New York City has some of the strictest firearms laws in the country, and residents are required to obtain a permit to own even a bolt-action hunting rifle. And for all intents and purposes, it is impossible to own an AR-15 – or any firearm that the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry’s trade association, would describe as a modern sporting rifle. Yet, a new firm from Brooklyn is now making a name with its high-quality leather magazine AK chest rig, and rifle slings. The high-quality products combine East Coast high fashion with prepper sensibility. It could be suggested that these chest rigs are meant to look good during, and survive, a zombie apocalypse.
What Alexander Had To Say,
Alexander Davranov is also quick to address any thoughts that the company is just the latest “hipster” fashion firms to spring up in Brooklyn.
“We are not that style. ‘Hipster’ is more Williamsburg and Bushwick, but we are from Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach, what’s left of the real Brooklyn,” he explained. “At the same time, we know about the hipsters market and have such a diverse audience. We have products that combine history with fashion. We have rigs that utilize the vintage German raindrop camouflage pattern, but others that are disco leather – you don’t know what to expect.”
Given those unique takes, it isn’t hard to see why the products stand out in a market saturated with gear ready to be deployed on the battlefields of Ukraine. Though there is nothing wrong with the military-themed AK chest rig, a fact Davranov will readily admit, he was trying to do something different. Soon after launching the company in early 2020, he brought in Vladimir Strom as a partner to help provide an artistic element to the company. Both had been born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the United States at a young age.
As with past generations that came to America and worked hard, the pair is doing just that – but taking on a market by also daring to be a bit different in the process. That includes going a bit old school with a new twist.
Whereas most makers have moved to synthetic materials, the pair also went in another direction, using high-quality leather. In many ways, it was a natural fit. Leather has a long history with firearms, and magazine pouches and equipment were primarily made of leather even throughout much of the 20th century. Yet, the leather used by many soldiers is hardly compared to the quality that Davranov is now utilizing.
With just one part-time employee, Davranov and Strom now handle all day-to-day aspects of the business, and now, each Saturday evening, they “drop” their latest wares – which sell out practically as fast as it’s listed. The appeal is that each AK chest rig is as much a work of art as it is a firearm accessory.
Fashion Background With a Love of Guns
So how does a resident of Brooklyn, who was born in the former Soviet Union, end up making a magazine AK chest rig that is able to stand out in such a crowded market? That’s simple, Davranov had a fashion background and was working with a firm specializing in leather goods – but it was more the sort of products you’d find on Fifth Avenue rather than at the range.
“It was really interesting that I had this opportunity,” said Davranov. “I saw this untouched market, as I was working in the design industry but understood that the country’s metropolitan areas are about as anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment as it can get.”
At the same time, the Army/Navy surplus stores had largely remained unchanged for decades. And if anything, the trend has been to “militarize” nearly every firearm accessory. To this Brooklyn-based designer that was potentially turning off customers who weren’t suiting up in tactical gear to go shooting.
“We certainly heard from a lot of guys that they didn’t want to dress like soldiers to spend a day at the range,” he added. “There is a new generation of shooters out there, and that doesn’t mean they all served in the military. That is something the industry often misses, that the hobby shooters didn’t all serve in Vietnam or the Gulf War, so why do the products all look like military gear? There are young shooters that like to hang out and go to the range without dressing in all that tactical clothing and accessories.”
The influx in firearms sales during the global Covid-19 pandemic certainly speaks to that point, as there were 11 million first-time gun buyers. Many of them were minorities, women, and young people.
“Many of the new shooters were also video gamers, and way more into fashion than ever,” suggested Davranov.
The fact that the company has grown an audience on the Meta-owned social media platform Instagram rather than Shotgun News is a sign of who is buying their products.
“We have cool younger kids that are really into our stuff, but also quality materials that older shooters can appreciate,” Davranov continued. “But I’ll admit we get asked, ‘why are you making a bright red chest rig’ from time to time! My response is that this isn’t for battle. And people are getting it; this is the element where fashion and shooting converge. This is about people who want to go to the range and aren’t preparing for war.”
Yet, some of the products certainly would be ideal for that aforementioned zombie apocalypse, but who said you couldn’t look good during the end times?
More Gucci Than Beretta
It could also be argued that Davranov’s rigs are a product that could only come out of Brooklyn. He learned his trade after working for a number of fashion designers and then spent some time with a company in the meatpacking district that became known for producing distressed jeans.
After that, he crossed the Hudson River for a while to work in New Jersey, where he learned the art of distressing leather. While this may not sound that complex, there is actually an art to it – the difference between distressed vs. destroyed that often occurs when amateurs attempt it!
It was with those newfound skills that he decided to try his hand at filling that void in the market, and it quickly paid off. In addition to finding an audience with younger male shooters, not surprisingly, a lot of women also appreciate the quality of leather.
If there was a downside in operating out of Brooklyn, it is that he must navigate some of the Big Apple’s complex gun laws – which include a ban on high-capacity magazines.
“Since we’re a completely legitimate business, we must go to great lengths to acquire the products for our photo shoots,” he told this reporter. “The magazines are fixed and riveted to only hold ten rounds. We absolutely made sure those are legal for New York. The ammunition is all dummy rounds without powder, but it looks good.”
In addition, a lot of the photos on Instagram are now provided by customers, while a friend in Vermont is just three hours away. Weekend trips allow the team to get away and do some shooting – but with guns and cameras.
Likewise, Davranov and his partner Vlad have learned to navigate multiple worlds – which involves traveling to leather trade shows to make connections with material suppliers while still hitting firearm industry events to spread the word about their wares. “We’re looking to break the firearms industry stereotype. We want to take what we know from the high-end fashion business and apply it to the gun world!”