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All About Away with Co-Founder Jen Rubio

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A global travel and lifestyle brand based in New York, Away is making a name for themselves in the three short years they’ve been around. Their focus is creating thoughtful luggage and accessories designed with “everything you need and nothing you don’t”, made from premium materials and sold at an unprecedented price, thanks to their direct-to-consumer business model. Away takes into consideration the main hassles of travel and tries to solve those problems in unique, innovative and thoughtful ways. We had the pleasure of interviewing co- founder, Jen Rubio who shares her insight on a brand that focuses on better travel standards and innovative solutions to all their customers’ travel needs.

Can you tell us more about the story behind Away and how the brand came to be?

The idea for Away stemmed from a personal pain point. My suitcase broke while I was at the airport, and when I called my most well-traveled friends, none of them had any brands they recommended. I’d spent my career helping brands create compelling stories that got people excited about brands and their products, so it struck me that there weren’t any luggage brands that people were excited to associate with, even though it’s something you take on every trip.

I called my co-founder, Steph, shortly after, and we found two things when we started researching the luggage industry: the first was that luggage was either cheap but terrible in terms of quality, or it was more expensive than the trip you were taking it on. We also found that luggage brands before Away were talking about the features of their products, like the zippers and the wheels, but none were talking about travel.

We know that a good product is just table stakes, so beyond luggage, we’ve worked to create a brand that stands for better, more seamless travel, and we bring that to life with the stories we tell through our brand, with the intention of inspiring people to do it more.

“Getting away means getting more out of every trip to come”

Starting as a digital brand, how did you build awareness and gain loyal customers?

Since the beginning, we’ve focused on telling a broader narrative around travel and celebrating a range of voices and stories to showcase different perspectives. While we’ve always worked to create great products, it’s our brand and what Away stands for that’s helped us build a global community and gotten people excited about who we are.

In fact, we launched Away with a book—not luggage—called The Places We Return To, which was a collection of travel stories from diverse and interesting people, and we sold it with a gift card that could later be redeemed for our very first product, The Carry-On.

As a digital-first brand, online platforms have always been important to our growth, so we’ve continued to lean on our community, or the partners and influencers we work with, to let them be part of telling the story of Away. People naturally want to share photos of where they’re traveling, and they’ll tag Away, so it allows us to be a part of the conversation in a way that authentically builds a community and drives brand awareness.

Away’s stores are mostly in the U.S. except for the London store in Europe. Where are the next stops?

Today we have seven stores , six in the U.S. and we just opened our first international store in London in August. We’ll also be opening stores in Chicago and Boston before the end of this year, with several more on the horizon beyond that. Like everything we do at Away, we’ll continue to listen to our customers and let them help us determine where we go next.

Considering that Away’s pieces are “thoughtful rather than smart”, is there a distinct in-store experience through which Away tells its story to the shoppers?

We had tested a few pop-up concepts before opening our first permanent retail store. We hypothesized that stores would be great for brand awareness, but not necessarily something that would become a driver of the business. We were quickly proven wrong when we realized how much our customers valued the in-store experience and getting to interact with our products and our team in this way.

Our stores are another channel where we’re able to tell stories about travel that get people excited about their next trip, so we also view them as community hubs. We curate regular in-store programming—like wine tastings, yoga classes, and book clubs—and beyond luggage, we also sell other travel essentials that we love. Our stores are another way to introduce people to the brand, whether they’re coming to shop our products, read one of our travel guides, or get together with friends while planning their next trip.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge in the retail world, especially for new or smaller brands trying to make their mark?

A lot of brands are investing in offline experiences and creating unique ways to bring people into their stores, but I don’t think that brick-and-mortar is something that every company needs to do. For any brand, but especially new brands that are getting to know their customers, it’s important to find ways to test concepts before introducing them permanently to make sure there’s appetite for what you’re planning to create. If physical stores are something you’re considering, make sure you’re clear about what the goals are for the store and what its purpose is, and how you can create an experience that’s different to what your customers can get online.

Are there any upcoming future projects or collaborations of Away you can tell our readers about?

We introduced several exciting collaborations for our community in the last year, like the ones we did with The NBA and Star Wars, and the collaborations we designed with Karlie Kloss and Margherita Missoni. We’re listening to what our customers around the world are telling us and letting their feedback and ideas for what we can create help inform what we do next.

I can’t share exactly what we’re working on for the year ahead, but I can say that we have several new products, experiences, and collaborations planned, and we’re excited to introduce them to our community and continue to show people that we’re thinking of every part of their travel experience.

“For us, all time away is time well spent”

What motivates you both professionally and personally?

I’m inspired by so many different things that spark a lot of great ideas for Away, from other entrepreneurs or designers that I admire, to our own team and the incredible work that they do to bring our brand to life in creative ways and tell great stories about travel. Our team is constantly thinking about new products or experiences that we can create for our community that gets people excited about Away and inspired to travel more often, and I’m always inspired by what they’re coming up with.

Travel has always been something that I love deeply. Whether I’m visiting a new place or returning to one of my favorite places, I’m inspired by the different experiences I have while traveling and getting to connect with the places that other people.

By Brittany Melhado