Backpacks are displayed at Herschel Supply Company’s new flagship and first North American store, in Vancouver, on Monday June 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian backpack makers eye expansion abroad, morph into lifestyle brands

As parents prepare to shell out hundreds of dollars on school supplies ahead of the first day of school, Canadian backpack makers readily await one of the busiest sales seasons for the industry.

Canada’s backpack makers are experiencing a boon beyond the traditionally busy back-to-school season as students and consumers with all types of carryall needs flock to their designs.

That demand is pushing homegrown names like Herschel Supply Co. and Matt & Nat to scale up and open flagship stores, expand their bricks-and-mortar footprints and release products beyond just schoolbags.

The back-to-school lead-up is “hot, hot, hot, hot,” said Manny Kohil, CEO of Montreal-based vegan bag brand Matt & Nat.

“Month of August is always on fire,” he said, adding that flows into the first week of September before slowing down.

Parents plan to spend an average of more than $300 on back-to-school shopping this year, according to an online survey conducted by Maru/Blue for Capital One.

Parents will spend an average of about $45 on backpacks — though that jumps to about $68 for high-school students. About 40 per cent of respondents admitted they’d likely go over budget on supplies.

The survey was conducted between July 27 and 29, and questioned 276 adults with school-age kids. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

Herschel Supply Co. anticipated a line out the door at its flagship Vancouver store, which opened this summer, in the three weeks leading up to the first day of school.

The business certainly benefits from that time of year, said Lyndon Cormack, one of three brothers who co-founded Herschel in 2009.

But it’s not dependent on it, he said, noting backpacks have become more “like an every-day purchase” as people increasingly flock to urban centres, live in smaller spaces, rely on public transit and commute using methods other than cars.

Both brands saw an upsurge in demand that’s led them to open retail stores and plan domestic and international expansions.

“I think that a retail store still hands down does it better than anything in the world in relation to conveying a brand’s purpose and message,” Cormack said.

Related: Are your kids anxious about going back to school?

Related: Back to school: Kids talk social media, the web and slang words

Herschel’sfirst shop is a logical step as the company previously only sold its goods online and through other retailers, like department stores, he said.

In the roughly 5,000-square-foot space, the brand can present all its products to consumers rather than a small selection curated by another retailer, like the Hudson’s Bay Co., Cormack explained.

Already, more stores are in the works, though Cormack said there’s no specific timeline for future openings.

The company is eyeing a few spaces in New York City and London, England, at the moment. Within Canada, it definitely makes sense to eventually look at Toronto, he said.

Matt & Nat already operates six locations, including an outlet shop outside of Montreal. It will soon open another discount store near Toronto, said Kohil, and plans to grow its presence to up to 15 stores in Canada and abroad next year. International locations will include the United States, England and the Netherlands, he said.

He opened the chain’s first store more than two years ago “to elevate the brand,” he said.

But the rucksack companies’ expansions aren’t just into real estate. Both are evolving into so-called lifestyle brands.

Matt & Nat branched out beyond handbags and wallets by introducing shoes in the spring of 2016. It now also sells sunglasses and candles.

Meanwhile, less than 50 per cent of Herschel’s sales come from backpacks, said Cormack. The company also makes wallets, laptop sleeves and luggage. It expanded into apparel with packable windbreakers and plans to add other diverse categories into its mix in the future.

Herschel appears to be following a similar trajectory to another Canadian retailer: Canada Goose. The luxury winter jacket company started as an e-commerce business, then opened its own stores at home and eventually abroad before holding an initial public offering.

Cormack doesn’t deny Herschel could eventually go public, but said the company is certainly not looking at an IPO in the near future.

Companies in this story: (TSX: GOOS) (TSX:HBC)

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Noted fiddlers bring kids to Surrey stage for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’ concert

Bell theatre date for Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy as they reunite for 23-city tour of Canada

Surrey-based business donates $1M to hospital’s children centre improvements

Surrey Hospital Foundation kicks off campaign for ‘transformation’ of children’s centre

OUR VIEW: Surrey’s unsung heroes inspire

The Now-Leader was proud to celebrate some deserving unsung heroes in this city on Wednesday night

North Delta family raising money for brain cancer treatment

23-year-old Tashina Janus and her family are raising funds to get her immunotherapy in the U.S.

Surrey opera singer brings Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte’ to Vancouver stage

Nancy Hasiuk-Lay has been hailed for her ‘sparkling and crystalline vocal tone’

Metro Vancouver mayors cancel Surrey LRT in favour of SkyTrain

Surrey mayor claims he can extend Skytrain for the $1.65 billion already committed to light rail

Hunter who saved B.C. man pinned inside smashed truck says ‘God was sending me to him’

Sayward man describes chance discovery of Duncan Moffat, 23, in northern Vancouver Island woods

Road-weary Canucks thumped 6-2 by Wild

Vancouver hosts the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday

Toronto private school didn’t report alleged sexual assault to police

Police say a sexual assault at an all-boys Catholic institution was not reported to them

China says butt out; Canada calls for release of “arbitrarily” detained Muslims

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman accused Canada’s envoy of going beyond their diplomatic roles

Dead Saskatoon tattoo artist’s skin removed and preserved

The skin was removed in honour of the well known artist’s work

Lower Mainland couple missing in Thompson-Okanagan area

Barriere RCMP received a missing persons report for two senior overdue travellers

Vancouver Warriors cancel first 2 weeks of season as labour dispute continues

The announcement means games scheduled for Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 will no longer be played

B.C. Realtor suspended after helping intern forge note about sick grandma

Vancouver real estate agent Jaideep Singh Puri has to pay fine, take ethics course

Most Read