How a young company’s retro backpacks took over thousands of cities and college campuses

Herschel Supply

Even if you haven’t heard of Herschel Supply Co., it’s likely you’ve seen their products.

The nostalgia-inspired backpacks, bags, and accessories are certifiably ubiquitous in urban areas and college campuses. They’re less sporty and technical, clearly derived from heritage designs, and even affixed with the company’s patch in a faux-historic script.

Herschel, founded in 2009, now has 10,000 points of sale around the world in 72 countries.

The privately held Vancouver, British Colombia-based company also reported a 35% rate of group from 2014-15, and expected growth to stay steady at 30% through the end of 2016. The company declined to share revenue figures.

Herschel Supply

Nostalgia is only part of the brand’s appeal, according Lyndon Cormack, who founded the company with brother Jamie. It was also about filling an underserved niche in the market — lifestyle.

“We kept on coming back to this idea that the bag industry in general was either a little bit too commodity, or a little too sport, driven,” Cormack to Business Insider. “There wasn’t a real lifestyle bag company, someone who celebrated not only functionality but fashion, in this sort of neck of the woods where we are now.”

Cormack doesn’t believe the brand was buoyed too much by trends, and that backpacks supposedly coming back into fashion wasn’t a “driving factor.”

“Used to always hear that men are wearing backpacks and it became sort of maybe a trend,” Cormack said. “That’s kind of a little bit concerning bc I’ve been wearing a backpack as my go-to bag forever so I guess I was unfashionable and became fashionable at a certain point in time.”

Herschel Supply

The nostalgia, however, is clearly still driving force.

“We use that word ‘nostalgic’ around here all the time,” Cormack says. “Looking back before you move forward is something we’re big fans of.”

The company strives to celebrate famous designs of the past, taking inspiration to create something new according to the founder.

“We aren’t interested in living in the past and we look at those items in a different lens and try to figure out if those items were created today,” Cormack says.

To do that, Cormack says Herschel will be investing in innovation. One of the newest examples of this is the company’s new proprietary and trademarked fabric called ApexKnit — a woven that will significantly reduce the waste and energy it takes to create a bag. Cormack is so excited about the fabric, he says he carries an ApexKnit bag himself.

Herschel is also expanding into China in 2017, opening a wholly-owned entity in the country this year.

“China is a blank canvas for us,” Cormack said, admitting that nailing the country’s rapidly changing consumer preferences will be a challenge.

“[We’re a] group of people who want to get it right,” Cormack said. “That’s our goal. So we hope we get it right,”

“I’m not a big believer on hope strategies, so I’m surprised I even said the word hope there.

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