The next generation of luggage start-ups

This fall, 24-year-old graduate Maya Thakrar booked a last-minute trip to Greece. In addition to researching must-see sites and finding an Airbnb with the best view, she’s also on the hunt for new baggage.

Thakrar, who lives in New York, bought an Away suitcase a few years ago when the brand was starting to take a comfortable position in the annual “Best Of” roundups. Last year, while looking for something new and fresh, she picked up one of Baboon To The Moon’s colorful duffel bags after seeing it on TikTok.

Thakrar is part of the so-called revenge travel boom. Despite fears at the start of the pandemic that the travel industry will take years to recover, tourism is back in full force: between April and July, travel spending in the United States exceeded 2019 levels, according to the US Travel Association, a trade group.

Pent-up demand has created new opportunities for luggage brands, including direct-to-consumer entrants like Baboon To The Moon, July, Roam, Monos and Béis which were launched on the heels of the success of Away.

Like Away, these newcomers are taking on established brands like Samsonite by targeting a younger consumer with sleek design and social media ads. But while Away dominated the millennial spirit with its $275 hard-shell carry-on in the late 2010s, this new generation of travel accessory brands are finding success with soft bags and other categories. . They’re also exploring new ways to reach consumers, whether it’s TikTok, wholesale, or personalization to order.

But consumer interest in travel allows all market players to benefit. Samsonite, which also owns American Tourister and Tumi, reported a 59% increase in sales in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in the first half of 2022, the company said.

And Away, which has struggled during the pandemic following allegations of a toxic work culture and a funding cycle at a lower valuation, is making a comeback. In the first two quarters of 2022, its sales were up 61% and 73% year-over-year, according to data from Earnest. Recently, it launched a line of outdoor gear including duffel bags and convertible backpacks.

“The boom everyone was waiting for has happened,” said NPD industry analyst Beth Goldstein. “The challenge for new players now will be how to maintain it.”

A differentiated product

For newcomers to the luggage category, crafting a unique value proposition is another way to target younger customers who expect a closer connection to the brands they consume.

Luggage company Roam hopes to stand out from the competition by adopting a custom-to-order business model, where shoppers can choose the colors of their suitcase’s shell, zipper and wheels online. Each custom product is made in US factories after purchase.

“People don’t buy luggage every six months,” Goldstein said. “Brands are going to have to innovate and stay fresh so they can continue to grow to reach new customers and retain the ones they already have.”

The hard-shell polycarbonate suitcase, for example, now costs a penny by the dozen. Besides Away, Roam, July and Monos all offer their own version of sleek plastic luggage. To continue driving sales, brands must also offer other travel accessories, such as weekenders, backpacks and duffel bags.

“I’m not going to walk around New York with my Away bags every day,” Thakrar said. “I need an option that I can use every day, take a flight and go on a trip.”

Away has found success with its new outdoor line, FAR, or For All Routes. The FAR line will target a new group of consumers: hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, in addition to its established base of travelers who prefer city trips with their rolling luggage.

“Through our research, we learned that 52% of travelers expect their post-pandemic trips to be different,” said Laura Willensky, Chief Commercial Officer at Away. “We have pivoted our strategies to ensure we stay ahead of our community.”

Away expects its outside line to account for more than 20% of its total business going forward.

Baboon To The Moon offers a slimmer selection of canvas bags, but incorporates multifunctionality into the product. Their best-selling product is the Go-Bag: a duffel bag that can be converted into a backpack or shoulder bag and is available in an assortment of colors and a range of sizes, from suitable carry-on to checked luggage.

“We want to meet young people where they are,” said Andy Person, founder and CEO of Baboon To The Moon. “Whether it’s a music festival, a hike or an international trip.”

More affordable pieces, like canvas duffels or weekenders, allow brands to acquire customers when they’re young.

“Being able to pick up consumers early will increase their likelihood of being a loyal long-term customer,” said Sarah Willersdorf, global head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group.

Social media still works

The first generation of direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker and Away struck gold with cheap social media ads. Although the cost of advertising on some of these channels has skyrocketed today, it is still an effective way to acquire customers. However, more savvy new entrants are also leveraging TikTok, reaching a whole new set of shoppers.

Caleb Anderson, a 26-year-old who splits his time between Paris and New York, said he fell in love with the Paravel brand after his Instagram feed was flooded with their ads for weeks.

“These ads followed me everywhere,” Anderson said, “When I learned a bit more about them, their commitment to sustainable travel drew me in.”

Baboon To The Moon, meanwhile, has focused its efforts on TikTok, where the brand collaborates with up-and-coming influencers who promote their own bag designs on the platform. The company has a specific customer profile: a disoriented but hopeful 24-year-old who walks through life with Baboon To The Moon’s vibrant and whimsical products.

Sarah Tang, content creator for Baboon To The Moon, is often the face of the brand on TikTok. The 25-year-old is said to use the account as a video diary, detailing moments of her day, including pranking other employees, shopping using the brand’s product offerings, or answering customer questions in a way stylish and informative.

“TikTok as a platform has provided a more informal and less filtered communication channel,” Person said. “Sharing product images is easy, but sharing your brand personality is much more complex and TikTok really allows us to pull back the curtain on our worldview, our humor and our eccentricity.”

The power of retail

The new generation of luggage brands are betting big on retail – something their direct-to-consumer predecessors have been slower to adopt. (Industry stalwart Samsonite, after all, still operates nearly 1,000 stores worldwide and can be spotted at any Macy’s.)

Some new brands have integrated wholesale into their business models from the start. Monos, founded in 2018, partnered with Nordstrom in October 2021.

“Having brand alignment with a department store is very important to us,” said Victor Tam, co-founder and CEO of Monos. “For us, the focus of wholesale is branding and marketing rather than pure revenue.”

Melbourne-based July, also founded in 2018, opened a flagship in its hometown in August 2019. The company plans to open new locations in North America and Europe in the coming years. Feedback from her store now informs the July product design process.

“We use our store for market research and the amount of information we get from our customers in real time helps us to make a better product,” said Athan Didaskalou, Founder and Chief Brand Strategy Officer.

The nature of the luggage market hasn’t changed much over the past 20 years and still relies heavily on physical retail, according to Willersdorf. “It can be difficult for a brand to grow without a lucrative physical presence,” she added.

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