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How the Brothers Behind Herschel Supply Expanded a Line of Bags Into a Global, Multi-Category Business

"Momentum is an exceptionally powerful thing that exists in the world, and we found out very early in our days about how to use that."
Jamie and Lyndon Cormack. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

Jamie and Lyndon Cormack. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion and beauty industries.

In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.

Chances are you saw (or will see) something from Herschel Supply Co. today, whether out on the street, at a store or in your very own closet. Over the past 10 years, the Vancouver-based brand, known for its appealingly classic bags and accessories at approachable prices, has acquired an abundant roster of stockists and expanded into almost every wardrobe category, including apparel, headwear and travel. Herschel has even experimented with footwear and collectible toys through unexpected and exciting collaborations (Teva and Bearbrick, respectively).

Looking back, brothers Jamie and Lyndon Cormack often joke that they should've quit their jobs and launched Herschel way sooner than they actually did. (Both boast decades of sales and marketing experience in the sneaker and sporting goods space.) In fact, they were running Herschel on the side for around two years until they finally decided to focus on the brand full-time.

"I loved that we constantly kept our other jobs because Herschel almost felt like less of a job when it started. It was that exciting," recalls Jamie. "There were definitely some late nights and extra hours put in until we came to the point where Lyndon and I realized that there was no way that we would be able to execute on absolutely everything that we want with Herschel if we don't allocate 100% of our time to it."

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So far, the decision has surely been paying off. We spoke with the Cormack brothers over the phone to learn more about how they managed their business's quick and early success, expanding into more categories beyond bags, approaching collaborations authentically and the long-term goals that they still have for Herschel.

You garnered a great amount of success quite quickly from the very beginning. How did you manage that?

Lyndon: Jamie and I both had about 40 years combined experience in selling wholesale brands. We knew what we needed to do, the expectations of the retailers, the conditions that were going to be in place in order for us to actually conduct business from past experience. 

Where we were certainly green on and had to become quick experts on was the manufacturing and, of course, logistics, operations and warehousing. We leveraged off industry connections, industry partners and our own experience to really reverse engineer the steps in that. Within the first year and a half, we hired real industry experts, whether it be finance or heads of operations; soon after, heads of product. The ultimate goal as we would scale is that those people would start hiring their teams out and building out their own operators, financial team, and product team, so we did have the foresight to ensure that we were hiring top-level people. All of those three hires are still with us today, and they have big teams underneath them that are executing on the business.

Momentum is an exceptionally powerful thing that exists in the world, and we found out very early in our days about how to use that. Each and every time we get a win, we figure out why we got the win and figure out how to leverage off of it in the future. If we produce something or made something that we sort of potentially call it a loss, we figure out why it lost and how we could pivot and change.

The Herschel Supply Co. headquarters in Vancouver. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

The Herschel Supply Co. headquarters in Vancouver. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

Were there any challenges in the early years of launching that you had to overcome?

Lyndon: Understanding how quickly we would need to scale was definitely a harsh reality. I used to refer to it as almost like a band that's playing shows but at a small little venue or a pub, and then a year-and-a-half later they're playing Madison Square Garden. Understanding the differences when you get this huge popularity, it's like everything's coming at you from every single direction, so that would be one of the hardest things: How do we deliver the best product, the best experience, the best marketing, the best operations to everybody when you're just blowing up?

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It was something that we had to definitely work those 18-hour days to figure out, and then we needed more people, operators, warehousing, manufacturing talent quickly. We need people that can actually work on what we deem now a 24-hour clock. There was of course a bunch of small [challenges] and there continues to be. We have got a great business, but it's still not perfect. There's so much stuff we're learning and so much stuff we're eager to learn, so that we can even be better and better in the future.

How did you decide to expand into other categories like apparel and travel?

Lyndon: When we were getting asked for doing other segmentations in our line like apparel, footwear or travel luggage, we really wanted to keep the reigns exceptionally tight. We knew that if we were famous for something, then at the end of the day, we could do anything. There's lots of great examples, like Nike was initially famous for the running shoe, or Dyson was originally famous for a vacuum. Now you'll see many other products that those companies make and so we really wanted to double-down on what made us famous and thought that if we could exude that DNA in a more prominent way, then as we looked for those collections, whether it be travel or even apparel, it was something really important.

A product from the Hello Kitty x Herschel Supply Co. collaboration. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

A product from the Hello Kitty x Herschel Supply Co. collaboration. Photo: Courtesy of Herschel Supply Co.

You have a prolific list of collaborations and partnerships. How do you approach them successfully and authentically?

Jamie: They've all happened pretty organically through friends or relationships, either new or old. But we always try to work with like-minded individuals, or individuals who are going to help take our brand in a different location, someone who inspires us from that arc of travel, architecture, design, a different feel — someone who is going to help really build our brand in a different way. We also use it for helping segmentation with our line — being able to sell high and low — and really figuring out how we can elevate either through a more expensive product or one that could be a little bit more commercial. Tell a different story but ensure it fits within our seasonal themes.

It's interesting that instead of seeking investors, you both decided to invest yourselves in retailers like Need Supply and Totokaelo. Can you tell us more about that business decision or strategy?

Lyndon: Need Supply in general has been one of our favorite retailers before we started the brand. They were one of Herschel's first retailers in the United States, and we had the pleasure to know Chris [Bossola] and Gabe [Ricioppo], the founders of the business, and opportunity arose. They didn't hit us up directly, not knowing that we had the appetite to do that, but a banker hit us up and said, 'There's a retail opportunity that they're looking for some investors.' And we asked who it was and got some information on it, and we were like, 'Oh wow, that would be really cool.'

That was about four years ago when we put our investment into Need Supply, and then the opportunity actually came through Need Supply to look at Totokaelo, which happens to be founded in Seattle, so we were exceptionally familiar with it. We loved the space, we loved the store. It did for retail what we love about retail, and what retail, in our opinion, should be: A really special meeting place of creatives and individuals, celebrating the best brands in the world. We're just happy to be a part of that, and share in our passion for the people and the cultural connector, who we call our customer.

What are some long-term goals that you still have for Herschel?

Jamie: We're just becoming experts and there's so much more for this brand to do. We're going to be around forever, and that gets us excited. We're going to stay focused as we move into new categories at the right pace, the right way with the right extensions and the right product. We want to matter in every single country we're in, through new products, new marketing a new voice.

It's growth but good growth — and growth with the right partners. It's been 10 years, and we keep joking, like 10 years flew by, but also sometimes it felt like dog years on some days because when you own a brand, some days are just so easy and fly by in a second, and other days, they seem like they drag a bit trying to find solutions to some of the problems you run into. Anybody that has a business would understand that, and we both love it. At the end of the day, it's the best thing we've ever done, and we just want to continue that.

Lyndon: We've both really embraced the future as being an exceptionally positive place to go. I find that there's a lot of resistance to change in the world, and one of the things that always comes out when Jamie and I talk, either individually or together, is this optimism for the future. I think that's very important for us as a brand and as individuals to continue to celebrate that; the power of what change is going to do and how excited and ready we want to be for it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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