Vatican-Approved Backpacks and Branded Items

In the months leading up to the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day 2016, preparations were as globe-spanning as the millions of expected attendees. While Vatican organizers planned for the July 2016 event in Poland, intricate arrangements were simultaneously being made in Los Angeles, the home of BAMKO Inc. (asi/131431), which had been tasked with sourcing and fulfilling a 650,000-piece order for the event’s official backpack containing branded items.

World Youth Day 2016 volunteers and attendees in Krakow, Poland, received branded backpacks and merchandise provided by BAMKO Inc. (asi/131431). 

“The Vatican looked to us to handle the manufacturing and logistics,” says Chad Downey, chief strategy officer. “Everything had to be on time. They couldn’t get there in August. The Vatican had a hard time previously with getting things done on time and on budget, so we really took it to heart.”

First instituted in 1986 by Pope Saint John Paul II, World Youth Days (WYD) are hosted by the Vatican and the incumbent Pope and welcome droves of young people to a week-long faith celebration in a different city. Thirty years later, Vatican representatives had a good idea of what they wanted for the attendees, known as “pilgrims,” who would eventually converge on Krakow from all over the world.

For example, organizers wanted to include ponchos that could also double as ground blankets. BAMKO was able to use its overseas resources to design a bespoke item made of a special fabric that not only protected wearers from the rain, but was both soft and durable enough to sit on. In addition, a dye-sublimated scarf was constructed of absorbent microfiber so that it doubled as a towel.

Each item also had to be color-matched across all substrates, and the items came in red, blue and yellow, meaning that those of the same color had to be matched as well. “We had several factories where items were coming off the assembly line,” says Downey, referring to backpacks, ponchos and scarves, as well as neck gaiters and silicone bracelets. “We had them do quality control at the factory and fulfillment center, and everything was co-packed before it went to the event, where it was hand-inspected.”

BAMKO had the finished items flown from China to the Polish port city of Gdansk, then trucked more than 350 miles to a warehouse in the Krakow area specially built for WYD, which also housed food and water for millions of pilgrims. “It’s amazing, the stress and strain that were on our team, because it was so engineering- and timeline-dependent,” Downey says. “But it was fun. It really tested what we’re good at as a global team. One of the cardinals kept saying, ‘Thanks for not making us worry about you guys.’”