Herschel’s Co-Founder Explains Why You See His Backpacks Everywhere: 'Good Design Is Democratic'
Herschel co-founder Lyndon Cormack explains why his brand has soared to become one of the most well-known in the world
A woman on the subway. A suited businessman on his way downtown. A middle school girl on her way to school. A photographer carting around his equipment. A senior citizen touring New York City. All of these people had one thing in common: They were wearing Herschel Supply Company.
The eight-year-old Canadian brand has enjoyed the type of rare and rapid success companies can only dream of, and it’s because of who wears it: Everybody. And thanks to it being sold at some of the biggest retailers, from youth-targeted companies like Asos and Urban Outfitters to Nordstrom and Shopbop, it has reached full proliferation with children and grandparents alike wearing the brand. In fact, fans of Herschel have bought over 15 million products of color-blocked backpacks, wallets and now, newly launched clothing—all complete with a signature patch identifying its Herschel status.
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However, the founders, brothers Jamie (below left) and Lyndon Cormack (below right), say that market domination was never the goal, though it’s a nice benefit. “We knew there was a big opportunity to come up with something that was design-driven, something that had classic it in its nature, but also had a really nice attention to detail,” Lyndon tells PEOPLE.
So, in November 2009, the brothers launched their company—named after the rural Canadian town Herschel, Saskatchewan—in Vancouver, Canada with a divide-and-conquer approach: Jamie heads up design and product, while Lyndon handles marketing and sales.
“We are where were at because of Jamie’s precise attention to detail and how passionate he is about design and product,” says Lyndon. “Myself, I tend to be quite a macro-thinker in relation to operations and I’m definitely motivated to say yes more than no.”
Their commitment to designing what Lyndon calls “modernized, nostalgic products” has translated into big business: They are stocked in over 10,000 places in 72 countries around the world and they employ over 170 people, including 30 dedicated solely to product design, Cormack says. (Below, a shot of the Vancouver headquarters.)
Lyndon credits this success to one essential thing: “Good design is democratic,” he says.
“People are going to respond to well-designed products,” he says. “We do design a little bit more specifically for the 16- to 28-year-old guy and girl. But we feel that our aesthetic is so timeless and it resonates far beyond that and it does, which is pretty amazing. When you see my mom, who is 69-years-old, carrying a Herschel, it doesn’t look out of place.”
So, are they surprised by their cult following? “No,” says Lyndon. “I’m not surprised that it has resonated with so many people, but we are definitely extremely happy that we have become successful in such a short amount of time. We feel very fortunate about that.”
No wonder you see those darn backpacks so often. According to the company, the three bestselling and most popular are the Settlement ($59.99 to $69.99), the Pop Quiz ($74.99 to $84.99) and the Little American ($99.99 to $109.99) styles, pictured at the top, as well as the Novel duffle bag ($84.99 to $119.99), pictured above.
However, the top-selling piece is actually not a backpack or bag at all. It’s the Charlie wallet ($19.99 to $29.99). “Most people would assume it’s the backpack, but we actually sell more wallets than anything else. It’s only $20 [average], and that might have something to do with it.”
As for what the future holds, expect more of what made them famous, and universally appealing, from the beginning. Says Lyndon, “Passion is contagious and I think that if we continue to concentrate on that the future is quite bright.”