Popular New York City-based travel and lifestyle brand Away, known particularly for its innovative luggage, has secured its first retail space as it enters the Canadian market with plans for multiple locations. The digitally native brand has launched a brick-and-mortar expansion that will see it open new standalone storefronts globally.
The first Canadian Away storefront will open within the next few weeks at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in a 2,880-square-foot space in the mall’s 2016 expansion wing. Away’s store will be located between another digitally native retailer, Warby Parker, and a relatively new AllSaints storefront. Away will replace a Woolrich flagship store which shuttered several months ago – Woolrich entered the Canadian market in December of 2017 with plans for multiple locations which never materialized. Richard Johnson of Odyssey Retail Advisors in New York City is said to have been working with Away on its real estate selection.
Away was founded by Stephanie Korey and Jennifer Rubio in New York City in 2015 as an online direct-to-consumer brand. The company has since expanded into physical retail with its own stores, utilizing a strategy where it sells directly to consumers rather than utilize wholesalers and distributors. Mr. Korey holds the title of CEO while Ms. Rubio is Away’s Chief Brand Officer. Away is said to be one of the highest-funded female-backed startups in history.
Ms. Korey and Ms. Rubio met in 2011 as former colleagues on the early executive team at New York City-based eyewear brand Warby Parker. The duo founded Away in 2015 and in November of that year, they received $2.5-million in seed funding from investors Accel Partners and Forerunner Ventures. Away released a book called ‘The Places We Return To’ which featured travel stories from 40 unique and influential people around the world, and the book was sold with a gift card to purchase the company’s first product, ‘The Carry-On’, which launched in February of 2016.
Millions more in funding was subsequently secured as Away expanded into editorial content with the launch of a podcast called Airplane Mode in the spring of 2017, which was followed two months later with a digital travel magazine called ‘Here’ which includes city guides, travel essays, and photo journals. Fast Company recognized Away as one of “2018’s Top-10 Most Innovative Companies” and CNN has referred to the brand as being ‘Instagram’s favourite suitcase’.
Away produces and markets a range of travel accessories. Its best-known suitcases featuring ejectable batteries for changing devices, scratch-resistant polycarbonate shells, interior organization featuring compression pads for space efficiency, TSA-approved locks, a removable laundry bag, and 360-degree Hinomoto spinner wheels. The popular Carry-On model was developed after consulting with focus groups, with the responses from hundreds of travellers used to perfect its design. Additional Away travel accessories include: The Everywhere Bag, The Signature Garment Bag, The Dopp Kit, and The Insider Packing Cubes. Away has collaborated with brands such as Madewell, NBA, and Star Wars, among others, and the brand has also partnered to support various charitable endeavours. All Away luggage products have lifetime guarantees.
In May of last year, Away secured a $100-million investment to reach a total valuation of $1.4-billion. The funding round was led by Wellington Management as well as Baillie Gifford, Lone Pine Capital, and Global Founders Capital. That money will go towards an expansion of direct-to-consumer brick-and-mortar stores as well as an expansion of Away’s travel gear offerings.
Controversy recently ensued amid claims of a ‘toxic culture’ at Away which resulted in Ms. Korey announcing that she was stepping away from the company. A new CEO, Stuart Haselden was announced as her replacement. On January 13 of this year, Ms. Korey announced that she had changed her mind and that she would share the CEO title with Mr. Haselden. Away’s human resources chief Erin Grau is said to have quit the same day out of frustration.
Away has set sights on Canada as a market for expansion with more locations. Last year we were notified that Away was seeking to expand into Toronto with a storefront on Queen Street West, with a targeted size between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet. Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area was also said to be a target at the time. Other major cities in Canada including Vancouver are also expected to be part of Away’s expansion with details to follow.
Away currently operates eight standalone stores globally, each featuring attractive and bright interiors. Nine are in the United States and one is in London, UK. A store in New York City’s NoHo area at 10 Bond Street acts as the brand’s flagship. Away also operates storefronts in Los Angeles (8400 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood), San Francisco (371 Hayes Street), Chicago (1121 N. State Street in the affluent Gold Coast area), Boston (50 Seaport Boulevard in the city’s up-and-coming Seaport neighbourhood), Houston (Highland Village at 4033 Westheimer Road), and a unit at the Domain retail complex in Austin, Texas. The London flagship, located at 9 Earlham Street in the city’s Covent Garden area, was Away’s first international storefront when it opened in August of 2018.
Away is an example of a digitally-native brand that has expanded by opening brick-and-mortar stores. While Canada has seen an unusually high number of store closures in early 2020, industry professionals say that we can expect more digitally native brands to open storefronts in Canada.
Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre launches more first-to-Canada retailers than any place in Canada. The centre ranks as Canada's most productive shopping centre in terms of sales per square foot and is also one of the country's largest and busiest malls. Yorkdale is also home to the densest clustering of luxury brands of any place in the country, and more luxury brands are said to be on the way.
We’ll continue to report on Away’s Canadian expansion, including the opening of its Yorkdale store.