How To

How Herschel comes up with its craziest backpack designs

Herschel Supply Co. co-founder Lyndon Cormack says a successful supply chain takes a lot of forethought


The Heritage backpack (Herschel Supply Co.)

Lyndon Cormack is a co-founder of Herschel Supply Co., a Vancouver-based apparel company Cormack started with his brother Jamie in 2006. Herschel is best known for its backpacks, of which it has over 20 different models available in scores of styles and patterns. The company also manufactures headwear, larger-sized luggage, accessories, and technology sleeves.

Here’s how Cormack, who’s in charge of operations, says the company ensures its retailers have enough of every pattern of the signature Heritage backpack—but not too many of any one:

1. Know what you’re selling

“Fashion wholesale brands rely on third-party multi-branded retail stores to conduct the majority of their business. We go to trade shows to show our line, and so the beauty of our business is that we take pre-orders on the products before we ever need to produce them. Some of the guessing work’s taken out of it.”

2. Be willing to be wrong

“Like every brand, we make mistakes. But we win a hell of a lot more than we lose. It’s just the nature of the business. Whether it’s a T-shirt graphic or a backpack with a print, there’s prints that are hit and miss. There are certain things that we internally feel really strongly about and anticipate a strong reaction from retail, but sometimes you don’t get it. The flip-side of that is something that you weren’t expecting to be as successful turns out to be the real winner.”

3. Get the basics right

“Say we sold—to use a round number—100. We anticipate 20 are going to go after black, 12 are going to after navy, 10 are going to go after grey. Then we’re going to have some pop colours that probably represent 3% of the sales. And then you analyze your print business—camouflage or polkadot or whatever—and you do some educated guessing. It’s not like we offer 50 styles and 75% of what we sell is black and the rest is a mixture. We push individuality, whereas some other brands trade a little bit more in just basic black and grey.”

4. Have some overlap

“We’re somewhat malleable at the factory, so if we feel less Heritage is needed, we can move the material over to something else. It’s not like we throw away the excess material if we don’t sell them. We’re able to transfer the raw materials to another product in order to keep production going and wastage to an absolute minimum.”

5. Pay attention to who’s paying

“We have a kids’ line, mainly for toddlers. We’re not a bubblegum kids’ brand—we don’t put cartoon characters all over them. But the stuff that’s way more fun and clever and which, if we had it in the adult line, would do terribly does way better than black. All the basic ones that we’re known for in our main line sell, but not that well. The ones where we’re super-creative and super fun and a little bit louder—any time we take a camouflage print and put big massive polkadots over it, or a popsicle print—sell like crazy, which is the exact opposite of our regular business. Parents, who are making a lot of the buying decisions at the toddler age, want the ‘Oh my god, that is so cute,’ one.”