Steph Korey and Jen Rubio had a problem. Their planned launch of Away, a new luggage brand, was fast approaching--and none of their suitcases would be ready to sell in time. Luckily, the two had a social media trick packed in their bags. They turned a proven retailing tactic, the preorder, and an idea for a book into a campaign that went viral on Instagram and beyond. --As told to Burt Helm

Korey: As December approached, we knew our first production run was not going to be ready in time for Christmas. Even so, we thought there are a lot of people who have terrible luggage. They might be happy to preorder something.

Rubio: We wanted to get everyone on board in the beginning.

Korey: The whole genesis of Away was that Jen broke her suitcase. She has all these well-traveled friends who can recommend anything. She jokes that she could text, "Hey, I need a coffee shop in Bangkok," and they would send her recommendations in an instant. She texted them, "Hey, I need a new suitcase," and they were like, "I've got nothing."

Rubio: We both had worked at Warby Parker, the direct-to-consumer eyeglasses brand, and thought we could take a similar approach with luggage. We used the same materials that are found in bags that cost over $700: sturdy YKK zippers, double-spinner wheels that are really rugged and glide over airport carpets, German polycarbonate shells that are both light and strong.

Korey: We thought, if people who travel heard about us from an in-the-know friend, we could make their travel more enjoyable. How do we put our story out in the universe in a way that people will repeat it? Jen had this idea of launching with a book.

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Rubio: It wasn't simply, let's make a book
because we don't have any luggage ready. It was a way to assemble a bunch of people to talk about our luggage when it was available.

Korey: We interviewed 40 really interesting people from the creative community--writers, artists, photographers.

Rubio: They represented a bunch of different categories, like food and fashion. These people aren't necessarily household names, but within their circles, they're very well-known and respected.

Korey: It was a beautiful hardcover book. We called it The Places We Return To. We didn't pay contributors, but we gave them a gift card for a suitcase. In November 2015, we sold the book with a gift card that was redeemable for a suitcase in February. It was essentially a preorder with a complimentary book.

People wrote about this interesting book--and then mentioned our luggage.

They were excited about it. They all had pretty big networks on social media. We made 1,200 books and sold out early.

Rubio: We were also in close to 100 gift guides. In our first year, we exceeded $12 million in sales. We've now sold more than 100,000 suitcases.

Korey: Storytelling is a central part of our marketing. We think about what stories we can feed to the press and to social media--things that make people take notice, things people want to share and talk about. Instead of offering traditional monogramming, Jen came up with this awesome idea to partner with a few hand-lettering artists. Each came up with a custom alphabet for Away. We took these custom alphabets, put them on our website, and gave customers the option to pick their style, and have artists hand-paint their initials
on the suitcase. You don't push your product. You create things that are fun to talk about, to write about, to share.