Luggage shopping used to be a boring necessity, a piece of equipment to be lugged around then promptly hidden, engulfed at the bottom of your closet as soon as you arrived home. And while luxury luggage brands like Rimowa have been around for years, the regular non-luxury consumer was limited to an uninspiring, modest selection that would at least keep your belongings intact as TSA agents throw them around the airport.
This sudden care for all things carry-on can likely be traced to direct-to-consumer luggage brand Away. With a focus on brand – selling the idea of 'travel' as opposed to focusing on functional features and zippers like its competitors. Being smart with their price range was included too – well poised in a gap in the market; between cheap and ahh... not so cheap. Away's popularity has exploded in recent years and spurred interest in the market segment as a whole i.e. if the luggage you own is the new social signal for cool travel style, I must be in on it!
While Away's Warby-Parker-like (their CEO's are previous employees), cut-out-the-middle-man style business model has likely been hugely influential for their success, brand and design have certainly played a role, too. It has to have, right? Away's last market valuation was around $1.4 Billion 😳. Surely. Let's start with brand, before Away even launched a product they created their own book 'The Places We Return', they have their own podcast 'Airplane mode' and even run their own magazine 'Here'. They've collaborated with influencers and celebrities like Dwyane Wade and Serena Williams, all a part of clever branding, aiming to inspire people to plan their next trip as opposed to selling functional product features. In terms of design, the luggage, with stylish grooves and muted tones, is drawing in millenials like bees to honey.
Riding the industry coattails as luggage shoots up in demand again (post Corona) is also German luggage brand Rimowa, who actually has a much longer legacy of travel and luggage making. Having been founded in 1898, Rimowa recently underwent a rebrand with a total reimagining of its tube-shaped logo to celebrate its 120th anniversary. Having been acquired by parent company Louis Vuitton (LVMH) in 2017, the new rebrand is much more conducive to the luxury brand positioning Rimowa maneuvers itself as. The acquisition makes sense, marketing a product that's more fashion statement than bag? Louis Vuitton has long excelled at this.
Similar to Away, Rimowa has a keen focus on brand with chief brand officer Hector Muelas describing the luggage as "Travel companions, witnesses to the experiences and memories that mark a journey". But where Rimowa noticeably excels is its attention to detail with design. In contrast to Away, Rimowa's signature aluminium luggage cases have been gliding through airports for over 80 years. In the new rebrand, the iconic grooves etched on the case have been seamlessly extended onto the packaging and marketing materials through slim embossing details.
A new monogram also joins the brand design arsenal, with sweeping triangle forms inspired by the spires of Cologne’s cathedral in Germany. The packaging has been transformed into a brand experience, somewhat mirroring the experience of unboxing a new iPhone. There are premium rivets interlaced into thick cardboard, dustbags, gift boxes, as well price tags tucked inside of snug-fitting folders. Muelas elaborates that ‘With every single piece of design, we put a lot of consideration into how it would make people feel. When you buy Rimowa it’s a magic moment. It’s got to have a ritual.’ Which is a little extra.... but you catch his drift.
Now I'm not arrogant enough to believe that design and branding alone have been solely responsible for these brands success. There's far too much else to consider. But it is clear that if the whole luggage thing is simply a fad, these brands are making sure they're at the top of the sales heap by capturing the imagination of consumers through brand storytelling and ensuring that every touchpoint is irresistibly memorable through discerning design and tastemaking. In regards to Rimowa, customers literally send notes to the CEO to express their love for the product, they trust their suitcases with 'their most personal belongings, their most valuable things.’ If that sort of undying love and dedication is being displayed for your product, you know you're doing something right.
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