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Why a Chic Suitcase Might be the Next 'It' Accessory

With an influx of investor money and new startups, travel and luggage brands are appealing to a more fashion-conscious consumer.
Photo: Courtesy of Away

Photo: Courtesy of Away

For many people, the holiday season inevitably means travel, whether by planes, trains or automobiles. And while jet-setting to far-flung locales is, in and of itself, undeniably chic, one might not think of your bulky Samsonite as, well, a high-fashion addition to your travel uniform of boyfriend jeans and your favorite oversize cozy sweater. But we have a feeling that's all about to change.

This past October, it was announced that French luxury group LVMH had purchased an 80 percent stake in German luggage brand Rimowa, and in a separate move earlier this year, Samsonite acquired Tumi for $1.8 billion. Companies — fashion and otherwise — are clearly willing to invest in expanding luggage brands (especially those with a stylish bent), but what does it mean for the travel goods industry as a whole? 

"If you think about five to 10 years ago, you didn't have 'real' examples from people of what travel could look like. You could look at hotel websites and magazines, but with Instagram and other social-media platforms, you can see travel from the traveler's experience," says Steph Korey, co-founder and CEO of luggage brand Away. "With fashion-focused people — who have always traveled a lot — [you can now see] how they travel, so I think that’s been a huge factor in fashion and travel coming together, having that exposure there." 

Inside Away's SoHo boutique. Photo: Ben Wagner/Courtesy of Away

Inside Away's SoHo boutique. Photo: Ben Wagner/Courtesy of Away

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New York-based Away, which recently raised $8.5 million (!) in Series A funding, was born from Korey's business partner, Jen Rubio's frustration with the dichotomy of the $32 billion global luggage market: "Her option was basically either another piece of cheap crap that was going to break, or a suitcase that would run her back $800 to $1,000," says Korey. "So we said, 'We're going to make the best suitcase in the world that's equal to or better than those $1,000 suitcases in every detail and material, and we're going to sell them for under $300.'" And the brand's luggage, Korey tells me while touring the brand's SoHo retail store, are very much designed with fashion in mind. "It was really important to us that aesthetically and from a fashion perspective, we're making something that’s beautiful and minimal enough to go with a wide array of fashion styles," she says. "So whether your style is very girlie or very minimal, or you wear all black or only wear color, we're making something that can blend with your own personal style." (In other words, you're actually going to want to tag them in your airport Instagram posts.)

It's also worth noting that millennials today are investing more of their cash towards experiences and travel, and less on, well, things. So how does a company that produces "things" capitalize on that? By making things that facilitate those experiences. "Being able to support that travel experience-focused lifestyle is very important to us," says Korey. And as Forbes points out, a largely expanded worldview coupled with higher incomes at younger ages (plus the fact that FOMO exists) is resulting in a nearly 30 percent spike in millennial tourism revenue from 2007. 


Other brands infiltrating this space include smart luggage purveyor Raden, whose multicolored luggage can be synced to the brand's app, which boasts features like weight measurement via the top handle's built-in sensor, plus flight and airport information. And if chic solids are still not enough to satisfy your fashion craving, CalPak's printed offerings certainly will. But hey, if you're more of an old soul and aren't looking for something in the techy luggage realm, then look to Paravel's retro-inspired designs, which include duffel bags, pouches and cases all done up in durable cotton canvas. Notably, Paravel was co-founded by former Moda Operandi and Delpozo exec Indre Rockefeller. Last year, Tumi and New York brand Public School collaborated on a futuristic capsule collection.

So as fashion permeates the realms of technology (Opening Ceremony and Public School both have collaborated on wearables), music (see Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs' playlists for Apple Music) and art (Cindy Sherman and Takashi Murakami are two examples of fashion industry favorites, while Cos just did an Agnes Martin collection), maybe travel is the next market ripe for a bit more fashion cred? Away's Korey thinks so. "We have some really exciting fashion partnerships in the works to really help people understand how important fashion is to Away," she says. "[We want] to make travel something that you can love and be excited about and be, aesthetically, what you want as well. I think you'll see more companies in the coming years see that merger that we've done and say, 'This is what should be happening.'"

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