The T+L Carry-On: Away Travel Co-Founders Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey
Welcome to the T+L Carry-On, where we take a look inside the luggage of jetsetters—and gain a few expert tips along the way.
This week, we caught up with Away Travel’s Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey, two female entrepreneurs who find themselves on a plane every other week. Their luggage—which has been hailed as the best on the market, due to its light weight, smooth gliding wheels, affordable price, and built-in charging port—has developed a cult following since they launched in late 2015.
Read the full interview, below, where the duo talks everything from travel and beauty to entrepreneurship and empowerment. And don’t forget to check out last week’s column with Actor Luke Bracey.
On The Origins of Away
Jen: "We were both at Warby Parker. After being there, Steph went to business school and I moved to London, so we spent a couple of years apart. I was traveling a ton for work and my suitcase broke and I called Steph and I was like, 'How come there are no cool luggage brands out there? Everything is either super expensive or cheap and crappy and will break after a couple of uses.' We started looking into it, and she convinced me to move back to New York and start Away with her."
Steph: "Yeah, it was in January 2015 when Jen called me to complain about her broken suitcase, basically. And while I was in business school, I was consulting for Casper, the mattress company that had just launched. I witnessed a glasses company go direct-to-consumer and really make the value proposition and experience for the customer so much better, and then saw it happen in the mattress space. So when she called me, she was like, 'What is with these $800 suitcases? Do they just cost that much to make, or are there lots of markups and are people being ripped off?'
We did a bunch of consumer research, market research—we sort of spent all of early 2015 really looking into this, and after a few months of deep-diving in the industry we realized this industry is going to have to change so drastically, because the consumer is being really underserviced right now. And we’re both very passionate about travel and e-commerce and retail and brand experiences, so we were like, 'Let’s just do it.'"
The Remarkable Appeal—and Cult Following—of Away Luggage
Steph: People love the product and people love the experience of interacting with Away. On the product side, we always say we make thoughtful luggage. Every single detail that went into that suitcase was extremely considered. We interviewed 800 people from a very wide array of demographics to figure out how, and why, they travel: how they pack, how they get to the airport, what they do at the airport, what they do when they arrive; literally everything about the journey. We talked to students, we talked to business leaders, we talked to photographers; you name it, and we found someone to represent that group of people to find out how they travel.
We found out people wanted a suitcase that’s very light. Our suitcase weighs seven pounds, which is basically unprecedented. Things that gave people the most worry were that they would break the wheels and zippers, so we sourced and designed the best wheels in the world. They’re these very substantial Japanese double wheels. You can roll them easily over cobblestones—the tests they go through are the equivalent of throwing them out of a third story window. The whole suitcase has YKK zippers everywhere, which doesn’t happen in luggage because there are so many zippers and it’s so expensive, but we wanted to design every part of this brand to be what people would make for themselves if they had the opportunity to design their own suitcase.
We kept asking people what are your pain points? When you travel—what’s annoying? Forget about luggage. And one thing we kept hearing was, 'Well, there’s nothing you can do about this, but it’s really annoying that my phone’s always dying at the airport.' So that’s where the idea of the built-in battery came from. And the compression system came about because when we talked to people about soft versus hard luggage, basically, across the board, people thought everything about hard luggage was better, except with soft luggage you could always stuff one more thing in. So that was the genesis of the compression pad: you get that benefit of soft luggage where you can still stuff one more thing in and smush it down, but you still get the benefit of the hard luggage where there’s a consistent exterior dimension. There are no unpleasant surprises, and everything stays put where you packed it."
Their Travel Essentials
Steph: "I have really dry skin, so all of everything I use is really hydrating. I have a ton of Glossier stuff—I have a little bit of a Glossier addiction. I use their Soothing Face Mist every day. The reason I have two is because they don’t make it in carry-on size, so what I do is purposely make one empty enough so that it probably won’t trigger the 3.4-ounce thing. Then I’ll use the Priming Moisturizer, and the Perfecting Skin Tint after that. I’ll mix the Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster in with my moisturizer to get a little self-tan action going on. I’ve always got Balm Dotcom for dry plane air and just life. And I love Sunday Riley. At night, I’ll put their Luna Sleeping Night Oil on, then Good Genes, followed by the Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream. It’s a little too big to travel with, but Sunday Riley does great kits, so I always get those to have the mini versions.
