Alumnus Spencer Nikosey at Killspencer in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Photo: Stella Kalinina

feature / alumni / product-design
October 25, 2015
Writer: Mike Winder
Photographer: Stella Kalinina

HQ:LA – Creatives calling L.A. home / Part 3 / The Team Captain: Spencer Nikosey

For creative professionals, the allure of Los Angeles goes far beyond ‘You can’t beat the weather.’ In this series, we invite you to meet three thriving entrepreneurs who have made the City of Angels their headquarters.

Drive four miles northwest from our last stop, and you’ll arrive in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. And it’s here on a stretch of Sunset Boulevard filled with storefronts pitching everything from antique furniture to Spanish-language Pentecostal services, that you’ll find Killspencer, the burgeoning company founded by Product Design alumnus Spencer Nikosey (BS 08).

Killspencer began as a project at ArtCenter in which Nikosey, inspired by a field trip to the American Military Museum, repurposed the tarp of a Humvee into a waterproof backpack.

To say his idea caught on quickly would be an understatement. Killspencer launched as the centerpiece of Nikosey’s graduating portfolio in December 2008; in January 2009 the company began selling products internationally. So why did Nikosey choose to manufacture in L.A.? That was also inspired by a field trip of sorts.

I'm a craftsman at heart, striving to bring a high level of performance, functionality, and quality to everything I do. Whether it's design, music, or sport I approach them with the same level of passion and desire for excellence.

When his mentor, Incase co-founder Bobby Chang (BS 94 Product Design), learned that Nikosey was planning on growing his business, he generously set up a weeklong tour for him of several factories in China.

“I felt empowered by that trip,” says Nikosey of the opportunity to study large-scale manufacturing up close. “Bobby taught me everything.”

And later, when Nikosey told Chang he wanted to build a factory in his own backyard of Los Angeles, where he could have “complete control of every detail and create the most comfortable work environment for [his] team,” he discovered that his mentor’s generosity extended even further.

“Bobby said, ‘Okay, set it up and I’ll fund you,’” says Nikosey with a laugh.

He accepted a sizeable loan from Chang (“I’d never seen that much money on a check before”) and soon had a small advanced studio and factory in the Downtown Arts District, filled with leather, sewing machines, zippers, shipping boxes, business cards—the works.

Today, Nikosey, with his team of master craftsmen, designs, manufactures and sells a wide range of impeccably crafted leather products, including the company’s bestselling Weekender travel bag and a mini basketball kit, all out of their Silver Lake storefront and workshop.

“I paid Bobby back in full in five months,” says Nikosey, as an industrial sewing machine competes with his voice. “He challenged me to use all that ArtCenter problem solving to create the kind of factory I needed.”

The ability to improve a design instantly is one clear advantage to manufacturing locally. “I don’t have to wait a month for a change to come back,” he says. “I can just walk over to Mauricio and say, ‘Hey, let’s not use that white thread.’”

And with that proximity comes camaraderie. “We play soccer on Wednesdays and Fridays,” says Nikosey. “We’re like family, and we’re constantly evolving and growing.”