Luggage doesn’t have to cost a grand to turn heads and last a lifetime.
A wave of startups over the past five years have emerged to fill the void in between black Samsonite baggage and thousand-dollar suitcases and trunks. By selling directly to consumers, companies like Away, ROAM, and others keep costs down, offering luggage crafted with quality materials but without the jaw-dropping markups of brands like Rimowa and Louis Vuitton.
Here are five luggage upstarts changing the game.
To at least some travelers, Away is already well known. Since Steph Korey and Jen Rubio launched the New York startup in 2015, Away has invigorated the luggage market with a line of hard-shell suitcases crafted from aluminum or polycarbonate—a lightweight, durable type of plastic—that float on Japanese spinner wheels to breeze through airports.
After the company’s first carry-on suitcase rolled out in February 2016, Away has expanded into accessories: tote bags, backpacks, travel kits, and packing cubes. In October, Away introduced the Expandables, a line of nylon-clad luggage with four different sizes and colors that expand up to 1.75 inches. According to Away, the line is aimed squarely at the 50% of consumers who prefer their suitcases have that softer touch.
Pros: A well-known brand with lifetime warranty and excellent customer service. Also includes a removable portable battery for the carry-on editions and a laundry bag that comes standard.
Cons: Quality could be sometimes be better. One standard wash of the laundry bag caused frayed threads all around the zipper, for instance.
For travelers who must have their way, there’s ROAM. Founded by a New York–based team that includes former Tumi CEO Charlie Clifford and Larry Lein, former executive vice president of Tumi, ROAM offers the unique ability for travelers to choose from up to 11 colors for virtually every single feature, from the hard-shell front and back and wheels to the handle, zipper lining, and stitching. The result: 1 million possible color combinations, virtually guaranteeing that every ROAM luggage is unique when it arrives on your doorstep.
“With all of the customization that’s going on in the accessories world, from Nike to Coach to Gucci, we realized that nobody does made-to-order luggage in the United States, so why not do that and why not make that our big differentiator,” explains Lein.
Pros: Superb construction with a mind-boggling number of color variations to choose from and a lifetime warranty to match.
Cons: No laundry bag or shoe bags.
Founded by alums from Louis Vuitton and Tumi, Arlo Skye says it makes “luggage for the design-obsessed.” And while its wheeled suitcases aren’t as customizable as ROAM’s or as affordable as Away’s, the New York City startup’s aluminum and polycarbonate luggage are striking, with shades like rose gold or champagne and curved aluminum covered corners as accents. Zippers are also nonexistent, for once, replaced by hinges that shut tight. And for pet lovers, Arlo Skye has you covered with a foldable pet carrier with a memory foam mattress so your best friend travels just as comfortably—if not more so—than you do.
“When we started out, I remember thinking, why don’t create something that’s simple, elegant, and high-quality, that can be sold through a rich online experience without compromising or confusing the customer with all these bells and whistles,” explains Mayur Bhatnagar, Arlo Skye’s CEO and founder.
Pros: That handsome, stunning design will turn heads. The two shoe bags and laundry bag don’t hurt, either.
Cons: Fewer colors to choose from than the competition.
When furniture entrepreneur Victor Tam sampled several luggage brands in early 2018, he walked away disappointed by what he saw: The quality, in his opinion, simply wasn’t up to snuff. So that May, Tam founded the Vancouver-based Monos. Drawing from the Japanese concept mono no aware—the profound appreciation of beauty in fleeting moments—he set out to create a minimalist line of luggage comparable to Away in pricing but with better materials and build quality.
“Everyone has their own perspective of what a quality product is, but for me, I just thought it [affordable luggage] could be much better,” explains Tam. “Not only should it look good online or on social media from influencers who make it look pretty and everything, but the luggage should be able to back itself up in the real life as well.”
Pros: A Japanese-inspired design with construction and materials that improve upon Away’s polycarbonate luggage. Nice touches include two shoe bags and a laundry bag made from antimicrobial fabrics.
Cons: Could be mistaken for Away from a distance.
Created by Pretty Little Liars actress Shay Mitchell in 2018, BÉIS aspires to offer travelers reasonably priced luggage that merges “purposeful organization” with “timeless style.” The result? Black and beige suitcases with pockets and pouches that expand up to two inches for souvenirs or that extra pair of shoes. Meanwhile, a carry handle on the side also sports a weight indicator that turns red when the bag weighs more than 50 pounds. BÉIS also has a line of appealing totes, weekend bags, cosmetic cases, and backpacks that complement its luggage or stand on their own.
Pros: Pockets and pouches for travelers obsessed with organization. The battery-free weight gauge is also a godsend.
Cons: Luggage available only in black and beige. Construction not as premium as brands like ROAM or Arlo Skye.
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