Travel Free With AwayThe New York luggage brand rethinking not just how to pack, but how to travel. Published: July 20, 2018
Away is different than the established luggage names dragged behind harried travelers at airports or legacy brands sold at big box retailers: the direct-to-consumer outfit believes that travel is about forging connections, and that how you pack for a trip makes all the difference to the trip itself. Simply put, it wants to reimagine travel gear for the modern world. Smart technology-enabled and thoughtfully minimalist, Away suitcases embolden global citizens to experience their journey unencumbered by a dying smartphone or a clunky bag. Quiddity spoke to Jen Rubio, Away's Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer, about fixing the travel experience, designing luggage to meet real consumer needs, and leveraging social media to communicate with niche audiences.
You and your co-founder Stephanie Korey both worked at Warby Parker. When did you two decide to go into business with each other?
We met while working at Warby Parker, on our first day. Even though we worked on very different sides of the business, we quickly formed a great working relationship. Today, we bring those different perspectives and skill sets to how we run the business at Away.
What led you to launch Away in 2016?
Away came out of a personal pain point. My suitcase broke while I was traveling, and none of my most well-traveled friends had a great recommendation for a replacement. I’d built my career helping brands connect with their customers, so it struck me that there wasn’t any sort of brand loyalty in the luggage industry, even though it’s something you take on every trip. I called Steph and, after some digging, we realized there was a great opportunity from both a brand and supply chain perspective to build the company we wished existed. When we started researching the market, we found that luggage was either inexpensive but wouldn’t last, or it was more expensive than the trip you were planning to take it on. We knew that a direct-to-consumer model would allow us to build a premium product and sell it for an unprecedented price.
What were your founding goals for the brand, and how have they evolved over time?
Our overarching goal has been the same from the beginning: to make travel more seamless, and to inspire people to do it more often! We started with one product—the Carry-On—but have since evolved into creating a range of products and experiences, ultimately looking to create the one perfect version of everything you need to travel, and to fix everything that’s currently wrong with the travel experience.
The Away brand encompasses so much more than luggage. Can you speak to how Away embodies a unique traveling philosophy?
We never set out to be just a company that made luggage. We wanted to create a travel brand that got people excited about what they could do and where they could go with Away, one that inspired people to plan their next trip. Both Steph and I have always been passionate about travel, and as a brand, we believe that seeing new parts of the world and experiencing different cultures makes you a better and more empathetic person.
Beyond luggage, Away publishes Here, a lifestyle magazine, and Airplane Mode, a podcast. How do these original content platforms fit into your broader brand narrative?
Like all things at Away, our media division was created to respond to a customer need. We’d created a brand that was so synonymous with better travel that people were actually reaching out to our Customer Experience team or writing to us on social media to ask for tips and recommendations ahead of upcoming trips. We realized there was a whitespace in travel journalism and believed we could leverage our unique point of view to create something different. Today, we have a quarterly print and digital magazine, Here, and we’re exploring what other types of content we might be able to create that would celebrate the voices and experiences of people all over the world. Whether it’s through Here, our podcast, or the content on Away’s social media platforms, all of our brand channels are designed to showcase content that inspires people to plan their next trip.
What is the most important social media channel for communicating your brand? How do you leverage social media to engage with target markets and glean consumer insights?
No one channel is more important than the other. We know that our global audience is engaged across a number of platforms—whether Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter—so we create content to engage with them wherever they already are. As a direct-to-consumer brand, one of our biggest advantages is that we’re able to both listen and respond by creating the products and experiences [our customers] are asking for. For example, we recently introduced a new colorway, Sky (a light blue), to Away’s permanent collection because so many people responded via social whenever we’d create limited editions in light blue hues. We had thousands of people commenting on Facebook or DMing us on Instagram asking for more of the shade, so we were really excited to respond to that feedback within a matter of months.
Who is the Away customer? What characterizes their worldview and, more specifically, their travel philosophy?
Whether the 23-year-old artist who just moved to New York, the retired couple exploring South America, a businesswoman headed to Europe, or the whole family on summer vacation, Away’s customers are incredibly diverse. But they’re connected by a love for travel, and a deep sense that no place is too far.
The fact that our products appeal to such a wide variety of people means that we’re constantly having to be thoughtful in how we create products and experiences that can serve each person’s unique travel needs. As an example, we launched The Carry-On with Pocket because we heard that some of our business travelers wanted their laptop to be easy to access in a hurry. We know that travel means something different for everyone, and that there’s not just one way to define how people think about it, so we’re most focused on listening to the feedback of our customers and letting that guide what we do next as a brand.
You recently launched a limited-edition Star Wars-themed collection and a collaboration with Dwyane Wade. How do partnerships like this come about? What kinds of cultural icons resonate most with your brand?
Partnerships have been part of our brand strategy since the beginning. They allow us to add an extra layer of storytelling and creativity, while also reaching new audiences in a way that’s beneficial for both partners. And from a design standpoint, the outside of our suitcases are clean and simple—they’re essentially a canvas for design, which makes them great for partnerships because we can design something unique for each collaboration that’s authentic and true to their travel story.
For us, it’s about aligning ourselves with people who love to travel or brands that have a unique perspective, and then figuring out how to create products and experiences that bring those things to life in a way that neither partner would necessarily do alone.
Our partnerships with Star Wars and Dwyane Wade were loved by people who might think about travel in different ways, but we were able to create something that spoke to both of those audiences in a way that was genuine and intuitive. We’ve also partnered with people like Rashida Jones and Karlie Kloss, and brands like Madewell and the NBA; it’s always fun to come up with new products and stories we can tell that resonate with different travelers.