When Jen Rubio first posed the idea of launching Away, a direct-to-consumer luggage company, to Steph Korey, she didn't need much persuading.
Korey was in the throes of penning her graduate business school dissertation on the hallmarks of success for direct-to-consumer businesses. Plus, she and Rubio started on the same day at Warby Parker back in 2011, when the direct-to-consumer eyeglasses company had just 20 employees.
"We helped Warby grow from 20 to 300 people while we were there," says Korey, Away's CEO. "We feel so strongly that the future of retail is direct-to-consumer."
Not only are direct-to-consumer brands cheaper--since they cut out the middleman (a.k.a. the retailer)--they offer a constant feedback loop that traditional consumer products companies don't have, says Korey. "If a customer goes into a [traditional] luggage store and says, 'That purple is whack,' you're never going to know about it," she adds. "With direct-to-consumer, the brand constantly learns how to better serve the customer."
Since officially launching Away in 2015, the pair have found plenty of opportunities to test that theory. The New York City-based company, which offers four sizes of bags starting at $225, has sold more than 100,000 suitcases--helping it book $12 million in sales in 2016, its first full fiscal year. Away is on track to more than quadruple that figure to $48 million in 2017, says Korey.
Of course, the founders have a ways to go before Away becomes a household name. That and, well, luggage just isn't all that sexy. "The advantage of eyeglasses is they are fashion accessories. They can get featured in the fashion press and become a topic of conversation at the dinner table," says Neil Blumenthal, the co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. "Luggage is not discussed as frequently," adds Blumenthal, who acts as an adviser to Away.
Anticipating this critique, Rubio and Korey in March collaborated on a line of Millennial pink luggage with Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse, the best friends behind the Instagram-friendly accessories brand Pop & Suki. As expected, the fashion press had a field day; Korey says the story got picked up by roughly 25 publications.
The bags themselves have helped gain notoriety, too. Not only are they guaranteed for life, you can try them out for 100 days and send them back if you're not satisfied. The carry-ons come with built-in USB chargers, so you don't need to sidle up to an outlet at the airport when your smartphone runs out of juice.
Additionally, Away is plotting to make a name for itself in the larger world of travel. "Even before we were like 'let's choose luggage,' we were talking about editorial content and all we can do in the travel space," says Rubio, Away's co-founder and creative director. "We see the long-term potential for Away to be much, much more than just selling luggage."
The company plans to launch an editorial site and a print magazine this year. In May, it launched a podcast dubbed Airplane Mode. It had previously launched a travel subsite called The Upgrade, which among other things highlights travel tips, the contents of people's carry-ons, and the things people buy on their travels. The company's social media channels are jam-packed with customer travel stories and images.
While still nascent, Away's efforts show promise, says Blumenthal. "It's smart to establish a content platform around the category, as more and more people spend more and more of their income on experiences as opposed to physical items." Plus, he adds, their goodwill in the industry--having cut their teeth at Warby Parker--and social media prowess can't be denied. "Jen was one of the first people on Twitter; her handle is @Jennifer if that tells you something."
To hear Korey tell it, Away is primed for success. "Our overarching mission is that we think travel is this amazing thing that can make your life better, and we're on a mission to make it more enjoyable," she says. "This is the future of business."