How Ethical Is Herschel? All You Need to Know

How Ethical Is Herschel? All You Need to Know

Dennis Kamprad

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In just over a decade, Herschel has become a trademarked brand that is recognizable in almost any city. Their well-known minimal backpacks and travel accessories are found in stores worldwide. The brand aims to expand even more globally, so we had to ask: How ethical is Herschel?

Herschel can largely be seen as an unethical brand because of their unverifiable ethical claims. While they share their Code of Conduct, they lack transparency by not disclosing any details of fair labor.  The brand, however, does have an eco collection and gives back to the community.

Finding information on Herschel’s ethical practices was almost impossible. Herschel manages their brand image pretty well in the media, but how ethical are their practices? We’ve done the research in hopes of answering your questions. Keep on reading so you can make informed future decisions when buying from Herschel.

Herschel: Creating Timeless and Curated Pieces for Everyone

Herschel Supply Co., also known as Herschel, was founded by two brothers, Lyndon and Jamie Cormack, in 2009 in Vancouver, Canada. They named the company after the small village they grew up in. Which ties in with their goal of creating retro, timeless, and quality pieces for everyone.

  • Herschel continues to pride itself on curated and simple pieces while having the goal of expansion and globalization. From iconic backpacks, they have now ventured into travel accessories, wallets, and more; creating staples for everyone.
  • The founders of Herschel are careful with business and have turned down hundreds of investors over the years. The current investors of Herschel are Eurazeo, Alliance Consumer, and HOOP Capital. Communications show that they aim to increase brand awareness and global expansion. These investors also have a history of supporting local enterprises and startups.
  • In 2021, after over 10 years of independent management, the brothers appointed Herschel’s first CEO, Jon Hoerauf. As an ‘outdoor apparel veteran’, Hoerauf has before worked for names such as Amer Sports and The North Face. Big brands that have dabbled with controversial pasts of ethics and sustainability.

Herschel is headquartered in Vancouver, with offices based in London and China. You can find Herschel products in over 90 countries. With over 10,000 stockists and 4,000 physical stores carrying them worldwide. Herschel currently produces their products in factories in China.

How Ethical Does Herschel Say They Are

Herschel does not share their stance on ethics anywhere on their minimalistic web page. A major red flag. If you take the time to scroll all the way down to their footer, you’ll see a subpage called ‘Supply Chain Disclosures’. It briefly explains their stance on transparency and modern slavery. 

On Herschel’s Supply Chain Disclosure page, they mention their Supply Code of Conduct in plain text. It explains how they hold their standards in accordance with international standards. Such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, and the International Labour Organisation. 

They stated that all factories and suppliers undergo annual audits and adhere to slavery and human trafficking laws. Herschel also claims that training is provided for staff on the Code of Conduct, and reports are reviewed to spot discrepancies.

Which Organizations Has Herschel Joined to Prove Their Ethics

We appreciate Herschel’s effort in publicly sharing their Code of Conduct with their stance on slavery and human rights. However, those cover just the basics.

Herschel claims to stand for accountability and transparency in their work practices. Yet, as of now, they don’t have or share any certifications or third-party organizations to confirm this. Neither could we find any list or information of the factories or suppliers that manufacture their goods. Not even on their page called Supply Chain Disclosure.

One can only be hopeful and trust that the factories and the company are adhering to their code of conduct and ethical practice set in place.

How Ethically Are Herschel’s Practices in the Production of Their Goods

Articles of Herschel’s ethical practices in the media are almost impossible to come by. You might say it’s good marketing, or they are genuinely doing a good job, you decide.

According to Good On You’s research, Herschel currently holds a rating of ‘2’, meaning ‘Not Good Enough’. Good On You rates brands from 1 (We Avoid) to 5 (Great). Brands are assessed based on their ethical and sustainable impact on people, plants, and animals. 

Here are brands with similar ratings to give you an idea of where Herschel stands with ethics in the market: Columbia, Decathlon, and Eddie Bauer. All are notoriously associated with questionable fast-fashion and unethical practices. 

The ‘Not Good Enough’ rating implies that Herschel does disclose some information on their supply chain practices. But, Herschel has not adequately managed their impact on people and the environment. There is little transparency in their practices and manufacturing.

Good on You highlights how Herschel simply has no definite evidence of ensuring fair labor and wages. There also seem to be no possible avenues for workers to exercise their rights.

