Fashion Review: Roka London Backpack

The fashion backpack – why is finding the perfect one such a challenge? I had been searching, online and in the high street, for weeks, armed with a checklist of qualities: must be light before packed, to save my shoulders. Must be strong and sturdy enough to be ported to health club and packed with impromptu grocery shopping. Most important, must be stylish.

The new breed of designer backpacks, such as Sandquist, Hunter, Herschel and Knomo, ticked all the boxes. But these models tend towards the pricer end – the popular Sandqvist Alva Grand in organic cotton sells for £165, as just one example.

My work bags tend to get quickly trashed (oh, the beautiful pale leather totes I’ve ruined with squashed blueberries, and leaking make-up bottles, etc), so I felt under £100 is a realistic price tag for temporary totedom.

I felt thwarted in my fashion backpack search – until I sighted Roka London, and my eyes popped open. This small company is taking on its bigger backpack rivals and winning on lots of levels.

The Roka range comes in a gorgeous range of colours, from zingy brights – pops of candy pink and orange, great for summer; to beautiful easy-going neutrals like ink blue, graphite grey and classic matt black.

It covers a variety of designs – such as the Bantry, which they call “The Classic”; the Canfield, aka “The Minimalist commuter bag” with a larger, roll-top backpack. And Finchley A – the “all-purpose bag”, which is made of thicker canvas and has more pockets. Size-wise there’s small (34 x 25 x 12cm) and medium (42cm x 28cm x 13cm). The best bit is prices start from £49.95. All Roka bags are made from weather-resistant canvas, with matte nylon linings and cotton webbing straps that are designed to soften and become more comfortable as they age.

I road-tested a Bantry C, in Airforce blue, a soft bluey-grey that’s easy on the eye. First up, it’s really light when empty, a good start. The main body of the bag is nicely roomy – I’ve been able to cram lots in it, such as a full gym and swim kit and the contents of a small shopping basket. It has a laptop pocket on the inner back lining, into which my MacBook Air fits perfectly. The roomy front pocket has a buckle-though strap; this, like the zip finish and tags are in a fabric that looks like smart leather but no animals were involved in the making – Roka bags are vegan through and through. The front pocket can fit a lot – phone, keys, travel-card and a paperback easily – and there’s also an interior zipped pocket for your purse and items that need more security.

The Roka backpack is very comfortable on – the back is padded to fit snugly against your back when worn over the shoulders. It can be carried like a tote too by the two sturdy top handles. All straps are made from strong cotton webbing, and the zips are robust looking. The bags have a coated base so you don’t ruin the fabric, and are washable but a sponge-clean is just as good – very useful when combating those blueberry explosions.

The company itself has quite a romantic back story. Its founders, Emma Rosenberg and Brett Katz, met and fell in love – and because they lived in different countries, and their love affair was a long-distance one, they became rather adept at packing economically for short breaks. This led designer Brett to dream up the perfect rucksack for English weather, “where function meets fashion” was his mantra.

I think he’s accomplished it with the Roka range. To be honest, I’ve found this backpack indispensable – it has literally not left my side since I got it. And with this model coming in at a reasonable £59.95, what’s not to like?
Clearly my husband agreed – because I’ve had to fend him off from borrowing it, which I predicted would be a permanent loan. With such lovely colours and shapes, it was a feat to decide which model. Faced with such a dilemma, there is a solution – just go for several….

Fashion Focus