Herschel Supply Co: The Family Business


by Karra Barron | Photos by Cindy Wu | July/August 2012

Jamie and Lyndon Cormack celebrate their family’s heritage with their line of nostalgic backpacks and bags

When you start a business with someone, you get used to calling them family. You spend a lot of long hours together, see each other through good times and hard times, and may even bicker like a couple of scorned middle children. If you’re Jamie and Lyndon Cormack, this is the kind of family you’ve been a part of your whole life. In fact, family is so important to these brothers that they’ve built their company, Herschel Supply Co., around their heritage.

“Our great grandparents immigrated to Canada from Scotland through the homestead program. They eventually ended up in a small hamlet called Herschel in the middle of Saskatchewan,” explains Lyndon. “It’s a town with only 30 residents, but it’s surrounded by these beautiful rolling hills and nature. Our grandparents lived there and our father grew up there, so it influenced the way Jamie and I were brought up.”

He adds that Herschel Supply is based on the concept of the town general store, where you could always find simple products that were designed with great attention to detail. Herschel Supply designs and sells backpacks and bags that are inspired by this aesthetic, as well as mountaineering, heritage, world travel and fashion.

“We often times go back to the past and find that nostalgic product, which we then try to make modern. We take that look and try to figure out how it can be applied in a setting like today,” says Lyndon, who looks after sales and business operations.

For Jamie, who is in charge of design at Herschel Supply, it’s about “building stuff we like. We pull inspiration from everywhere: vintage flags to great footwear, and from Hong Kong to Deep Cove. ”

The Cormack’s started their venture back in November 2009, but they’ve had a desire to start a company together for years. Both brothers have been involved in selling to lifestyle fashion retailers for over 10 years and are experienced sales representatives within the market.

“While we were working in sales, we were always looking at where there could be a hole in the market,” explains Lyndon. “We felt the brand we were looking for and the aesthetics we liked weren’t on the shelves, so we built a line around what we saw was missing.”

Once they had the idea for Herschel Supply, Jamie and Lyndon quickly put together a prototype of their first bag. By July 2010, they were delivering their first products to markets in Canada, the US, Japan and Australia. Today, Herschel Supply sells into over 35 countries worldwide. The brothers attribute this international success to being prepared and having a solid business plan from the very start.

Lyndon adds, “We were extremely organized when we started this brand. At [our first tradeshow in New York], we were right next to Jansport and, although there was this nervousness about how we’d do, we showed up better than a brand like Jansport. Having been in this industry for a long time, we have a superior understanding of what it means to be a brand rather than just creating something cool.”

That isn’t to say Herschel Supply doesn’t have cool things in the works. After a successful collaboration this year with the godfather of street-skate apparel, Stussy, Herschel Supply is now working with footwear giant New Balance on a backpack and Herschel Supply-inspired shoes for fall 2012. The team is also designing a backpack with Vancouver’s Jeff Hamada, founder of the arts blog Booooooom.com, set for release later this year. That’s in addition to introducing a kids’ line and gearing up for the fall/winter 2012 season.

This upcoming season, Herschel Supply will be expanding from bags and backpacks to wallets, computer sleeves and duffle bags. The brothers have also been experimenting with new materials for their products, so expect to see bags made with fabrics like ripstop nylon, canvas and natural leather and suede. Herschel Supply computer sleeves will also be showing up in Apple stores throughout North America starting this summer, which is a dream come true for Jamie and Lyndon.

With so much success in only a few short years, the brothers are also focusing on recruiting top talent to help with the rapid growth of their company. And even though they’ll be adding to the Herschel Supply family soon, it’s clear that it’s the bond between the Cormack brothers that’s been a huge driver of the company’s success.

Jamie believes it’s all about their ability to communicate with each other. “In other companies, you have to candy coat things a bit more. We speak our minds. We’re not going to skirt around anything. Being brothers, whether you love or hate each other, we’ll always be family and you repair that rift two seconds after the conversation. It helps us make sure things get done in the right way and it gets done quickly.”

“The main thing is that we just really understand our strengths and weaknesses,” says Lyndon. “Even though we share similar aesthetic views, we’ve got very different skill sets. Jamie is so much better than me at things like attention to detail and design, and I’m more on the operations or logistics side. You push those things together and it really works as a unit.”

With brothers who know how to get along this well, Herschel Supply has a good chance at being a family business, literally and figuratively, for a long time to come.

Source: Vancouver View Magazine

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