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The Industry Interview: Jen Rubio and Steph Korey, Co-Founders, Away

Tom Bottomley
31 August 2018

Jen Rubio (Chief Brand Officer) and Steph Korey (CEO) have really shaken up the luggage industry with their New York-based Away lifestyle brand, which they launched in 2015. A fresh approach to product and branding has been the key. The brand new 3,000 square foot shop at 9 Earlham Street, in London’s Seven Dials, is their latest retail venture in what has been a meteoric rise.

Did you notice a gap in the market for a new luggage brand?

Jen Rubio: Before we launched Away, my co-founder, Steph, and I started digging into the luggage industry, and we quickly found that the market was in need of a shake-up. Luggage at the time was either cheap but poorly made, or it was more expensive than the trip you were planning to take it on. Another thing that stood out was that there was no sense of brand loyalty. Luggage is something you take on every trip, yet it was an afterthought, for even my most fashionable, well-traveled friends.

What are the real benefits of a direct to consumer strategy?

Steph Korey: We saw an incredible opportunity to create the product and brand that we wished existed in the luggage industry by leveraging a direct-to-consumer model. By cutting out the middleman, we were able to create a premium product at an unprecedented price point, as well as build a thoughtful relationship with every single customer. One of the biggest benefits of being a direct-to-consumer brand is the consistent feedback loop we’ve created with our community. We listen deeply to our customers, and we’re able to act on what we’re hearing from them to create the products or experiences they’re asking for. For example, we launched ‘The Carry-On with Pocket’ because we heard from some of our community, especially business travelers, that they’d love for their laptop or passport to be easy to access in a hurry.

Away’s products are only available directly from our brand, through our website and in our physical retail spaces.


Jen Rubio in the new store

Who would you say is your real target customer?

JR: The Away customer is anyone who travels. They’re incredibly diverse and from all over the world. They’re curious and they value experiences over things. The way they travel is as different and unique as they are. The excitement of going to the airport and seeing such diverse people with our cases never gets old. We know that travel means something a bit different for everyone, so we’re focused on how we can make the travel experience more seamless and enjoyable for people, no matter how or why they travel.

When did you launch your online business?

SK: We launched online in 2016, and we’ve continued to build the brand by listening to our customers and responding to their needs, including opening new physical retail locations, expanding our availability to new markets around the world, and introducing a range of new products or experiences.

It’s been reported that you have just raised $50 million investment, so what’s next?

SK: We announced that we’d raised a Series C round of funding in June of 2018, but our plans for the future haven’t changed. We’re working to become the number one travel company in the world by focusing on a few things; extending to new markets, following demand from customers around the world - like those here in London! And expanding our product line to create the one perfect version of everything you need to travel seamlessly. We will continue to open new physical retail locations, build on our existing social impact efforts, and grow our team to make it all happen. There are so many parts of the travel experience that can be improved, whether it’s how you pack, where you go, or what you do when you get there, and our long-term vision is for Away to be a part of creating those solutions.


A departure board inside Earlham Street store

What makes your luggage so different and special?

JR: Away’s suitcases are designed with thoughtful features, complete with everything you need but nothing you don’t. We talked to hundreds of travelers before we launched Away to understand how people traveled and what they needed from a suitcase. People told us they that needed something that was lightweight and durable, had high-quality features, and that would maximize how much you could fit, so we built our products with features that reflect those needs. One thing that wasn’t something people expected us to solve, something Steph and I frequently heard, was that it was really frustrating that people’s phones always died at the airport. So, we included a built-in, but removable battery so our customers could always charge their phones, laptops, and other devices while they’re traveling.

What are your best selling products?

JR: Our ‘Carry-Ons’ are our best-selling product. Whether it’s the ‘Carry-On’ or ‘The Bigger Carry-On’, they’re the perfect size whether you’re traveling for business or taking a vacation. Most people can fit about 10 days’ worth of outfits inside ‘The Bigger Carry-On’.

How many stores do you now have globally?

SK: We currently have five permanent retail locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin (Texas), and now London. We had tested a few pop-ups in New York, Berlin, and in other cities before expanding into permanent retail locations, and we opened our first permanent store in New York in 2015. We’re excited to continue to expand our retail footprint domestically and internationally over the coming years.


Creating an in-store community

Why is brick and mortar retail still very important to a business such as yours?

JR: Beyond selling luggage, we view our stores as a place to bring together a community of people who love to travel, and to inspire people to plan their next trip. We also host a variety of in-store programming at our retail locations, such as book signings, podcast recordings, wine tastings, and more. They give us an opportunity to bring the brand to life in a way that we couldn’t do if we were only online, and offer our customers another way to interact with the brand.

Why have you chosen Seven Dials for your first London shop?

JR: We chose Seven Dials because the location is so central, and it’s an iconic and beautiful neighborhood that’s home to so many beloved retailers. We’re excited to be alongside the Seven Dials shops, and to be able to call London home to Away’s first permanent store in Europe. We look forward to bringing together a community of people in London who love to travel.

What does the new Earlham Street store look like?

JR: The interior reflects Away’s established minimal aesthetic with custom elements drawn from local architecture and style. The store’s layout was thoughtfully designed to guide visitors as they build and customise their personal travel uniform, so the experience is equal parts discovery and self-direction—just like travel should be.


Jen Rubio and Steph Korey

What will visitors of the new London shop be in for?

JR: Guests of our London store will be able to shop Away’s full travel uniform in all of our evergreen colours, from our ‘Carry-Ons’ to ‘The Everywhere Bag’, ‘The Dopp Kit’, ‘The Garment Bag’, and more. Each new collaboration or limited edition collection will also be available at our London location, and like our other stores, we’ll also offer travel-size products of some of the things we love and can’t travel without.

Each one of Away’s retail locations share similar design features that stay true to the brand’s clean, minimal aesthetic, but also include an element that make them unique from one another. For example, in our London store we collaborated with local artist Jo Hummel Newell, who has designed a rand of bold murals and other wall art in her signature geometric style to give the store a bright and authentic vibe that’s unique to the city of London.

How often will you be visiting London to monitor how your new store is performing?

JR: I lived in East London for a few years and still travel back often for work and to visit friends. Our retail team, as well as our GM of Europe, are based in London year-round, and they’re a direct extension of our team in New York and of the vision we’re building.

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