With its nostalgia-inspired, casual luxury backpacks, Herschel Supply Co. isn’t the first brand you associate with innovation. But brothers Lyndon, 40, and Jamie Cormack, 42, who cofounded the Vancouver-based company in 2009, are counting on two sleek new product lines to change that perception. SealTech is a lightweight, water-resistant, and self-healing fabric; a double-sided coating enables the material to reseal itself from small tears with the heat of your hand. And ApexKnit, a high-density knit, reduces waste and weight by eliminating seams—patterns and gradients are woven into a product, instead of printed or dyed.
You’ve turned to technology to give you an edge, but the availability of tech in apparel attracts more competitors. How do you stay ahead?
Jamie Cormack: It’s all we talk about. There are new materials every season. To look five years out is crazy. It’s all going to change. Our director of innovation is focused on everything: from the way a trolley pulls out of hard-shell luggage to the way our TSA lock snaps into place. The way a computer slides into a computer sleeve. A water bottle pocket. Fabrics, meshes. Every single component of every single bag. Innovation is making sure that the form and the function are perfect.
What’s different about the new fabrics?
JC: ApexKnit is a jacquard, which is a knit that can be woven into a particular shape. You’ve seen it before in footwear and apparel, but never before in the bag space.
Lyndon Cormack: The average backpack has 30 pieces. Our ApexKnit backpack is only four. It has this streamlined styling because we are using more of an architectural process rather than cutting and sewing pieces together. Most apparel, including our own, is a cut-and-sew product. But with ApexKnit, it came out better than we could have expected. It wasn’t just about adding new features. ApexKnit allowed us to deliver a product that is laced with innovation.
How did the creative process compare to that of your first bags?
JC: We’re more educated. Rather than looking at 40 different bags, we’re looking at one technology. It’s about becoming more of a specialist. Having one goal in mind: to perfect something. There were so many times when our sales team would say, “It’s good enough! Let’s bring it to market.” And we kept saying, “No, we need to do this right.” So it’s having the patience to do that and fight those battles, even internally. To take the time to trademark this fabric globally. To make sure we put ourselves in the ready position. That takes a long time.
Where do you look for inspiration?
LC: We’re looking outside our industry, looking at athletics and fashion and figuring out how to take the ideas that we love and think are cool and make them work for us.
JC: With SealTech, we were just trying to find a fabric that could last a lifetime. The first time I saw it was on really expensive tent covers, and I thought, How can we get it into a bag? We took the coating and double-coated our fabric, on both sides. It’s softer; it feels nice in hand, and it doesn’t crease or wrinkle. And then from a technical standpoint, it’s water-resistant, and it reseals itself. I love that innovation. You’re telling a story with the fabric but in a simple silhouette.
What’s hard about launching new products with advancements like this?
LC: ApexKnit costs more. So what we will need to do is find the hybrid of new technology and our classic products at an achievable price. Make rad items that customers can afford.
Which is more important right now, innovation or design?
JC: Innovation and design are the same thing to us. It has to be design-driven, but it also needs to be innovative. If we’re doing the same thing we did yesterday, then we’re done. We’d be bored. It’s really about being more progressive.
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