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Designer Chat: Tina Huber

Tina Huber flanked by her children and models.
“People who know me know that I’m this mad scientist lunatic,” laughs Tina Huber, owner and founder of …

Tina Huber flanked by her children and models.

“People who know me know that I’m this mad scientist lunatic,” laughs Tina Huber, owner and founder of Madpax, creator of the sculptural spikey backpacks that burst onto the childrenswear scene seven years ago. “My then business partner said, ‘I have this crazy idea for a backpack’ and showed me the sample. It was so wrong in all the right ways.”

She recalls the early days when she asked her son to wear the first samples to school to gather some recon. “I felt famous,” he reported back. “Everybody wanted to touch it, know what colors it came in and the teacher went crazy.”

Spiketus Rex, as those first styles were named, is the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company’s bestseller to this day, now in 2,300 mid-to high-level boutiques in 19 countries.

In addition to those wonderful 3-D, prickly conversation-starters, Madpax now counts six separate collections ranging from a group of bubble-style backpacks to versions that conjure up images of dragons and scales. While adults are attracted to the edgy, futuristic designs, Madpax remains dedicated to the kiddies. Huber recently introduced The Pint, a shrunken-down version of the famous backpacks for 1- to 3-year-olds, and Artipacks, patterns that feature artists from the past as well as up-and-coming names in the art world. The beauty of the designs, according to Huber, is that everybody sees them differently. –Kristin Young

How on earth did you come up with your first collection, Spiketus Rex?

Kids are dinosaur-lovers. It’s merging 3D with reality. Everything now is so experiential, so vivid and so interactive. I applied it to backpacks. No matter what’s happening in the world, there are always going to be new kids. People are always going to always get their groove on, and they’re going to have to pay taxes. These are two things that we absolutely know.

When did you know you had something big?

We walked the ABC Kids show, and we literally could not get five feet without people stopping to ask us where our booth was. It was just wildfire after that. We were crazy to start something at that time—the economic climate was so grim. A lot of companies out there had not put a lot of money into research and development so there wasn’t anything new or exciting or novel. That worked in our favor. If people were responding to it in such a way, it’s go time.

What inspired your latest collection called The Pint?

You’re only as good as your last design. So I see a spike, and I see it as something from seven years ago. The Pint is about 10-inches tall, and they are so flippin’ cute. It’s absolutely precious. With the Full-Scale collection, I wanted something that’s part dragon and part Japanese man of war. This Full-Scale collection screams women, and it’s all in metallic.  As long as we’re creating that how-did-they-do-that moment, we’re doing our job.

What led you to collaborate with artists?

This business starts and ends with children, and if it extends outside of that circle, that’s phenomenal. But we want children to feel good and confident. We want them to feel that the bag expresses who they are. The opportunity with Artipacks is it’s showing kids a Liechtenstein or a Keith Haring, and showing them artists of the future. We’re not building rockets, we’re building backpacks, but we’re also building our future with these young kids. If we can make some kind of purposeful movement in the world, I know we’re on the right track.

From where do you draw your inspiration?

My kiddos, Holden and Hayden. My daughter asked me, ‘Can you do bubbles, mom?’ Well, I don’t know why in heck we can’t do bubbles, so we did that. And then my son was attached to Minecraft, so I thought, let’s take something that looks like a bottom of a shoe meets blocks for kids. I wanted it to be lightning meets a summer rain for the next one called Exo. My daughter created a backpack out of a cereal box. As my kids get older, the line matures. Literally, inspiration is everywhere if you’re looking.

The way you describe your designs is very artistic. Where does your artistic drive come from?

My grandmother, Mimi. She was a working artist, and she was the first one to take me to New York. I remember her taking me to the Guggenheim, which was the first museum I had ever been to. She would teach me how to look at art, why it was important. When we weren’t doing that, she would take me to the theater. She was such a mentor for me. I’ve gotta tell you the third meeting at my first trade show was the team from Guggenheim and as they were writing their order, I literally held back tears. How thrilled my grandmother would be to see they sell what I do in that space. I know it would make her smile.

What do you love most about Madpax?

The best thing that I can say about Madpax, is the fact that I have kids that can now say, there really isn’t anything that I can’t do. My daughter can craft what she thinks is the next big thing knowing it can be done. No fear. That’s what I want for them. That’s what I want for all kids.

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