Designer Interview Series: Herschel Supply Co.
Posted: Apr 24 2015
Herschel Supply Co. is an incredibly successful fashion brand that opened its doors back in 2009. Over the last 6 years they have gained global recognition and collaborated with brands such as New Balance, Stussy, Coca-cola, Clarks, and Apple.
We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with one of the founding brothers of Herschel Supply Co. The Boys'Co team visited co-founder Lyndon Cormack at their Vancouver offices to check out the space and gain some insight on the brand.
What inspired you to start Herschel Supply Co.?
Lyndon: It was a classic story of seeing a white space in the market. You're searching for something or you're thinking that something should be able to be purchased, but you're not able to find it in retail stores. That was the start of it, so my brother Jamie and I started the brand, and we really honed in on what we thought was missing in the backpack space. We thought there was a lifestyle point missing to it. There were a lot of commodity bags delivering not poor quality products, but product to market that was just for people who needed a bag. I think there were a lot of sport specific brands that were doing bags more specifically to their sports or the DNA of those sports. Then, there were a bunch of high-end brands making handbags for girls or luxury options for guys, and travel oriented bags and backpacks.
There was this little sweet spot, this forgotten spot. This was back in November 2009 and we launched our first collection. We introduced the first products to market in July 2010 and at that point in time the business wasn't as big as it is now, but it worked and the sales were really strong. From there, we just accelerated our growth plan and increased our SKUs from 48 to probably around 1500 products. We wanted to make sure that we were thought as one of the leaders in this space, even in our early days.
Were your first accounts in Vancouver?
Lyndon: No, but our first accounts were in North America so the first countries we sold to were the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia. We had a really great look-book. We have been doing look-books since day one. It told the story really well and our pricing was good. People saw the product based on the fact that there was nothing really like us in the market.
So would you say that all the puzzle pieces came together and helped you grow at such a high rate? Or was there a pivotal point or steps that really got Herschel up in the global landscape?
Lyndon: Well I think that if you ever have something hot, it’s a great opportunity to throw gas on it. I think that we recognized we had something and we threw gas on it. I think we went through so many incremental steps that happen when you become a global brand. You have to say 'yes' to a bunch of people, you have to travel, you have to meet distributors, you have to understand retail networks, you have to understand production, logistics, and operations etc. There are so many moving parts and we've done a lot of those things extremely well.
We have something here; now how do we protect it? Because it seems that this space that we thought was there globally was there, and now: how do we protect it? One way we protected it was to start making more products and start expanding the collection quite rapidly. So, we sort of were starting to build a barrier around us. The barrier really started in the third season when we went up to 300 SKUs and, at that point in time, people had never really seen that from a bag company.
You guys created a market. I think the Versace's and Louis Vuitton's of the world have you to thank for having put thousand dollar backpacks in their collections, that don't look unlike yours.
Lyndon: I think that, you know, we were probably one of the early adopters of what was happening in a mixture of an outdoor trend and a heritage trend. We always say, "What happens if these trends die?" What we have set out to do is create nostalgic products and modernize them. That’s what we do, and we still do it. I don't think that’s ever going away, whether you're Porsche, or you're Volkswagen, or you're Audi or BMW or Apple. There’s a certain nostalgic aspect that allow an industry to grow. I think we do a good job taking those details but making sure that the product will be great.
You guys have experienced some major growth in your company over the last few years. How was the transition from going from a small local brand to such a big global player?
Lyndon: It's a continuous investment in people. As you grow you need to look for ways to establish foundation leaders that can build teams. It's kind of like you're a rock band that gets a hit song and your life changes. So even though you're still a small band, you don't have huge production capabilities, but you have a hit song. And when you get that hit song, it's up to you to write your next chapter. Is it a one hit wonder? What happened early on was major retailer adoption. We were dealing with not only the top independents of the world but also dealing with Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and the bags started to sell. That’s about it. You just start to sell, and you start to sell extremely fast. It's that point in time, as I was mentioning earlier, that you make a decision as to what you want to be. Some people go slower and some people go faster and we decided that the fast route is what we want. We didn't start the brand to be small. Our goal was to have a global brand. Jamie and I both worked for global brands [before Herschel]. We have a great balance of understanding a design driven brand, and it's something that we love.
Do you think you guys were taking risks at that point in time?
Lyndon: The risk was we left our other jobs. The other jobs we had were really good jobs and they were not easy to get. So that was our biggest risk when starting the company.
How many staff did you have when you originally started the company, and how has it grown since then?
Lyndon: It started with two: myself and Jamie. Now we’re up to just under 80 staff here in Vancouver. The design process happens in our design office in LA. It’s located in downtown LA, across the street from the ACE hotel. It’s a really nice size with room for about eight.
What kind of collaborations can we look forward to in the future?
Lyndon: We've had an ongoing collaboration with Stüssy, but our most recent collaboration was with Coca-Cola, exclusive to Colette Paris. Coca-Cola was celebrating their 100th anniversary of the original bottle, so they contacted us to do a small run for Colette in Paris. We’ve just launched that. There’s definitely an opportunity to work with them again in the future. We are also working with New Balance on some future projects and have collaborated on two new Desert Boots with Clarks.
We collaborate a lot as individuals within our design department as well. Collaborations are great because it’s two likeminded companies that create a product that’s mutually beneficial to both brands. It’s like grabbing the DNA of two different brands to create something, and I think we do a pretty good job with that.
With collaborations, are you the ones that approach other companies or do they reach out to you?
Lyndon: Yeah we usually know them. There are a couple coming out that we were more active in establishing, but these are more outside of the box. It's not just about an apparel company and a bag company coming together. They involve more outside of the box thinking. One of these companies was Coca-cola. We will be working with Disney soon though, so you can expect that collaboration soon.
At what stage do you think the company will be ready to start making different product categories?
Lyndon: We consider ourselves to be a global accessory brand. We feel like we have the right to go into this space, if we can add something to it. If we decided to make some footwear and decided to do exactly what Nike, Vans, Converse etc. are already doing, I don't think there is a reason for us to be in the space.
If we come up with something that is proprietary in a sense of having our company’s DNA in it and if we are adding value to the category, then I think we should do so.
At the moment, there aren't any immediate plans to move into other categories. We're extremely fortunate with all the success we've had, we’re definitely not taking it for granted, and we want to be a better bag company. We have the desire to be way better. We want to bring things to the market that people haven't seen.
Herschel Supply Co. is currently dominating the market in terms of mid-range bags. It has influenced a lot of the high end brands. Are there any plans to move into the luxury business?
Lyndon: Well, we have a collection called Bad Hills Workshop, which uses top manufacturers, top-grade leathers, and RIRI zippers. So, we are assembling products that may not be at luxury price points, but it’s creeping up into that space.
We're not trying to be something that we are not. I think that if it organically shifts that way, then we would definitely go down that road. I think that you need to stick to what you're good at, and what we're good at is design driven utilitarian nostalgic items that’ve been modernized to market. If it happens to be $1000 because it needs to be for that certain style, then that’s the price tag. If it happens to be $55 then that will be the price tag. We like luxury items, but it’s a busy market.