Herschel takes design driven backpacks to global success

Family-owned company updates lines with image-conscious buyers in mind

Herschel Global Success Image

Jumping from a concept to an international brand in a few short years, Herschel Supply Co. has shown what’s possible for Canadian companies in the fast-paced world of globalized retail.

Founded in 2009 by brothers Lyndon and Jamie Cormack, the company has gone from selling roughly 8,000 backpacks in its first year to now selling millions of bags, wallets, hats and other accessories.

Their products, popular back-to-school purchases, are sold in more than 70 countries and appear everywhere from high-end department stores like Barneys and Selfridges to Urban Outfitters, the Apple Store and their own online shop.

And while the family-owned company doesn’t release sales figures, Lyndon Cormack said they’re expecting this will be another year of mid-double-digit growth.

“We’re growing hand over fist, not only in regions we already sell, but geographically we’re opening new territory, so it’s going to be a pretty fun next couple of years,” Cormack said in a recent interview.

The company has not been held back by a lack of ambition.

“From Day Zero till now, we’ve wanted to be a brand that would resonate globally,” said Cormack. “It wasn’t like a fluke that we all of the sudden had interest from other countries.”

Inspired by global companies like Converse, Nike and Adidas — style-conscious brands that make utility products — as well as first-hand experience working at Vans for Lyndon and K2 Sports for Jamie, the two conceived of a brand that combined a fresh look with old-school charm.

The Herschel backpacks come in a bewildering array of colours, patterns and materials, but all feature classic touches like pin-striped lining and their heritage-inspired logo.

Cormack said they’re constantly updating the line to meet the expectations of their image-conscious buyers.

“We design for people who celebrate individuality, who are style-driven,” said Cormack. “We certainly have eyes and ears all over the world, not only our own but others, to help guide us on micro-trends per region and how we can adapt the line to them.”

That personalization is key to meeting the increasing demands of consumers, said branding expert Carolyn Ray, managing director of Interbrand Canada.

“Consumers have an expectation that the brand is going to be all about them,” says Ray.

To keep itself adaptable to consumers around the world, Herschel doesn’t tout its Canadian background.

There’s no mention of being Vancouver-based or Canadian-designed on the label. Unless buyers happen to know the name Herschel itself comes from a tiny hamlet in Saskatchewan, where the Cormack brothers’ great-grandparents settled from Scotland, they might not even know the company is Canadian.

Cormack said while he’s proudly Canadian, he doesn’t want the brand limited to the identity.

Canadian brands are somewhat unique in being able to blend in globally, said Jeannette Hanna, a marketing expert and founder of Trajectory Brands.

She said companies like Four Seasons Hotels, Cirque de Soleil and Aldo Shoes have become global brands by being adaptable to their location.

“There’s a kind of chameleon-like quality to a lot of Canadian brands,” said Hanna. “They can fly under the radar in an interesting way so that they look international, and they look stylish, and can appeal to a broad base without having to scream that they’re Canadian.”

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