Losing your luggage is every traveller's worst nightmare. But when Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of Away – a New York-based direct-to-consumer luggage and travel brand – lost her suitcase on her recent trip to Sydney for the brand’s Origin: Away pop-up, she was surprisingly optimistic.
“This is so funny because this has never happened to me in the history of Away,” Rubio tells Broadsheet. “Luckily I had our Everywhere Bag with me. I basically keep everything in there that would be a real deal-breaker if it didn’t make it. So this time I was super grateful I had that. And I also got to do some shopping too, so that was a bonus.”
In three years Rubio and co-founder Steph Korey have grown Away from a struggling startup to a global lifestyle brand said to be worth $2 billion. They’ve sold more than a million products, from suitcases to luggage tags, and ship to nearly 40 countries – including, since just recently, to Australia – and have several stores in the US and more slated to come this year. Its business model is direct-to-consumer, meaning there’s no retail mark-up and fewer overheads.
“Steph and I actually met while we were both working at a direct-to-consumer business: Warby Parker [a New York-based retailer for prescription glasses and sunglasses],” Rubio says. “We learned a lot there … and how important it was to have an incredible customer experience. It’s about cutting out the middleman so we can give consumers a better product for a better price.”
Away launched in 2016 with one item: the Carry-On. The 3.4-kilogram bag fits in the overhead compartment, is made with a durable polycarbonate shell, has four 360-degree spinner wheels, a hidden laundry bag and an ejectable battery that charges your phone. It’s stylish, easy to manoeuvre, available in 10 colours and will set you back $295 – a competitive price for quality luggage (a similar 55-centimetre Samsonite bag is $429).
There are now larger suitcases in the range, such as The Medium ($375) and The Large ($395), as well as others with pockets ($375), and one for kids ($275). There’s also a range of travel bags. The Weekender ($325) comes in three colours, is made of canvas, has a padded 15-inch laptop pocket, a lined exterior shoe compartment and can be secured to any Away suitcase. Everything comes with a lifetime guarantee.
There are also packing cubes and other removable bags that can be bought for organising your belongings. “When I’m going on a trip with multiple destinations, I use different coloured packing cubes for different destinations,” says Rubio. “It’s great because when you get to that destination you don’t end up dumping out your whole suitcase.”
Rubio says everything Away does has been designed to streamline the travel process and to eliminate what she calls the “pain points”. If Away can take the stress out of travel, then it’s succeeded. It doesn’t hurt that the Away range is also good looking, and each polycarbonate suitcase comes with an eraser, which you can use to remove any scuffs. “We manage to do things that are on trend without being trendy, because we make something that is supposed to last you for life,” she says. “Our suitcase … is lightweight, super durable and fits a lot … the simplicity with which we’ve designed it, I think, is a huge part of why our brand has grown so quickly.”
The Away team has big plans to tackle the lifestyle industry and expand; a line of in-transit apparel is coming soon. There’s also talk of launching a wellness range that might include sanitising wipes for cleaning airplane seats and tray tables, and vitamins and supplements for long-haul flights.
Since 2016 Away has been named one of Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies”, one of Time’s “50 Most Genius Companies”, one of LinkedIn’s “Top Startups” and a Forbes 2018 “Next Billion Dollar Start-Up”.
“Our big goal is to become the Nike for travel,” says Rubio. “I think eventually we are going to be the company that no matter what trip you’re going on or where your destination is, Away makes the products you need for a more seamless and enjoyable trip.”
Away is now shipping to Australia.