Luggage shopping used to be a dichotomous decision, a yin-and-yang of tastes: You could either splurge on a beautifully made suitcase for an eye-watering price or tighten your wallet and settle for an uninspiring piece of black nylon that would be your workhorse. It was an industry that catered to the five-star faithful and million-miler business travelers, with few other people in between. Luggage was essential, yes, but something to be kept stashed away in a closet until the next time it was useful. It certainly wasn’t a point of envy on Instagram—but a lot can change in a few years.
Go online or step into a brick-and-mortar store in 2018, and you’ll find durable, hard-shelled suitcases in eggshell blue or millennial pink; bags that charge your devices on the go; vintage-style weekenders just begging to be ‘grammed. Take a ride on the New York City subway and you’ll be bombarded with ads for direct-to-consumer luggage brands promising to make our lives easier, smoother (literally, with four wheels instead of two), and more stylish. Arlo Skye, founded by two former Louis Vuitton and Tumi execs, uses social media to sell itself as luggage for the “design obsessed,” while backpack maker Herschel Supply Co. recently introduced an entire line of travel accessories that promise to get you through the airport terminal without a hitch. As the average travel experience—the actual getting from A to B—becomes more taxing and less glamorous (read: shrinking legroom, longer lines at airport security, even longer delays), the one thing that still feels within our control is our travel uniform.
No brand has tapped into this sensibility more acutely, more loudly than Away. Led by two former Warby Parker execs, Steph Korey and Jen Rubio, they’ve done for suitcases what Casper did for mattresses, and, well, what Warby Parker did for eyewear: made a relatively boring necessity into an enviable statement piece at an affordable price. Limited edition colors and collaborations with celebs like Karlie Kloss and Dwyane Wade garner immense waitlists, and travel influencers boomerang their latest purchases on Instagram, encouraging their followers to join the club. (In October, just three years after it was founded, the brand was listed as one of Forbes magazine’s “Next Billion Dollar Startups,” and is estimated to have made $150 million in revenue by the end of this year.) At this point it’s almost impossible to walk through a major U.S. airport and not spot an Away carry-on gliding past you—all in muted shades of navy, forest green or sand, and steered mostly by America’s biggest travel market: millennials.
Making It Millennial Friendly
For many Away customers, a $225 carry-on is a first-time investment. (Though the company bills it as “first-class luggage at a coach price.”) It has a lot going for it
beyond the hard shell and four wheels (arguably the industry’s last innovation, which occurred some 30 years ago), like color options for every mood, zippered mesh dividers that actually keep clothing from getting wrinkled, and distinct pockets for all your tablets and cables. Like many of its competitors, the bags come with removable batteries with USB ports that let you charge your smartphone, laptop, or e-reader, but celebrity and influencer collaborations helps Away stand out: For a brief period of time you could buy a carry-on or checked bag with a beach-y image by big deal photographer Gray Malin printed on the inside. “It’s truly a more luxurious way to travel,” says Rebecca Stark, a twenty-something New York-based technology consultant who travels four days a week and recently bought an Away carry-on after seeing a friend use one. “It’s easy to feel the quality compared to other carry-ons at a lower price point […] It’s even inspired me to start planning my first solo trip next year.”
Marissa Heiken, a 28-year-old visual designer, describes her sky blue carry-on as the “first nice piece of luggage” she’s owned, adding that she got sick of buying just another throwaway $50 carry-on. (She’s since branched out into the limited edition ‘Aurora’ collection, too.) Olivia Sanders, meanwhile, spent most of her life using an old, hand-me-down Kipling suitcase—a hangover from when her grandfather used to work for the company—and had never considered investing in her own.
“My family and I kind of shared our luggage growing up, but before going on a trip to China my senior year [of college], I went to Walmart and bought something there,” she says. “It served its purpose for that trip but the wheels broke right when I got back. After that, I decided I would invest in something that would last.”
The investment acts as an incentive, too, says Brenna Ransden, a special projects assistant at a U.S. university. “I decided to treat myself to an Away bag, partially because I needed a new carry-on, but also because I needed a reason to keep traveling,” she says. “A $250 bag can’t just be kept in the closet!”