As Business of HYPE‘s brief hiatus continues, we wanted to bring our listeners some fresh content from a producer we know and admire. Blamo! is a podcast “exploring the world of fashion with the personalities that shape it.” Founder and host Jeremy Kirkland sits down every week to delve into the personal origin stories of some of the fashion industry’s most intriguing figures. This week, we’re bringing you Jeff’s personal favorite: a 2017 interview with Jen Rubio, co-founder of the direct-to-consumer luggage company AWAY.
“I am not a linear thinker,” says Rubio. While in context she’s referring to her scattered approach to business, marketing and product design, she could also be talking about her various phases in high school, her career track through Penn State, and even the luggage industry at large. “I’ve fully embraced [all of these things] and I loved every second. I feel like I’ve lived a million lives. It’s not a facade.”
AWAY was founded by Rubio and her business partner, Steph Korey, who she met while working at Warby Parker. Both women started work on the same day — Korey came onboard to do supply-chain, while Rubio was handling social media. The two got along mostly because they worked “totally opposite sides of the business,” according to Rubio. “We bonded over that because we didn’t really work together.”
Rubio explains the company’s approach to marketing as a combination and balance of adventure and aspiration: “We understand that not everyone who buys AWAY luggage can afford to go to these places, but it’s about giving them the context of the life and travels that this suitcase stands for. It’s more of an understanding: yes, we have an incredible suitcase and we spent a lot of time [on it], but it always blew my mind that luggage companies never talked about travel.” AWAY has sold $30 million USD worth of suitcases, sure, but Rubio believes that customers are also drawn in by the idea of lifestyle, being empowered to travel in the way that the brand conveys in its marketing materials. “You have to have a great product at the core of it, but people want so much more.” With that in mind, the duo saw an opportunity in the space “to make a brand here that people care about, a brand that thinks and talks about travel a certain way, and just so happens to make a really good suitcase.”
“We want to make the one perfect everything that you need for travel,” Rubio reiterates definitively, before continuing: “Who knows, maybe I’ll listen back to this podcast and think that I had no idea what I was talking about, but we don’t really have an interest in making a million suitcases. That was part of the problem at the beginning. Too many skews, too many choices. We’re not interested in that.”
What the brand is interested in is quality over quantity. The questions the brand asks itself, according to Rubio, are: “What do you need to travel well? Okay, we will thoughtfully design and manufacture each of those things.”
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