Sleeping bags are most commonly associated with sleepovers or camping out, but some sleeping bags can also double as toys. Brands like Enchantails have essentially turned sleeping bags into costumes whilst items like the Transformer Sensory Sack have used innovative designs to make modern sleeping bags more comfortable than ever. Now a startup company called SackPals has found a way to incorporate the sleeping bag idea into snuggly holders for an array of soft stuffed toys and accessories that aim to foster creative play among young children.

SackPals is a new brand of toy that combines a washable sack--which can double as a mini sleeping bag--with adorable plush toys.

Intended for boys and girls, each set comes with an elephant, dog, turtle, and cat plush named Elliott, Henry, Theodore and Emilee. The pals happily stick to the sack's innovative playing surface, and can easily be moved for play and removed when playtime is over.

Inventor Susan Berggren loves to use her designs to enrich the lives of others and she largely focuses on making fun and high-quality items. SackPals is her latest creation and she regards its basic, no-technology-required, style of play to be its strongest aspect. After working on the toy for several years, Susan is thrilled to see it come to market and she recently discussed the design process, her hopes for the future, and more via an exclusive Interview.

Plush, fabrics, and characters

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to get into designing toys and why did you focus on plush and fabric?

Susan Berggren (SB): We wanted to make something soft and cozy for kids focusing on the tactile feelings of warmth, safety, and comfort. We love toys that focus on having children use their imagination and creativity.

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It seems that screen time is so prevalent in their young lives that I wanted to bring something to market to balance that by enhancing the relationship of a child’s toy with a modern-day framework. We, as parents, always seem on the go and kids as well, we wanted to give children an opportunity to take part of who they are with them and not get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

This is their toy with their animals and as long as you reverse the sack the animals can go wherever they go. In a way, SackPals is their own special toy box away from home.

MM: What initially gave you the idea for SackPals and how long did it take to design?

SB: I originally got the idea from my son. At the time, Angry Birds was really popular and he liked playing with the plush version of them. One day, he was sitting on the couch and grabbed a pillow case out of the clothes basket to stay warm, slipped it on up to his waist, and began to play with the birds on top of the pillow case. I asked him if he would like a blanket, but he said he liked the fact that the pillow sack was just his size and easy to get into.

The downside was that they kept falling off his lap and in between the cushions, so I thought it would be great to have plush animals stick to something comfortable and cozy that he could be play with and even when he was done playing with them, they would still be with him, while he was doing something else.

The whole process took about two years. Originally, I had made my own prototype with an old blanket and used plush animals from what I had in my son’s collection to see what he thought about the idea. He loved it! The challenge came with coming up with animals that children would want and love to have. This happened about a year later when we went to live in Canada. There, my brother-in-law Kevin and I started to work on my idea.

Kevin, by trade is a graphic artist and painter, so it was a natural fit for us to collaborate and bring SackPals to life.

MM: How did you think up the characters, their names, and their personalities?

SB: The characters were a joint effort between Kevin and me. We wanted to create characters that were based on real animals that were different and engaging. I will never forget the day we brought the Pals to life. We were in a rut and couldn’t get anything going, so we decided to get some fresh air and go to a local shopping center. After walking around a bit, the creative juices started flowing. While we were at lunch, Kevin took out his pencil and started to draw, and that was the beginning of creating the Pals!

Growing up, my mother read “The Velveteen Rabbit”​ by Margery Williams to me. As a child, I loved the fact that the rabbit was an old-fashioned toy in the mix of modern day toys, and that he just wanted to be loved and part of the little boy’s life and ultimately became real, that has always stayed with me. When I started to search out how I wanted our animals to be, I noticed many plush animals seem to stare into space and not look at the child playing with it. It was very important to me to design them with their heads tilted in such a way that they look up at the child, to provide more of a real connection and unique bond. In fact, the story about the Pals that I am currently writing is on the same premise.

Their names were chosen as a way to bring back classic names, with a twist like Emilee instead of Emily. When I was growing up there were a lot of “Susans," but now that name is uncommon, and used infrequently, so I thought why not bring some classic names to the forefront again. You will find most of these names were common in the 1920s. Don’t get me wrong, I know some young children including my son, have these names currently, but some are less common now, and I love that their identities are tied to classic names. Who knows? Maybe there will be a Pal named “Susan” somewhere down the line.

MM: Aside from sleeping in it, how else can the sleeping bag itself be played with?

SB: We didn’t intend for the sack to be a sleeping bag, per se.

However, we have seen children take SackPals along for sleepovers with their grandparents, play dates with other children, in a doctor or dentist office, and when they travel whether it be a car, bus, plane or watching a sibling at an activity. The sack was also intended to be used by the child to transport the Pals and hopefully keep them together, and not lost. Inside the sack is a nice size pocket for carrying snacks, the Sack Bling or anything else that might fit. When the bag is turned inside out the pocket is easily reached.

Designing, inventing, and the future

MM: What has user feedback been like and how have you seen people play with this toy?

SB: The feedback has been very positive, and easily identifiable across different age groups.

Children use their Pals with and without the sack. In one particular incident, a child was playing with his SackPals and ran to his bedroom to get his favorite stuffed animal, when he brought it back and realized it didn’t attach, he lost interest in it and continued to play with the Pals that would stick. We have also noticed that if two or more are playing at the same time, most children don’t mind sharing their animals, but really like that the sack is their own special place that is just for them. The sack is similar to that of a blanket, only it is less bulky, and more personalized.

Parents have also commented that it is especially great in the car, because they keep their child occupied and engaged while using their imagination.

Another great benefit, is that they are not as easily lost, because the sack is reversible and the Pals attach easily to the sack.

Grandparents seem to love them because they resemble an old-time toy with relatable names. They like the thought of their grandchild feeling safe and warm and can purchase a set ready to play with four identifiable animals, Sack Bling and a cozy sack for a reasonable price.

MM: What is your favorite thing about working as an inventor and what have been the benefits of designing SackPals?

SB: The best part about being an inventor is imagining that a child would enjoy playing with what you have created and envisioned. It is fantastic when they actually do like our product!

The best part of my day is when I see a child playing with or get pictures of a child playing with them, in ways we never thought of before. It’s amazing when you feel like you have reached a child and they have embraced it with their love and attention.

MM: What is coming up next for you regarding inventions and are you currently working on anything?

SB: Right now, I am committed to having SackPals become a recognizable name brand, and bring to market, more Pals, Sack Bling and different size sacks, I truly believe, that not only young children will find this cozy and fun. As I mentioned, my first prototype was made from an old blanket I had, and it was adult size. I loved it for me, for its comfort and that I could lie on the couch with a good book, I hope to share this design and experience with anyone that wants to have their own snuggle sack.

SackPals strikes a great balance between today’s technology and the classical way children play with toys. I am very happy to provide a child with another way to interact and play with their plush toys and make them an integral part of their childhood. The Pals are ready for adventure to play whenever and wherever a child wants them and will be far into the future!