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Exclusive Q&A: Herschel Supply opens first U.S. store — with more to come

Herschel Supply has put down roots in the United States, opening an outpost in the heart of New York City’s Flatiron District.

Best known for its popular backpacks, the digitally native Vancouver, Canada-based brand was founded online in 2009 by brothers Lyndon and Jamie Cormack, who named it after the small Canadian town where they grew up. In creating Herschel, the brothers wanted tofill a gap in the market and put a modern twist on backpacks,” Lyndon Cormack told CSA

Through our own unique aesthetic and perspective, we created global travel accessory brand that is classic, modern, welcoming and approachable,” he added.

Herschel’s lineup has expanded over the years to include travel baggage and accessories, hat, wallets and a newly-launched apparel line dubbed Herschel Supply Uniform. The company has also expanded into physical retail.

In addition to its just-opened New York location, the brand has four stores in Vancouver (with an upcoming location planned for Toronto’s Eaton Centre). It also has a robust wholesale business, with partners that includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, REI and others.

Chain Store Age’s Deena Amato McCoy spoke with Lyndon Cormack about Herschel’s newest store and the brand’s North American expansion plans.

Why did Herschel Supply choose to open its first U.S. store in the Flatiron District of Manhattan?
While conceiving our expansion plan back in 2019, we envisioned opening a store where locals and travelers unite. Our first-ever store in the U.S. sits in the heart of New York City right where the Flatiron Building splits Broadway and Fifth Avenue — it’s one of our favorite intersections in the world. This store is a testament to our continued momentum and marks the beginning of our ambitious retail expansion through 2023.

How big is the store and what merchandise does carry?
The store is 2,500 sq. ft. and it offers one of the largest selections of Herschel products in the world — from our bestselling backpack and duffel collection to everyday essentials such as wallets and headwear. Our new apparel line is also available.

How would you describe the look and feel of the store?
My brother Jamie and I collaborated with our in-house design team and lead interior designer Rye Johnson to create an immersive customer experience that mirrors the distinctive energy of New York City. At the store entrance, customers are greeted by a large LED screen that displays our brand’s latest campaign imagery.

The space also features a juxtaposition of old and new mixed materials. For example, we’ve paired vintage and second-hand furniture with modern design components such as glass-blown lights from Bocci, another Vancouver-based company. The same lights are displayed throughout our headquarters office in Vancouver.

Other design elements include reclaimed oak tables, black-painted oak walls and a tile-wrapped cash desk and dressing rooms.  The walls of the store are decorated with displays of Herschels signature styles in an assortment of vibrant colors. 

Hershel Supply is an advocate of local artists. Tell us more about that and how your new store will participate?
Our mission is to inspire and provide up-and-coming creatives with the means to pursue their artistic interests, which shows up in different ways throughout our business. From a product standpoint, we've partnered with individual artists on merchandise collaborations.

As a brand, we introduced different campaigns this year, such as the Herschel Bank of Creativity. Located in the former Brooklyn Bank in Brooklyn, the space provides mentors and resources to emerging New York artists launching their careers. We also introduced our Nova Art Project where we partner with female artists who create two exclusive designs that are featured on our signature Herschel Nova Mid-Volume backpack.

We also have initiatives at store-level. In our Flatiron store for example, we will host a rotating “Artist in Residence” program that will spotlight a new artist every three-to-six months. The store features a large-scale gallery wall and additional lounge space for artists to expand their installations.

Our first Artist in Residence will be local New York photographer Kalena Burwell. In addition to participating in our Bank of Creativity project earlier this year, they were a staff member at New York City’s International Center of Photography and a graduate of the school’s Teen Academy program.

What about community events?
We dedicate space in all our stores to host community events. In New York specifically, we allocated 1,200-sq. ft. of space above the store’s main floor for community events.

We hope to host between two and three community events every month, with the events ranging from sound baths to artist workshops to live podcast tapings. 

What business challenges has Herschel overcome while creating a physical store strategy?
We’ve had a successful wholesale business for years, but running a retail organization is different. We recruited and hired a best-in-class team to help us pave a smooth path. We love meeting our customers wherever they shop and having this extension to our business model is the next step in creating a robust global business. So far, it’s proven to be successful for us. 

What is the next step in your expansion strategy?
We plan to continue expanding within the U.S., and expect to operate 12 additional retail locations in North America by the end of 2023. We will focus on key epicenters throughout the U.S. and Canada, including New York City, Toronto, Los Angeles and Calgary.

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