How Ethical Is the Business Model of Herschel

Herschel and Their Transparency with Factories

Herschel is transparent with where they produce their goods – in China. They are proud to engage with China’s cutting-edge technology. As they believe it is the “best place” to make their products. 

According to Bloomberg, as of 2015, Herschel engages 15 factories in China. When we see “Made In China”, we instantly associate it with sweatshops and cramped factories. However, there have been few Chinese factories that have defied that norm. These factories produce quality products while having ethical work practices.

Unfortunately, Herschel does not disclose the names of its factories and suppliers. Neither do they share their auditing processes or have third-party organizations to back their claims.

So we’ll never really know how ethical Herschel’s manufacturing in its Chinese factories is.

Herschel and Global Expansion

Being an ethical fashion brand is usually synonymous with small-batch productions and having moral and ethical work practices.

In an interview with Financial Post, Cormack shared that Herschel is not a small business. One that practices slow fashion and sells handmade goods. Instead, Herschel is transparent with its intentions of being a global brand. To be commercial in every aspect possible.

Often with global expansions also comes with great responsibility. Such as ensuring fair labor, sustainable and ethical work practices with suppliers worldwide. With these honest ambitions, the big question is, how ethical will Herschel be in achieving these goals?

Price Matching and Lifetime Warranty With Herschel

Herschel is relatively simple with its marketing and revenue model. With no subscription plans or special membership for their consumers.

Instead, Herschel believes in price matching. This means that if you find a Herschel product being sold for a lower price by another retailer, you can contact Herschel to ‘match’ that price. This shows that they guarantee customers the best prices for their products. Or at least that they might be willing to forgo a higher margin if one of their retailers does – but without passing that on to all customers, only to those claiming the price match.

Herschel also provides a lifetime warranty for all products bought directly from their store. It tells us that they believe in their quality products.

How Sustainable Is Herschel

Being an ethical and sustainable brand shouldn’t be confused as the same thing. But, being sustainable also overlaps with being ethical to our environment.

Herschel has an environmentally friendly collection called Eco. Bags from this permanent collection are made from post-consumer materials. Recycled plastic water bottles are used for the labels all the way to the zippers and liners. 

Sometimes eco collections could be a marketing technique and considered “green-washing”. Once again, we had to ask the questions to be sure.

Herschel’s customer service on their live chat was quick to answer our queries. They shared how Herschel owns a brand called Parklane MFG. It is a brand that focuses on products made from 100% recycled water bottles. In turn, Herschel may have adopted similar methods and sources from the same manufacturers.

We appreciate Herschel’s effort in providing a sustainable option for their consumers. And for their quick and honest replies. However, to be a truly environmentally friendly brand, Herschel shouldn’t only have one Eco collection – all their collections should be Eco.

Is Herschel Involved in Any Charities

To have good ethics and morals also means to give back to the community and make an impactful change. 

In 2020, Herschel launched their We’ve Got Your Back campaign. This initiative aims to give back to communities in times of need. Communities such as hospitals, schools, and families. According to Yahoo Finance, Herschel has also pledged to donate over $500,000 worth of bags to frontline workers across North America.

On top of that, 100% of the proceeds from Herschel mask purchases (made before June 15, 2020) would also fund their initiative.

What Do the Reviews Reveal About Herschel

Lastly, it’s also important to look at customer service ethics and see what the consumers of Herschel had to say about the brand.

A whopping 78% of reviews on Trustpilot rated their experience with Herschel either as ‘bad’ or ‘poor’. Most of the customers encountered unresponsive or rude online customer service. Some have also shared their thoughts on the overpriced, low-quality, and defective bags they had received.

Herschel has been a victim of counterfeit; however, the reviews of their authentic products remain relatively the same across different review sites, such as sitejabber. Many customers still love their Herschel bags, but their poor customer service experience has put them off the brand. 

Final Thoughts

Herschel has done a great job in their iconic branding and their global yet stable expansion. We especially appreciate their caring customer model. While the brand acknowledges its manufacturers and publicly shares its Code of Conduct and stance on ethics, these details and claims are largely unverified and brief. 

In their global commercialization endeavor, we hope Herschel continues to evolve their ethical claims and engages in third-party organizations to support and verify these. And that they improve their online customer service.

Stay impactful,

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