Can the entrepreneurs behind New York-based startup Away transform the travel goods industry? They’re off to a good start with a first-class carry-on suitcase at a coach price.
I travel. A lot. And my go-to piece of luggage – a heavy and slightly-clunky, battered and bright-red Victorinox 21 inch roller that can usually be jammed into an overhead bin – is always an afterthought until I have to lug it around the streets of Berlin or Havana or through the seemingly never-ending corridors of Washington Dulles Airport. On those journeys, I often wonder why I don’t invest in a new bag.
Then I come home, stick my suitcase in the closet and don’t think about it again until the next trip – in no-small part because the idea of throwing down $800 or more to upgrade my luggage makes me shudder.
Enter Away Travel, launched in February by Stephanie Korey and Jen Rubio (pictured above), two Warby Parker alumni who conceived of the business after finding deficiencies with their own luggage and becoming appalled by the cost of existing replacement options.
“I found myself wondering, when I went to a luggage store, ‘why do I see a $1,000 price tag’?” Steph observed during a recent interview in her Manhattan office. “Does it really cost that much to make a plastic box on wheels?”
The two friends investigated and found that most luggage is marked up for retail 5 to 10 times over the cost of production with hefty profits split between distributors and retailers.
They thought they could do better by removing the intermediary. The two entrepreneurs pooled their complementary skills – Jen ran social media for Warby Parker and subsequently headed innovation for All Saints from London, while Steph managed supply chain for the eyeglass company and consulted for mattress startup Casper – and set out to solve luggage as a first step.
(After all, who better to start up the “Warby Parker of travel” than two Warby Parker alumni?)
Away held focus groups with over 800 individuals from a variety of backgrounds – artists, CEOs, college students and retirees – and heard similar wishes and complaints. Everyone wanted lightweight luggage, durable zippers, quality rotating wheels and an interior that seemed like someone had actually put some thought into it.
They also asked the focus group participants to step back and describe other pain points and frustrations while traveling. The most common? Dead phones and tablets.
Away’s response? To integrate an easily accessible rechargeable lithium-ion battery into their signature carryon piece – along with high-class wheels, durable zippers, a lightweight frame and a series of internal compartments and a compression packing system.
And the cost? A remarkable $225 for their 19-inch carry-on roller with free shipping and a lifetime warranty.
Since launching in February, Steph said the response from consumers has been “extremely overwhelming.” Sales were double projections for the first month, then doubled again the second month, and have taken off from there. Her team has grown from 4 in March to 20 as of June 1. Media attention has been pretty stellar too, with coverage in Vogue, Wallpaper, New York Magazine and Esquire among other publications.
Away recently debuted two larger-size pieces of luggage and has even bigger ambitions for the future.
“We are a travel brand, not a luggage company,” said Steph. She and Jen want to identify pain points associated with travel and make the entire experience as seamless and hassle-free as possible.
The company is already telegraphing new directions including by opening a temporary concept shop in NoHo in New York. The store features Away’s luggage, a quirky combination of travel accessories, games, food and trinkets from Japan and Sweden and the company’s newest product, a soft, attractive “blarf” – a combination blanket and scarf for airplanes – that is eminently more appealing than its nickname.
The team also launched The Upgrade, a curated travel journal that, over time, aims to provide trusted recommendations for travelers.
Photo credit: Lead photo courtesy of Away Travel.