On the Herschel backpack explosion

Even if you haven’t gotten close enough to see the name written in navy blue script on that gray rectangle in the bottom right corner, you can recognize them by their unmistakable two-tone canvas exterior and candy apple-red insides. Although they first started appearing last year, it’s near impossible to traverse the Main Green without seeing at least 2 of them. You know what I’m talking about: the Herschel backpack. It seems like a pretty niche product to be so visible on campus. Herschel Supply Co. was only founded in 2009. In Canada no less. So, then, why are they suddenly everywhere? The answer lies as much in their availability as in the fashion middle-ground they occupy.

Let me preface what is to follow with a disclaimer: I own one of these backpacks. I know I was not alone in rocking a perpetually overloaded L.L. Bean behemoth in high school that I will no doubt blame for my hunchback when I turn 70. When I got to Brown, I downgraded to my old North Face outdoors backpack, but, as you can imagine, it somehow didn’t feel right carrying around campus (read: it was gray and fluorescent orange). I was stuck in backpack purgatory.

Simply wouldn’t work on the walk to J. Walter Wilson.

What are one’s options in this spot? You’re 18-22, too old for any of the backpacks your friends had in high school. But you’re not ready to throw your youth away into the bowels of some leather briefcase that would cost as much as my laptop, and a messenger bag just seems painful for your shoulder. Enter Herschel. Though some may find the classic “Pop Quiz” (shown at top) look a bit too mainstream at this point (at least in navy blue, the gray still represents relatively uncharted waters), some — myself included — have settled on the slightly more expensive, significantly less practical “Little America” model. I stand by this decision. Drawstrings are so much more space efficient than zippers, and they never catch on anything!

So mainstream it’s alternative.

Herschel backpacks, however, do not stand alone on this middle ground. Jansport, for example, offers plenty of products that would seem to fall somewhere between the high school behemoth and the professional valise. And, indeed, those bags are still fairly prevalent on campus, just not in the same number as Herschel. What, then accounts for this difference? I actually hinted at what I think may be the answer earlier in this post. Go on the Urban Outfitters website. There are 12 different models — each with multiple color options — of Herschel backpacks available, a couple of random OBEY and Burton bags, and not a single Jansport. The “explosion” might just be a question of accessibility. There is, after all, an Urban right on Thayer…

Images viavia, and via.

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