How backpack brand Herschel are banking on underserved creators

One of the remarkable traits of New York City is its dense, varied and ever-evolving urban landscape: skyscrapers, pop-ups, brownstones, storefronts. The city seems to constantly shape shift. And there’s always something new to notice.

When Wavetable founder Howard was out for a run in Brooklyn one bright and sunny morning, his eye was caught by an old bank building that had been given a vibrant new look.

On further investigation, the building was being used by backpack and travel accessories brand Herschel as the home for Their Bank of Creativity project, supporting a group of creators to level up their craft and careers.

Naturally, we were intrigued - after all, we’re on a mission to empower people with skills, access and confidence to do work that matters - so we asked the crew at Herschel to give us the rundown on the project.

Where did the idea of the Bank of Creativity come from?

Historically, private financial institutions have never favored artists and creators. A lack of collateral is the number one reason why private loans are denied. An artist who relies on royalties from the sales of songs, art, photos, films or tickets isn’t the most desired investment for a bank as it’s difficult to put a guaranteed ROI behind creative work. When even the most established artists face conservative lending practices, the challenges for up-and-coming artists are tenfold.

As a brand that seeks to uplift and empower creative entrepreneurs, Herschel wanted to do something about it. We wanted to build something that could show the next generation of creatives that their work is valued, all while being a little subversive in its execution. Flipping the idea of a traditional bank on its head was not only a way of doing that, but it served as a symbol of the struggles and gatekeepers many creatives face when they want to take their careers to the next stage.

“It was important for us to demonstrate our support in a way that would be impactful to creatives. Who better to provide those breaks than artists who’ve experienced the tension between creativity and commerce first-hand, and who’ve come out on the other side?”

Lyndon Cormack, Co-Founder of Herschel.

How did you select your mentors and mentees?

Through hours of research and multiple rounds of interviews, we found three Creative Advisors who would prove to be inspirational and compassionate mentors to the participants. Factors of consideration included their experience within their respective fields, and their ability to relate to the tensions and struggles faced by the participants. This criteria was set on the intention of allowing each Advisor to provide meaningful advice and mentorship to the Creators who took part. It was also required that each advisor is based in New York to allow them to relate to the unique challenges faced by creators in the city.

In regards to the 18 Creators (mentees), we wanted to find up and coming artists whose passions emulated through their work and could use the tools and advice that the Bank of Creativity had to offer to help further their creative pursuits. To find these Creators, we opened an online application portal where interested participants could enter. We also engaged Gia Kuan, a well-known publicist and creative consultant to street scout in artistic hubs and communities throughout the city. This was followed by hours of screening interviews, where the team hand-selected the 18 participants who would be supported by the Bank of Creativity.

What was the design of the mentorship program and how did/does it look to support these creatives?

Each Creator (mentee) was paired with one of our three Creative Advisors (mentors) based on their areas of interest and expertise. During the one-on-one, one hour sessions, Creative Advisors Olivia Rose, Danny Cole, and Sophia Wilson used personal stories of struggles and successes to provide coaching and advice to support the Creators through their own emotional and financial obstacles. The Creative Advisors studied each Creator’s story and creative portfolio to offer the most personally tailored advice as possible.

To keep conversations going, contact information and social handles were exchanged and some Creators were introduced to new contacts within the Advisors’ communities for additional mentorship opportunities.

Following the one hour sessions, the Creative Advisors led the Creators to the bank vault, where their personalized tools and supplies were revealed.

Why was it important to not just give people money?

We wanted to differentiate the Bank of Creativity from traditional financial institutions, which meant rethinking the traditional loans that are typically (but sparingly) granted. Unlike a traditional bank, the Bank of Creativity provided creators with mentorship, tools and supplies that would help further their passions and careers. The tools and supplies granted to each creator were pinpointed by them as being critical to growing their craft and careers.

For the vast majority of the creators, our support with art materials, camera equipment and studio space meant less time working additional jobs to fund supplies for their craft, and more time dedicated to their creative pursuits.

“We asked up-and-coming New York creators what it would take to turn their side hustle into their main hustle. Aside from providing supplies and equipment, it was important to us that these creators had the opportunity to sit down and speak with advisors who have been through this journey. The goal is to provide support in a way that would take their creative careers to the next level”

Jamie Cormack, Herschel Co-Founder

What’s next for Herschel and investing in people?

From our retail community hubs to product stories, we have a long history of projects geared towards uplifting and empowering creatives and their communities. Our Artist in Residence program uses their retail community hubs as space for upcoming artists to showcase their work, with artists rotating twice per year.

Fun fact: Herschel even used a song from one of the creators supported at the Bank of Creativity (Leanne Chan) in the video about the initiative.

(this conversation was lightly edited for brevity and clarity)

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