A decade ago, finding the right luggage meant settling for a suitcase that didn’t cause abject shame as it lurched along the airport carousel. Suitcases were nearly always black and mostly plastic. Not the case in 2017 – shiny, colourful, polycarbonate? Or a traditional travel trunk that exudes a rakish elegance and a patina that cannot be bought? We want our luggage to be identifiable and yet not too identifiable, a complex balancing act of form and function and certainly something that nails it on Instagram.
Of life’s many social markers, few other items announce to the world where you stand (and where you are going) as much as a monogrammed Goyard trunk; a whizzy wheelie from Rimowa with built-in chargers and electronic Bluetooth tag; or carrying the battered carpet bag that once belonged to your grandfather.
Changing consumer patterns mean that we are focusing our spending on experiences such as travel rather than acquiring more “stuff”. Demand for high-end luggage remains robust at a time of sluggish growth overall in the luxury sector.
And what better subject to post on social media? It taps into a romantic notion of travel: where you never sweat while haring to gate 81 or miss your flight because the M4 is closed.
It is little wonder that luggage has become the boom sector in the fashion world, with retail giants such as LVMH purchasing an 80% stake in Rimowa for €640m (£572m) and Samsonite acquiring Tumi for $1.8bn (£1.4bn). The luggage industry has also enjoyed a steady continual annual growth rate of 3.7% compared with other categories such as handbags and watches, which only saw a growth rate of 2% and 1.2% respectively.
Away is one of the many emerging luggage brands capitalising on the opportunity in the high-end travel market, where sleek, lightweight designs and smart technology features are tapping into a digitally savvy group of well-travelled, discerning customers.
The New York-based label was born from co-founder Jen Rubio’s frustration with the dichotomy of the luggage market, comprising cheap, throwaway tat, or the sort of heritage items that set you back thousands. Rubio and co-founder Steph Korey set out to make the best suitcases in the most up-to-date materials and sell them for under £300. Available in four sizes, these hard-shell cases cost from £225. In 2016, Away did £12m in sales.
Cannily, Korey and Rubio have not only concentrated on creating well-designed, affordable luggage but are busy constructing a travel brand narrative, one that ensures the whole Away travel experience is seamless. To date, they’ve rolled out an online and print magazine, a podcast and a pop-up hotel in Paris. They’re on to something, and the race to capture the travelling elite has only begun.
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