For a long time, it was difficult to get excited about luggage. Suitcases were unwieldy, expensive and – most dispiritingly – virtually impossible to tell apart. Even the most stylish travellers resigned themselves to carrying beaten-up Samsonite bags.
This was the situation that Away co-founder Jen Rubio found herself in a few years ago. "I was going through customs in Zurich and my luggage broke," she says. "When I got home, I asked people for luggage recommendations and nobody really had a good brand they could recommend. Even people who travelled a lot didn't have a brand they loved."
So Rubio teamed up with former colleague and fellow millennial Steph Korey – whom she had worked with at the online glasses company Warby Parker – and founded Away, a brand the pair hoped would "talk about travel the way we did."
They designed a single piece of luggage, The Carry On, and began selling it direct to consumers in February 2016.
Away we go
Fast forward three years and Away has sold over a million products and employs a staff of 200. The Carry On is now available in five sizes (from Kids to Large) online (for Australian consumers) and from bricks-and-mortar Away stores in the US, UK.
Rubio and Korey struck gold by designing luggage with the millennial demographic firmly in mind.
"Over and over again we heard our friends say they wanted something really durable but also lightweight," Rubio says. "They wanted to be able to pack a lot of stuff in there. They wanted a lifetime warranty. But most importantly they wanted luggage that matched their personal style and that they felt proud to carry."
More is more
The Carry On manages to tick all those boxes. It's made from 100% German polycarbonate – "the best material in the world that is lightweight but also durable," says Rubio. "It has a bit of give, so if it gets thrown on the ground it won't crack or break. And because it has a little bit of bend, you can pack more in."
There are several neat organisational features, including an interior compression pad that buckles down to help pack more and an ejectable battery that can charge any phone or USB device on the go.
And The Carry On is highly customisable: there are nine core colours and an aluminium edition, plus several monogramming options including hand-painting, foil stamping and leather stickers.
Away is just one of the luggage brands that is focusing on customisation to win over today's travellers.
Sydney accessories juggernaut The Daily Edited allows buyers to emblazon the brand's signature black suitcase with text in a variety of colours and fonts, and at a much larger size than standard embossing. Veteran Swiss penmaker and luggage purveyor Montblanc has also begun offering embossing on its distinctive range of Trolley suitcases.
German aluminium luggage-maker Rimowa is going a step further, teaming up with hyped fashion names to create limited-edition luggage that really stands out. Having already teamed with Supreme for red cases and Virgil Abloh for transparent cases, Rimowa last month partnered with Kim Jones at Dior for a range of bags (including a standard suitcase and number of smaller bags, including a suave champagne holder) featuring the Dior monogram.
Lest we forget veteran luggage-maker Louis Vuitton, whose trunks and cases have been somewhat over-shadowed in recent years by its smaller bags and its apparel. The brand has made a strong bid for this year's most covetable luggage with new titanium versions of its Bisten suitcase, which naturally feature the house's monogram and start at a cool US $41,000. The cowhide leather handle is a particularly nice touch.
The bottom line
There's no doubt that today's suitcases are more stylish than their predecessors, but Rubio says looks aren't everything. Rather, she encourages luggage shoppers to think about the utility of their new gear, particularly now that many of us are choosing to travel with hand luggage only.
"Travel can be stressful," she says, "and I think being well packed eases the stress for a lot of people. There's something about a well-packed bag: no matter what happens on your trip, you've done that part right."
Check out the gallery above to see the best carry-on bags to take on your next trip.