Away is launching a new luggage category to take advantage of this increase. In a week’s time, the company will be releasing a line of outdoor gear, including duffel bags, convertible backpacks and messenger bags made of waterproof material, designed for hikes and road trips. Away calls this launch the next chapter in its brand evolution. After a damaging rundown on the brand’s toxic culture in 2019, followed by months of low sales as the pandemic hit, this new collection gives Away a chance to re-introduce itself to consumers in a post-pandemic world.
[Photo: Away]Away launched in 2015 with a hard case that quickly became a staple on Instagram as customers shared photos of their luggage during their travels. Cuan Hanly, Away’s chief design officer, says the briefcase remains the top-selling product and expects it to remain at the core of the business. But the suitcase and its accessories, such as the carry-on duffel bag and tote bags with trolley covers, were designed primarily for air travel, especially for people who often went on business trips. “The hard side luggage is fantastic in an urban environment, city-to-city,” says Hanly. “But we saw a desire for a product that could go one step further.”
[Photo: Away]According to Away’s internal research, half of travelers expect to travel differently after the pandemic: they want to spend more time in nature and outdoors. This may be because people developed new travel habits during the pandemic, when airplane travel was risky, but socially distant travel in nature — such as camping and road trips — was safer. Hanly’s team designed this new line, called For All Routes (FAR), for these contexts. Away hopes to win a new kind of customer with this line and give current customers new products to buy. “Our existing customer may have gone elsewhere for this kind of product,” he says.
[Photo: Away]Hanley says the team has focused on using lightweight, durable materials made from recycled polyester. With the duffel bag, they’ve incorporated the compression system into the suitcases so travelers can pack more. From a design perspective, the line is a significant departure from Away’s previous pieces. While the cases are sleek, with minimalist branding, this line is adorned with a large “A” and comes in more vibrant colors, including neon yellow, atomic orange, and cobalt blue. “Our core products have a stripped-down, clean feel,” Hanley says. “With FAR, we had a lot of fun playing with colors that pop out.”
[Photo: Away]Many direct-to-consumer brands launched with a single product and then expanded. Allbirds, for example, launched a wool sneaker in 2016, but its products now include a range of footwear and activewear. Warby Parker was launched by selling eyewear online, but has since grown to more than 150 stores, many of which now also have ophthalmic services. However, other brands have been less successful in their efforts to branch out. Glossier tried to move beyond his minimalist makeup to create a brand of colorful lipsticks and eyeshadows, but they quietly stopped due to poor sales.
Away has taken several blows over the past three years, starting in December 2019, when The Verge published an in-depth piece in which former Away employees described how the startup’s inclusive branding was at odds with its toxic work culture. Then-CEO Steph Korey, whose management style the article described as harsh, left the company but then changed his mind in January 2020 and returned. She eventually left the company later that year and her co-founder Jen Rubio took over as CEO.
But by then, the pandemic had struck and travel had stopped. Away saw a 90% decline in sales and laid off half of its employees. The startup’s 2020 revenue was about $135 million, half of what it earned the year before. Hanley says revenues have risen since then, especially with the travel spike, but he didn’t specify by how much revenues have improved. Still, in recent years, many competing startups have had the opportunity to grow their brands and threaten Away’s expansion, including eco-friendly travel brand Paravel, customizable luggage brand Roam, and Baboon to the Moon, which enables outdoor pursuits. duffels and backpacks in bright colors, similar to Away’s FAR
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