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Co-Creation Takes Travelers AwayJanuary - 2019

“My Away bag changed the way I travel.”

According to the US Travel Association, Americans took 2.3 billion trips last year for business and leisure purposes. The travel industry is enormous and the creators of Away believe we live in the age of access to our vast world.

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Away Travel is a relatively new brand, founded in 2015 by Stephanie Korey and Jennifer Rubio, who worked together at Warby Parker in New York City.  The company was born when Jennifer travelled to Berlin and her bag completely fell apart. When she got back from her trip, she began consulting friends about what luggage she should buy to replace it. All of her friends responded either ‘Don’t buy the one I have, I hate it,” or “I love the one I have, but it cost over $1,000.” Jennifer couldn’t understand why her only options were cheap, low quality bags or overly expensive bags, but nothing in between. So, she took a look at the luggage industry and asked 800 people what they would want in the perfect suitcase. She then linked up with her old co-worker Stephanie, and they decided to change the luggage industry together.

Sold exclusively online until recently, Away is now entering physical shops around the world. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Away is among the growing cohort of so-called digitally native retailers opening physical stores, aiming to expand their brands and cultivate new customers. The Chicago Gold Coast Away shop, coincidentally located next to Warby Parker, was the seventh brick-and-mortar store for Away, and the first in the Chicago area. When I went here to pick out my first bag, the store had only been open for a week.

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As a frequent flier, I had often seen passengers toting Away bags through airports in a multitude of sizes and colors, but had never thought much of it. They always looked like nice bags, but I knew little of the brand’s backstory or its product’s features. As my trip to Paris quickly approached, I chose to follow a co-worker’s recommendation and try out Away luggage for myself.

As soon as I arrived, an Away salesman began explaining Jennifer Rubio’s story. As someone who has dragged a cheap suitcase with broken wheels along the cobblestone streets of Portugal, I could appreciate her frustration over a broken bag in Berlin. The salesman continued on, explaining the multitude of features Away bags offer, notably an ejectible battery for charging devices, a hard polycarbonate outer shell, and 360° spinner wheels.  It sounded to me like Jennifer Rubio had certainly listened in her 800 interviews. These seemingly minimalistic bags had everything I could have asked for in a suitcase.

As I looked around the trendy store,  I asked the salesman if he owned an Away bag. He eagerly responded, “I actually owned an Away bag for a year and a half before I started working at the company. When I found out that this bag had a charger, I was sold. Then after using it for the first time, I realized the charger is wonderful, but the wheels and the way you pack the bag are what truly set it apart. It completely changed the way that I travel.” With this glowing review, I ordered a ‘bigger carry-on’  suitcase in the color ‘Brick’ and was on my way.

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Less than a month later, I was excitedly packing for Paris. The suitcase was delivered to my apartment beautifully packaged. However, when I first opened the bag and began mentally comparing the size of the bag with the size of the clothing mountain I had created, I became sceptical that even half of it would fit. Much to my suprise, everything fit comfortably into the bag’s two compartments. The salesman was right –  the way the bag is designed for packing truly does set it apart. Already impressed by how much the bag could hold, I headed to the airport.

With a layover on the way there and back, the bag made it to not only France, but also Denmark and Sweden. As the salesman had mentioned, the ejectable battery is great in the airport and to carry around, but the best part of the bag is the shell and the wheels. The hard yet bendable shell makes the bag not only durable and easy to clean, but also keeps it from cracking under any pressure like some hard shell bags. The wheels turn easier than any suitcase I have ever owned, making quick turns in the airport or on the streets of Paris a breeze.

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The real test of the Away bag was on my last day of the trip. I had to check out of my Airbnb in the early afternoon, but my flight was not until much later in the evening. This left me no choice but to carry my luggage around for the majority of the day before heading to the airport. Thankfully, because of the bag’s compact size and amazing wheels, I was able to fit the suitcase between the tables of cafes and had no difficulty rolling the bag around the Parisian streets as I picked up some last minute croissants and visited the Eiffel Tower one more time.

Here is what I learned in Paris. Away bags are proof that asking consumers what they want in a product pays off. Having worked for AE Marketing Group, which specializes in co-creation, for the past two years, I can truly appreciate the time and energy Jennifer Rubio put into learning what the luggage industry was lacking and what travelers really want in their suitcases. Working in tandem with consumers in this way allowed Away to create a product that fits their needs. I now understand why I see so much AWAY luggage whenever I am in an airport. Before owning or using the bag, I too had predominantly used cheap suitcases that only lasted a few trips. The quality of Away bags is incredible, and the lifetime warranty assures me that I will be taking this bag with me anytime I choose to go Away.

 

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