Same, But Better: Inside Herschel Supply’s Design-Driven Era of Reinvention

With a fresh Soho flagship store and a New Classics collection of time-tested, artist-approved accessories, Co-Founder Jamie Cormack is steering the industry’s go-to for backpacks and travel kits into its next chapter.

As any creative knows, crafting something from scratch can be infinitesimally easier—easier to get excited about, easier on the ego—than iterating on and improving something that’s fallen out of step with the needs of its intended audience. It was in asking tough questions about excess, modernity, and environmental responsibility that Herschel Supply Co. Co-Founder Jamie Cormack led his team in brainstorming how the brand’s signature backpacks, duffles, and accessories should reflect the myriad ways in which their consumers’ lives have changed since the brand was founded in 2009.  

So began sweeping conversations about reducing environmental impact with recycled fabrics and repair services, the need for bigger pockets, more padding, more room for water bottles, and so on, all while staying true to the silhouettes that first endeared the brand to everyone from artists to students, bike commuters, and outdoorsy types. 

The result is the brand’s New Classics collection of heritage styles, improved for the needs and interests of consumers today. Shortly after the collection went live, the brand announced plans to open a flagship store in Soho, New York. Surface recently caught up with Cormack, who founded Herschel with his brother Lyndon in Vancouver and named it for their hometown of Herschel, Canada. In the following interview, Cormack talks about the enduring impact of the brand’s namesake small town on his creative process, and what its next chapter means for day-one fans.

Tell us about Herschel’s new Soho store—who did you work with on the interior design, and how does it fit into the paradigm of the “New Classics” relaunch?

Herschel Soho was completely designed by our in-house team. Like all of our stores, the space is a physical expression of our brand. Whenever we open a new store, we blend Herschel’s design DNA with natural elements of the space or the city we’re in. With Soho, we stripped back decades of paint and flooring to get the space down to its original form. You’ll find exposed brick and concrete floors contrasted by natural finishes like granite boulders and cedar sculptures crafted in Vancouver. It draws back to the Pacific Northwest inspiration that runs through our brand.

Why relaunch Herschel’s signature styles instead of focusing on new products? 

When it came to designing New Classics, it wasn’t about creating something new, but taking the best out of the past 13 years and making it better. The goal of New Classics was to build a solid foundation that we could continue to build off of in the future. It would have been easier to design a new collection if our goal was to make a quick headline, but that would be missing the point. We’re a brand built on timeless design with a heritage feel, and we wanted to stay true to that. 

Our signature styles have been our most popular bags since the beginning. Some of these styles—like our Little America or Novel Duffle—have become synonymous with our brand. We’ve developed consistency in our product offering and New Classics is an extension of that. Every style was revisited to make sure our feature sets were upgraded for today’s journeys—bigger pockets, additional water bottle holders, extra padding, better zippers, more storage. New Classics are the bags and accessories that our customers know and love, but made better.

The fashion industry’s supply chains have been notoriously slow to adapt to sustainability-minded change. Did you encounter any of these challenges when developing the collection?

Our suppliers have been longtime partners and they were on board to support our climate goals. We were confident about working with them to make sure we were using the best fabrics we could source, but we’re going to continue innovating our production process to further reduce our impact. Making the move to recycled fabrics was a huge first step for us, and we’ll continue working with our suppliers to find long-term solutions.

Our product has always been backed by our limited lifetime warranty. This year we’re also piloting a repair service at all of our Vancouver store locations with the goal of prolonging the life of our products. As part of the next chapter, our teams are exploring opportunities for true circularity in the future. 

EcoSystem™ seems to play a pivotal role in the New Classics collection, but what exactly is it? A fabric? A set of sustainability best practices? 

EcoSystem™ is Herschel’s framework of design and development that brings our products to life while keeping sustainability at the forefront. For New Classics, the recycled 600D fabric is one part of it, but EcoSystem™ also speaks to the design, sourcing, materials, and fabrication that goes into building our product. Under the EcoSystem™ umbrella, we updated the clips on our Little America and Retreat backpacks, combining three pieces into a one-piece clip to reduce tooling and material quantity, for example. 

Why did it feel necessary to get back to Herschel’s roots in such a deliberate way, and after doing so, what do you see in the brand’s future? 

When we launched New Classics we questioned everything we put out there and pared it back to its best parts, taking out all the excess to make room for modern feature sets. It was an opportunity to relaunch the brand entirely, but instead we went back to our roots. The idea of creative freedom has been at the heart of the brand since 2009—it’s what started it, actually. Herschel is named after Herschel, Saskatchewan, a small town where my brother and I grew up. Growing up in small towns like Herschel, there are no limits. You’re free to roam, explore, and create without boundaries. That mindset became the foundation of the brand, and New Classics gives us the groundwork to keep pushing those limits in the future. 

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