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 shoulderbags 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.