From Runway Mishap to Runaway Success: The Story of 'Away'

Learn how this founder sold $450,000 in books to launch her luggage brand.

From Runway Mishap to Runaway Success: The Story of 'Away'
Jen Rubio, Co-Founder, Away

Imagine racing through an airport, desperately trying to catch your flight, when your suitcase bursts open, leaving a trail of personal belongings in your wake.

This nightmare scenario happened to Jen Rubio in early 2015, leading to an entrepreneurial journey that would change the world of travel.

Unable to find a replacement suitcase that was stylish, durable, and affordable, Jen and her co-founder Steph Korey decided to create their own.

In less than a year, they raised $2.5 million to build their dream travel brand.

They introduced the world to Away – a line of sleek, direct-to-consumer suitcases that captured the imaginations of young, jet-setting customers around the globe.

Today, Away is more than just a luggage brand; it's a cult phenomenon that has sold over a million suitcases and transformed the way we travel.

But the journey from broken suitcase to runaway success wasn't an easy one.

With zero products or initial funding, Jen and Steph navigated the turbulent world of start-ups to build a brand that resonates deeply with its customers.

Using Books to Sell Suitcases

How did the founders of a new luggage brand, Away, manage to generate sales worth $450,000 without a product ready to ship?

The answer lies in a creative marketing strategy, blending social media savvy with the tried-and-true method of preorders, and an ingenious coffee table book.

In the run-up to their planned launch, Steph Korey and Jen Rubio found themselves in a predicament: their initial batch of luggage wouldn't be ready by Christmas.

Rather than let this setback deter them, they saw an opportunity to build anticipation among their target customers, many of whom were unhappy with their current luggage.

The idea was to create a book to secure preorders, ensuring that those interested could get on board from the start.

Titled "The Places We Return To," this hardcover book featured interviews with 40 creative personalities - writers, artists, photographers - known for their influence in their respective fields.

The book was sold along with a gift card redeemable for a suitcase in February, effectively creating a preorder system.

The Power of Story Selling

The strategy worked. The contributors, possessing significant social media followings, spread the word about the book, inadvertently advertising the luggage. With just 1,200 copies made, the book quickly sold out.

The result? The brand featured in nearly 100 gift guides and generated over $12 million in sales in the first year, selling more than 100,000 suitcases.

This demonstrates the power of story selling in marketing.

By creating captivating narratives and unique experiences, like hand-lettering artists personalising the suitcases, Away encouraged customers to engage with the brand and share their experiences, fostering organic growth without overtly pushing the product.

It's a testament to innovative thinking and the power of preorders and viral marketing.

In times of adversity, Away not only found a way but managed to create a powerful brand narrative that still resonates with their customers today.

Listen to the Story on 'How I Built It'

If you want to learn how Jen and Steph turned a frustrating travel mishap into a wildly successful brand, then you don't want to miss this episode of 'How I Built This.'

It offers an engaging and insightful look at the behind-the-scenes trials, tribulations, and triumphs that Rubio and Korey experienced while building Away.

Click the link below to listen to the full podcast episode. 👇