I also always have sneakers with me, because if you’re going somewhere you’ll want to see on foot, you’ll want to have proper footwear. For clothing, I have a million of these Everlane silk tops. They’re really versatile for everything—everyone should have 20 of them, I swear by them. I bring bathing suits no matter where I go. Even if I’m not going to the beach, I’ll still pack a bathing suit because nothing’s worse than being like, 'Oh, there’s a hot tub, I want to get in,' and not being able to—so, swimsuits everywhere I go, no matter what."
Jen: "I’m a freak about face mists—I really think they’re magic. So depending on my mood, I either use the Aesop Hydrosol Immediate Moisture spray or The Captivator Energy Mist, which just puts me in an amazing mood. Bio-Oil is such a life saver, no matter where you’re going. I’m really big on vitamins, and Care/of does these custom vitamin packs which are super easy to travel with. I’m obsessed with Vitamin C—it’s a great preventive measure. Aesop’s Parsley Seed Antioxidant Facial Treatment is amazing. Sometimes, if I’m going somewhere really dry, I’ll do the Lucent Facial Concentrate with a drop of the Parsley Seed Antioxidant Treatment—you literally just need one drop in there and it makes it so much richer.
If I’m going somewhere more humid, I just use the serum, but I like to add this in if it’s somewhere cold. I also bring really nice detergent, because you never know when you’ll need it. The Laundress’s detergent packets are amazing for that. Once I land and get to the hotel, I use this French Girl Rose Lip Polish, which basically just gets all of the dry skin off of your lips. And then Byredo Bal D’Afrique hand cream is just the best ever.
I famously can go anywhere with just a carry-on—I use packing cubes for everything. So if I’m going to two different climates, I’ll put everything I need for one climate in one, and the rest in the other. That way, I’m not rifling through everything and messing it all up in the first destination. If I’m going somewhere that’s just one climate, I’ll use cubes to separate tops and bottoms and workout clothes. The Pop & Suki bags are amazing. You can personalize them—I have three in different colors. A lot of times I’ll use them as my makeup bag too, but they’re the perfect size for when you’re traveling—you just wear it cross-body and it fits your passport, phone, and whatever you need for the day. And I cannot live without my Bose noise cancelling headphones."
How They Walk the Walk—Not Just Talk the Talk
Jen: "We probably travel about 200,000 miles a year each. I’m on a plane almost every other week. It’s both for work and pleasure—if it’s a work trip, we always try—try—to tack a weekend on at the end. When we first started the company, we were going to our factory in China, and then would do a weekend in Hong Kong before or after.
Travel is the whole reason we started the brand in the first place. We’re passionate about it, and about storytelling. Part of the reason why people feel so connected to Away is because it is a brand made by people who travel. I think that comes through in the product—not only did we interview tons of these people, but we tested it ourselves and really thought about our own personal pain points and could really relate to what we were hearing. But also in terms of the brand and how we talk about travel and the things we do, before we started Away, there were no luggage brands that even talked about travel. It was always like, 'Check out these crazy materials or this insane feature.' And those are things that our bags have. It’s more about the question of what having a good piece of luggage enables you to do. It allows you to focus on your experiences and not be stressed and enjoy travel more, and that’s really what we care about the most."
Steph: "We’re taking our team to Nicaragua in April. We do an annual team trip every year. We went to Puerto Rico in October, which was sort of an international compromise, because we had just hired a Swedish director of brand marketing who couldn’t leave the country because she was in visa limbo, so we were like…what’s the closest thing we can do to leaving the country without risking Babba not being able to get back in? It’s a really good bonding experience. It’s a good way to push your boundaries and go do something that’s culturally new. And when you’re in new language territory, it brings out resourcefulness in people and allows everyone to get to know each other better on a deeper level."
Jen: "We went from three to 40 people in a year. It’s so important for us. We only go for a few days, but even just traveling down there together and traveling back, you learn so much about people when you’re traveling with them. And it’s fun to see the whole team at the airport with their Away suitcases. There’s something like 50,000 Away suitcases roaming the world right now, traversing millions of miles. People send us pictures all the time, which is honestly the most rewarding and best part of this thing—the team, and then seeing them all over the world. I actually left India earlier than everybody else, but they saw a complete stranger in the airport in Jaipur with an Away bag, which is nuts. It never gets old, but now, when you go to JFK, you’re starting to see a lot of them there. But to see them somewhere that’s literally 30 hours away by plane is amazing."
Special thanks to The Williamsburg Hotel.