View from the C-Suite: Herschel outgrows its ‘hipster’ roots

Braden Hoeppner explains how the Vancouver-based backpack and accessories brand is speaking to culturally savvy travellers.


Braden Hoeppner was named SVP of marketing at Vancouver-based Herschel Supply Co. in September 2018. With previous experience as the CMO at Saxx, he now oversees brand and retail marketing, social media, content and PR at the backpack and accessories company. In a recent interview with strategyHoeppner explained how the brand is continually exploring the culture and arts space to engage with new audiences.

How would you describe the Herschel brand today?

Herschel is a lifestyle and accessories brand that has largely been focused on backpacks and other bags. It grew up with social media entrenched in its DNA. Sharing the stories of customers and their travels around the world, and being an extension of how travel and photography and art all come together, really worked from a branding perspective. As Herschel’s grown, consumers have asked for more [products], so we’ve introduced more luggage and apparel offerings to continue to entrench that lifestyle brand message across the board. Backpacks [remain] the anchor – everything else stems from that. The five silhouettes we [had] when we launched 10 years ago are still in our line.

You’ve been described as the “hipster retro backpack” company. Do you feel that positioning still stands? Or is the customer you’re speaking to changing?

It’s widened to some degree. Our core audience is 16- to 44-year-old culturally savvy travellers, people who think about travel as anything that’s moving you from A to B, whether that’s your commute, your weekend getaway, your hike after work or your international backpacking exploration trip. Anywhere you might travel sort of resonates. When [our customers] go from Vancouver to Tokyo, they want to see things that are authentic to Japan. They have to have local food, to experience local artists. Being “hipster” is tied to the history of the brand in a way, but I think it’s broadened beyond that to a larger appreciation of culture and design.

When you were CMO of SAXX, you talked about taking an anthropological approach to your marketing to tap into cultural trends. Do you see a similar opportunity in your current role?

Herschel as a brand is very culturally connected. We do a wide spectrum of partnerships, and we’re very targeted with how we market them to tackle different segments of the market. We’re National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball licensees and we’re really leading the charge for what the lifestyle, sports-licensed bag can look like. At the same time, we just launched a partnership with [Japanese collectable toy] BearBrick for the street culture kind of person who’s a collector of these things. And earlier this year, we launched a partnership with Hello Kitty that’s both a fashion play and a trend play. We speak to all these cultural nuances very well here. Not all of them are shouted from the rooftop at the same volume, but [it’s] underneath the current of what’s going on.

Herschel opened its first standalone store in Vancouver last year. Where does it fit into your storytelling strategy? How are consumers interacting with your brand through that store?

It [offers] a mixture of arts, culture and product. There’s artwork and four or five sculptures from local artists that help the community see who we are as a brand. Opening our flagship in our hometown was important to have that story resonate. We’re well situated in Gastown, a historic district that has this famous statue of one of the founders of Vancouver, Gassy Jack. The artist that did that original statue created a second version of it to live within the Herschel store. The back of the store itself opens up to a view of the mountains and the water – it essentially looks like a Herschel ad. There are these things that [serve as] subtext to the brand that a consumer might not articulate, but that they feel and experience as they walk through the store. We’re looking at opportunities to expand that retail experience – both from a more traditional and a pop-up perspective. But we have no firm plans to disclose at the moment.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.