Killer Croc Backpacks

Scott Selvin’s SR1990 builds bags made with half the wildlife found in the Nile. Pythons, anacondas and crocodiles have all donated their skins to make 50 Cent and other SR clients look good. 50 isn’t the only big name calling Scott’s number — Wyclef, Mac Miller and the ASAP Mob have rocked his custom bags, though none of them went as far as 50 by requesting a bulletproof design (which is actually possible). Milk Made visited Scott’s office down the street from Times Square to talk about how he got started and what he’s designing next, like a stash pocket so invisible that owners can’t even find it.

MM: Are you always experimenting with different materials?

SS: Yeah, generally at this point we know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. I always get excited when clients order some new shit or something a little weird that I would have never done. If I come up with an idea we haven’t already done before, I try to push a client to be the first to get it. At this point we already know all the capabilities, so when it comes to what skin we want to use I already know what’s going to work or not. And then some time we’ll tell the client we’ll try it out and see how it goes and if not we’ll figure out another plan.

MM: So take me back to the start. When did you open for business?

SS: We kinda just started ’cause of the Louis Vuitton bags, the Gucci bags. That all-over print for that amount of money in a classic bonded leather, 17% leather people are getting the best materials but now the price you’re paying is for the logo. I love those brands but we wanted to offer something where people could get creative, they could use all the nice skins. As soon as we started going to all these leather spots, really seeing the different skins, starting to appreciate it, we wanted to bring that to people get them into the skins as well. Keep trying to use new animals, new prints.

We did this collaboration with Rochambeau, this is our first piece that isn’t custom. We actually debuted at the fashion show Rochambeau did at Milk Studios [for MADE Fashion Week]. This we call the “bodybag,” it matches all their Spring – Summer ’14 stuff. All the hardware is exactly the same. The mesh on the front here is the same and this is that mesh with the 3M again and the inside is lined with their "bruise" print that you’ll see in their next line and this will be hitting retailers. But before that we haven’t done anything with retailers, it’s been all custom. That’s the goal for this year, to really hit retailers really expand the products. Right now we have four, we’re working on our next backpack which will actually be convertible to a briefcase, much smaller, slimmer — basically a larger laptop sleeve with a few extra pockets, nice and thin. That will be geared more toward professionals rather than a street kid.

MM: You said earlier you started with rap kids, is that where your first customers came from?

SS: Yeah, I mean we — the R in SR1990, Roy, is a friend of mine — we met interning together in Mishka. Roy and I met on a sneaker line back in the day and that’s when we met some of the ASAP dudes waiting on those lines. Then we linked back up when I came back for a summer, I went to the University of Arizona for a few years, came back worked at Mishka went back to school dropped out came back to New York. He was the first person I hit up and we got the idea to do this. I came up with the idea and he was in fashion school at the time so he really had the knowledge for me and I always admired his style. He was the first person I wanted to do it with, he was behind the original backpack and then he got an offer from Louis Vuitton to work for them. So he took that job and we spoke a little bit but I haven’t seen him in a long time, I’d like to get in contact with him and see what’s going on.

MM: What made you think you could do bags on a more reasonable scale?

SS: Our original ideas was to do crazy prints. We weren’t talking about leathers and skins and stuff in the beginning. As we began to do our laps around the garment district, go into the fabric stores and going into the leather shops, within two days we were like, "Fuck it, switch it up. We’re doing this leather, we’re doing this skin," and as we started to price everything out we realized we could make these for the same price. We can get the good skins and as long as we keep everything right here in New York and we keep our seamsters close and hand delivery and short order we could make sure that each little piece is exactly what our clients want. You can switch this up if you want, get a little cowhide here, put a trim here, add pockets, take away pockets. Anything you want, we’ll figure out how to do it. This is New York, this is where people figure out how to make shit. So if it can’t be done at all then we can’t offer it, otherwise we’ll figure it out.

MM: Does that happen, where you find something you just can’t do?

SS: There’s some people that come in with request that just aren’t going to work. Things like sting ray for the whole part or the bag. I’m like, listen, you’re not going to like how it’s going to look. Or someone will ask for all anaconda bags. I know how it’s done and it’s not going to feel good. It’s a better idea than concept.

MM: Why wouldn’t that work, the anaconda bag?

SS: Anaconda is rigid so you have a lot of awkward folds in the bag — you’d have scales popping off. You can even tell how it gets a little bit jumbled with the python here. With the anaconda it comes off far worse. We tried to do some of the pouches in anaconda it didn’t convey that it’s expensive with all the skin on it, it felt like plastic. There’s a big difference between how nice a leather is and what people think it is. People who don’t know leathers, you may give them some great expensive piece but if it doesn’t convey a nice feel or it seems plastic, people are going to assume it’s a shittier leather. They may be wrong, but at the end of the day you have to do it for the client not for other designers.

