The Eastpak story is based on an interview with Gilles Laumonier (VP-GM of Eastpak Worldwide) by Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer.
Meeting up with Gilles Laumonier in Eastpak’s global headquarters in Bornem, Belgium gives us the opportunity to learn more about one of the truly authentic bag brands today. The VP-GM of Eastpak Worldwide does even more than that: he explains how in order to survive, the brand had to diversify and unite at the same time. And why that is a good thing.
If a bag originates from a US-Army design you know that ruggedness will definitely be one of its features. Eastpak started life in 1965 as Eastern Canvas Products, a company that supplied bags, pouches and knapsacks to the American Armed Forces. A decade later (1976), founder Monte Goldman’s son Mark noted that a growing number of school kids used army surplus bags as schoolbags and suggested that the company should broaden its scope to the action-packed halls of high schools and colleges. His instinct was right on the money. Eastpak’s star really rose in being the first brand to introduce colourful and boldly printed bags to the marketplace. Creating and releasing its trademark Padded Pak’r only added to its fame. The icon product gave students a virtually indestructible bag, crafted out of one piece of durable Cordura fabric with the least amount of stitching possible. In return, the education system made Eastpak into one of the biggest bag brands of America in the mid-Eighties. The rest of the world was soon to follow. Focusing on the durability of its products the brand introduced its line to the European continent at its States-side highpoint.
The VF Corporation procured Eastpak in the year 2000. In a way it got two brands for the price of one, each with different strategies. Eastpak on the American domestic market was a strong pricefighter, in the ongoing war between the countless bag brands that all tried to make the best out of a fragile economy. In Europe the competition was less fierce, giving Eastpak enough reason to send out its bags at a premium price. An old army motto says that united we stand, divided we fall. Eastpak seems to agree, as it gears up to manage the brand as one all over the world. And another thing: Up until 2002 Eastpak was all about backpacks, with eighty percent of its business revolving around different variations of the Eastpak-style. The brand had become a mono-product business, which left little room for expansion. Just ask Levi’s that had the dubious honour to give this predicament its shrink-to-fit name: the 501 syndrome.
Go long, go deep
Developing the brand in three steps
1. Get away from the 501 syndrome (2001-2005)
Diversifying the line took the brand a good five years. Adding extra attributes to the packs turned out to be the answer. They had to become a fashion item, an integral part of an overall image that completed an outfit, not just another excellent bag to haul stuff. Fashion is more complicated than ever, with everybody mixing and matching their own trends and influences to a highly unique persona. Eastpak answers this call by releasing new seasonal collections several times a year. This turns out to be an incredible success too, as research showed that in 2005, 35 percent of sales came from the bags compared to 80% in the previous years. With their turnover up at the same comforting standard, this meant that Eastpak’s other products flew off the shelves at a rapid rate. It had successfully transferred from a category brand to a street fashion/statement brand. And why not? People seldom buy their jackets simply because they’re feeling cold, but to show the world what they’re all about. Along those lines, a bag is just as much of a statement of personality, lifestyle and taste.
2. Globalise the brand (2004-present)
Going for the world started in FW 2004/2005 when Eastpak introduced the brand in Japan, Korea, Brazil, South Africa and Russia. International distribution goes through Eastpak stores in Europe, while the brand works with distributors for the rest of the globe. Twelve flagship stores have popped up worldwide with Eastpak prominently featured in Milan, Sao Paulo and London, to name a few.
3. Make a 360-degree true lifestyle brand (present-future)
The third phase is happening right now, and we couldn’t have jumped in at a better, more exciting time with Eastpak targeting youth culture in four marketing fields: music, action sports, fashion and arts This challenge is definitely the biggest, because now the brand has to venture out into the unknown. In order to become a true lifestyle brand it will consider expansion into areas that could be seen as natural extensions of the Eastpak lifestyle offering, this could include ranges of eyewear, watches, footwear and other accessories alongside the core offering of bags all the way. The brand ran two test seasons to figure out what Eastpak apparel should look and feel like, concluding that functional fashion was the way to go. The results are totally on-brand, irresistibly stylish, yet indestructible outerwear for men and women.
The brand’s out of the bag
Especially in Europe, brand diversification hits the spot; brand and revenue-wise there is not much growth left in the European market. Eastpak will continue to build the bag segment in the rest of the world, as there is opportunity a-plenty in the newly tapped countries. Both challenges will be tackled by one management team, uniting the Eastpak brand with unwavering energy. Eastpak doesn’t do large-scale classic media advertising, but reserves its message for target magazines. Fifty percent of marketing is funnelled into sponsoring, connecting the brand to music festivals, sports, arts and fashion. Online the brand has already stepped up, and will unleash a serious web presence in the coming years. In SS08 Eastpak collaborated with the leading name in contemporary menswear, Raf Simons, who designed a range of super exclusive bags as part of his main-line collection, they featured as integral parts of the silhouettes at his catwalk show in Paris. It is coolness by association; his desire to work with Eastpak says more than a thousand words.
The brand’s turnover might place Eastpak in the mainstream posse, but mainstream is only a state of mind. It’s all about looking in the mirror at the end of the day. Eastpak will never water down its identity, always remembering where it came from. Authenticity, activity and life are what keeps a global brand in the loop forever.
The Eastpak story is based on an interview with Gilles Laumonier (VP-GM of Eastpak Worldwide) by Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer. Published in CoolBrands, the Guru Book.
The Eastpak story is based on an interview with Gilles Laumonier (VP-GM of Eastpak Worldwide) by Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer. Published in CoolBrands, the Guru Book. Gilles Laumonier GM Eastpak – CoolBrands