Herschel Supply Co., the maker of perhaps the most ubiquitous backpack trend since JanSport or The North Face, is branching out.
You know Herschel as the little label on the canvas bags with the leather straps and the rustic-hipster vibe. It's also a company, based in Vancouver, Canada, founded by a pair of brothers, Jamie and Lyndon Cormack. They formerly worked for skateboarding-shoe brand Vans and K2 Sports, the ski and snowboard brand, and dreamed up the Herschel brand while still working their corporate gigs.
Next came the marketing--highly designed, crisp, coherent look-books for each season's releases have been a staple for Herschel since its very first designs were conceived. "We wanted to take that utilitarian backpack look and modernize it," Jamie Cormack said. Lyndon added: "But the brand had always been relatable and familiar--it looked like you'd seen it before. That was intentional."
The combination of relatability, utility, and modernity might have been just the ticket. Back in 2009, the little company scored space for its brand new products in sought-after retail outlets like Nordstrom's and Urban Outfitters. In its first season, Herschel launched in four countries. Today, the company works with 25 different manufacturers around the world, and distributes its gear in 72 different countries. Its Heritage backpack has become something of an icon, which is one reason Herschel soars on social media and has more than 775,000 Instagram followers.
Today, Herschel produces backpacks, luggage, and headwear. But now it is branching out in a different way. It is veering away from the classic look--you know, the urban woodsman, I-live-in-a-condo-downtown-but-know-how-to-chop-a-tree--look it pioneers, and is releasing two bags that may appeal to the athleisure crowd. They might also work surprisingly well for business travelers.
The first is a thick, strong heathered woven fabric--the company's first trademarked weave. (It's technically a jacquard, but perhaps the best way to describe the fabric is to say something similar is used on these Nikes that look a little like socks.) It's called ApexKnit. Using such a material on backpacks means a bag can be almost seamless, whereas a standard canvas backpack needs seams to create its angles and structure. Making bags this was also eliminates some waste during production--with fewer seams being cut, there's less excess material to toss out. Check it out here.
The second new material being deployed is sort of the opposite: it's slick and almost shiny, very thin and floppy. It wouldn't be ideal for, say, toting biochem textbooks, as it doesn't provide much of a buffer for one's back. But it would be great for carrying all those odds and ends you need on the daily.
That's it has a superpower: puncture it and the fabric heals itself. It's called Sealtech, and it's inspired by certain outdoor fabrics, like certain high-tech tent-covers. It works like ripstop fabric--the kind used for some parachutes by the military--in that it's woven with a cross-hatch weave of very fine thin strands between some thicker, stronger fibers. That weave means, f you puncture the fine area, you can simply rub your finger over it to re-disperse the fibers until the hole disappears.
When meeting with Inc. last month, the brothers admitted that they knew there was risk to launching any new product--but said any nerves they had about ApexKnit has been assuaged by the fact it has already sold out online. Now, the question becomes: Can they handle the demand?
Absolutely, says Lyndon. "We didn't set this thing up to be small."