Fall style: Herschel Supply Co.'s backpacks sit easy on the shoulder
With fall almost upon us, students of education—and life—have to figure out how to lug around our various learning tools.
Part of a group of emerging brands that are reshaping Vancouver’s reputation as the birthplace of yoga pants is Herschel Supply Co.. The creator of the now almost ubiquitous canvas tote has been quick to dominate the real estate of local shoulders since shipping its first season in July 2010. In that time, Herschel has grown from a two-brother operation into a 38-person Railtown design group, and back-to-school is the company’s busiest season.
“It’s such a fun season to design for,” says Jamie Cormack, head of design. “We get to use fabrics with different textures, like wools and corduroys and different prints. We just introduced leopard print, and it’s doing very well.”
Brother Lyndon Cormack, who runs the company’s marketing arm, prefers traditional colours—the burgundies, the mustards, the olives—and cites camouflage as one of the brand’s more popular designs. Herschel recently collaborated with Realtree, a Georgia-based company that designs camouflage patterns used in hunting wear.
Jamie reveals the backpack named Pop Quiz is Herschel’s biggest seller, thanks to its student-friendly details.
“External pockets so they can stay organized, lots of volume, computer sleeve, media pockets—these are all important features for teenagers,” he says.
Backpacks range from about $49 to $89 and can be found at Plenty (various locations), Sitka (1864 West 4th Avenue), J2 (various locations), Little Burgundy (various locations), and the Boardroom (various locations).
Exactly how did a brand that’s barely three years old become a global force in the bag trade?
The Cormack boys have more than 12 years’ experience in garment industry sales and marketing. “We worked in the industry for a long time and felt that every single category in footwear and clothing was really progressing and that bags weren’t progressing at the same rate at all,” Lyndon says. “That’s when we saw the hole in the market.”
How to fill that hole? In terms of aesthetics, it’s obvious to anyone over 30 that Herschel harks back to yesteryear’s styles. “We definitely looked back before going forward,” Lyndon says, “and tried to interpret it into Herschel with the functionality that a modern consumer demands but with a product that has a little bit of patina.”
The resurgence of brands such as Pendleton and Barbour is evidence of the modern consumer’s interest in fashion’s past, but even the most dedicated steampunk devotee leads a digital lifestyle that can’t easily be accommodated by an antique bag—something Jamie keeps in mind when designing. “I pull so much from what’s out there,” he says. “I noticed that clothing was becoming more fitted, so I keep that in mind when thinking about the silhouette.”
Inspiration can be found anywhere, from the high-fashion runway to the sudden heavy travel load the brothers happily discover themselves saddled with. “I really find that when you are travelling, you pull so much inspiration—from the moment you leave your house,” Jamie says. “And we are lucky enough to be able to travel a ton these days to really get a global approach.”
A recent trip included a store tour in Taiwan, factory inspections in China, plus trade shows in Florence, London, and Berlin. Also, being a young office, full of regular users of the product, offers an environment for constant discussion and collaboration. “We really consider ourselves a complete in-house design studio,” Lyndon says. In other words, they have the backpack biz in the bag.