Like any brand, EASTPAK stands tall because its roots run deep. In this piece, we thought we’d go back to those roots. Dig around a little in the fertile soil around them. Get our hands dirty. And see what we could find. We don’t know about you, but we think it’s an interesting story.
And for the start of that story, we have to go back quite a way. Because EASTPAK has been making high-quality packs and bags since 1952. That was the year Eastern Canvas Products USA, with Monte Goldman at the helm, landed its first military contract. It did so by manufacturing high-quality duffels, backpacks and safety equipment for the US Army. And while the brand we know today may have outgrown those early roots, it still owes its rigorous quality standards to these early beginnings, when quality really could mean the difference between life and death for the American G.I.
But it wasn’t until 1976, when Monte’s son Mark joined the company at age 29, that the real seeds of worldwide success were sown and the EASTPAK brand really came into its own. Mark Goldman, the free-thinking pianist fresh out of college, brought a new sense of energy, vision and direction to the company’s consumer line. More importantly, however, he brought with him an idea. While studying at university, he noticed that the “cool” students weren’t carrying briefcases around anymore but army issue bags. What he noticed, in other words, was a gaping big hole in the market. Monte Goldman took a bit of convincing but in the end he gave the green light for a trial production run and Mark set off for a Chicago trade fair in 1977 with the first range of backpacks, duffels and shoulder bags for the consumer market. When the first flurry of orders followed soon after, Mark knew he was onto a winner.
By 1981 Mark Goldman’s bright idea had flourished into a booming business. Which is precisely when Norman Jacobs entered the scene; the man who in partnership with Mark Goldman was to steer the EASTPAK brand to even greater heights throughout the 1980s. As the architect behind cornering the University Bookstore market, Norman had effectively ensured EASTPAK was the clear “brand of choice” on the East Coast of the US anno 1983. Not content with riding the wave of reputation, however, the duo put their money where their mouths were in 1984, introducing the now famous Lifetime Warranty, which is still offered on the majority of EASTPAK products today.
EASTPAK was the first brand to replace the traditional brown and green bags with fun, flashy colors. This trend was further reinforced in 1987, the year EASTPAK well and truly emerged “out of the woods and into the city” for good. For 1987 saw the first appearance of wild, extravagant prints in the catalogue, marking EASTPAK’S emergence as a genuine, urban lifestyle brand. This move was matched by the first series of fresh and provocative ads in a range of lifestyle magazines from Rolling Stones on up. EASTPAK had well and truly hit the streets and had finally “talked the walk” as well. By building on the hip, urban explorer image the bags seemed to have already acquired all on their own, it was just a small step to becoming, as the baseline from the era boldly claimed, the “Leader of the Packs”.
And just to prove that the brand had really grown up, it was also around this time that EASTPAK sprouted wings, conquering the Asian market with its authentic American lifestyle image. Latin America soon followed and in 1986, EASTPAK crossed the Atlantic, launching distribution activities in Europe. EASTPAK was first introduced in France by Kostia Belkin, a student who stumbled upon the EASTPAK brand while trying to peddle a peculiar variety of plastic briefcases in the USA. During a chance meeting, Kostia was told in no uncertain terms by Mark Goldman that “if you are crazy enough to come to a foreign country to sell a shitty product, then in your own country with a good product you are going to do great!” After Kostia set up a highly successful distribution strategy for France, the way was clear for EASTPAK to take over the rest of Europe. Which they soon did.
In 1995 the young, urban lifestyle brand caught the eye of the Coleman Company. By buying EASTPAK, the Coleman Company was able to follow the brand into a whole new lifestyle market. And for five years, it was a productive symbiosis. EASTPAK continued to book exponential growth figures thanks largely to its continued focus on key markets and its unique distribution strategy. Indeed, by the end of the decade, EASTPAK had firmly stamped its mark as a fun and innovative brand, best captured perhaps by the now famous “skeleton ads”, depicting EASTPAK bags outliving their owners by quite some margin.
This strong growth formed solid foundations for the brand now entering the new millennium. And after being acquired by VF Corporation in the year 2000, EASTPAK has never looked back. Since then, EASTPAK’s portfolio has grown to include collaborations with some of Europe’s finest designers; one award-winning advertising campaign after the other; high-profile sponsorships of musicians, artists and celebrities; flagship stores around the world including on Carnaby St., London; and of course innovative products and hip designs left, right and center.
And the product portfolio continues to grow with a range of street-smart backpacks, shoulder bags, apparel and highly durable luggage travel gear to enable and enrich urban life. Many items have integrated multimedia pouches, laptop sleeves and stacks of other ingenious features that let you cram more life into your day. Whether moving across town or around the globe, EASTPAK enables you to transition seamlessly through the urban landscape.
Which begs the question, of course, what’s next for the brand that began with making simple duffels for the American G.I. before graduating to the city? Whatever the future holds, EASTPAK’s proud and rich heritage will ensure it stays at the forefront of both style and function while focusing on the fun.
 As a lifetime is not always easy to define from a legal point of view in all countries, EASTPAK nowadays issues a 30 year warranty on many of its products. But the upshot is the same: quality that lasts and lasts.
Valentina Caro Rojas
Debora Di Berardino
Fabrizio De Lucia