Telep) and at select retailers across Europe including Merci, Paris; Voo Berlin and On y Va in Switzerland.
Store images courtesy of Andras Unger, all others courtesy of YKRA