The way we originally started the bag was we were living in New York City. When I leave my apartment, I have to have a bag with me, there’s no question. I take a subway everywhere, I’m gone from the morning. If I want to go somewhere after work, I gotta have a shirt in there. A backpack isn’t something you get dogged on for wearing the same one everyday. Kids are buying a thousand dollar, fifteen hundred dollar shoes and only wearing them once or every two weeks. This you get away with wearing every day and it will last you all year long. The leather wears nicely, you really grow with the products, it’s just one of those things you buy it, you get so much use out of it, that’s the best feeling.

MM: The ASAP crew has it, Wyclef, 50 Cent. How are you able to reach that audience?

SS: Some of those connections are as random as can be. For Wyclef, there’s a singer, Cris Cab coming up, he does a lot of work with Wyclef. We had a mutual friend from Miami, I made a bag for Cris Cab and he was with Wyclef, who saw the bag and then Wyclef calls and then it snowballed. 50 Cent was the most random. A friend who works for Merrill Lynch was in the office trying to talk about money management and somehow the bags came up and I got a call to get there right now. I literally jumped out of bed, sprinted there and as soon as I told them we offer anything, "bulletproof" is the first thing they asked. Leaving the office, I said, yeah, I’m not sure, and then as soon as I got back here I looked into it and realized it was possible. We went out and tested it with ASAP Nast, Retch, Stevie, and some more of the crew came out and we shot that up in west Jersey. That was a fun day.

MM: Did you guys actually take the bag and then shoot at it?

SS: No, I didn’t want to ruin the leather. Basically, the way we built it is this back panel was a 12-layer thick piece of kevlar. What we did was we took the kevlar, folded it to the 12 layers, cut it and put it up against the tree and started blasting it to see if any bullets made it through and nothing did. I was really stoked, I mean it was nerve racking too. I told them it was going to work and we’re out there in the woods in West Jersey shooting this and walking over to that piece of kevlar to check if any bullets went through. If the bullets went through, I would have been in deep shit. Luckily, the kevlar did its job like it was supposed to.

MM: Was 50 Cent your first big client?

SS: He was the biggest. Wyclef was before him. I was really excited about that. I was really gassed up, me and Wyclef and then ASAP mob. We met a bunch of people, though after that it really became a bunch of people finding us through Instagram and stuff. Our biggest thing now is that we need to get out to a bigger audience to hear about the brand. All of our customers leave happy and satisfied. I have people hit me up now who bought bags years ago with pictures of them at the airport and stuff like that. Someone asked if we could do a stash pocket, we build that stash pocket now, it’s one of our most coveted things. We charge a bunch extra because it’s a pain in the ass to do, but it’s hidden. I actually shipped out a bag the other day and the kid who ordered a stash pocket called me up when he got it and said, "I can’t find the stash pocket." I was like, you were with me in the office and I showed you. He was like, "I can’t find it."

MM: How are you able to make it reasonably priced?

SS: We’re a small corporation to begin with. I have three employees, two of which are seamsters, one is basically an assistant and then a few salesmen. We’ve never had any overhead so all of our prices are quoting these so we know what we are going to make the bag, we are going to be able to make some profit on it. We’re still going to be able to get the best skins as possible we’ll work with someone if a client really really wants a piece but it’s a little bit outside their budget we’ll try and throw it in. But at the end of the day, we’re a young brand and the most important thing is that people leave here happy and they talk about it to their friends.

The other things is that each piece is one off. I don’t need to have a thousand pieces made at one time, I don’t need to go buy 10,000 square feet of cowhide. We get what we need for the bags on order and nothing is overstocked. When we do these, I get a list of everything I need, exactly how much square footage. I go purchase everything myself, bring it back here, cut and then bring it all to the seamsters. Our workshop is two blocks away. We go over each piece and there’s no mess ups or screw ups. That I’d say is the biggest thing, the biggest reason we hand make our bags isn’t for the quality, it’s so that we don’t mess up people’s designs.

MM: Is there anything else you want us to know?

SS: People always ask about the process of getting a bag. We purposely aren’t selling them online or anything like that. It’s too difficult to do. We were trying to do some Nike ID shit but there so many options, literally thousands and we don’t ever want to pigeonhole people into one thing. Out-of-state clients, I’ll have a phone call with them to hear what kind of style they’re going for. Once I figure that out and what colors they like, we’ll do a mock up. That’s for out of state customers, otherwise anyone in the city, seven days a week any time [I’ll meet with them]. I’ve done 2am meetings in here for a bag. Someone wants one, doesn’t matter what I’m doing I’ll get over here and make sure I’m in the office for the meeting.

We much prefer that people come in [to the office] and check it out, you get a much better idea of how the bags are going to look. Seeing the skins in person is a huge difference. Actually I almost shut down our Instagram account because the pictures of the bags don’t do them justice at all. I hate that you can’t tell how nice the leathers are in the pictures. People come in and they’re like, shit, this is a lot better in person.

See more of SR1990 designs at their website

Photos by Sam Deitch

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