Startups have revolutionised almost every aspect of our lives: the way we live, shop, sleep, eat – you name it, and there’s a company disrupting it. So it’s perhaps strange that one of the most essential and challenging parts of travelling isn’t the subject of more upheaval – it seems we’re still waiting on the Airbnb or Casper of luggage.
While there’s yet to be a widespread revolution, however, there are a few promising green shoots – these are the companies rethinking the whole suitcase business, from designing high-end cases to the nitty gritty of transporting luggage from place to place…
Suitcases themselves have remained more or less the same for the last four decades, and when it comes to design the area has been in something of a stagnant period. However startup SteamLine Luggage is overhauling not just what cases look like, but how we feel about them, with a range of retro-inspired designs that attempt to take some of the ‘slog’ out of trips.
Founder Sara Banks borrowed from the golden era of suitcases to incorporate leather straps and metallic details, while using super lightweight materials. The end result is luggage that lives somewhere between the budget market and the likes of Louis Vuitton’s leather trunks, with each bag coming with a lifetime warranty and free repairs. For Banks, SteamLine is about challenging the relationship between traveller and case, positioning them as more than just something to be dragged around the airport.
Away is another suitcase startup that’s pushing forward the idea of luggage that can last a lifetime. Set up by New Yorkers Jen Rubio (a speaker at PURE’s un-conference MATTER last year) and Steph Korey – who both have stints at eyewear brand Warby Parker under their belts – the brand offers reasonably priced suitcases that won’t fall apart mid-trip. It’s proved a firm favourite with the celeb world, along with many others who have been drawn to its minimalist design. Away carry-on cases include their own charging ports, and all Away luggage comes with an ‘unbreakable’ shell so sturdy that the founders claim even bowling balls don’t leave a dent. It’s reported that Jay Z is a major investor in the company, suggesting that the startup also has plans to conquer other aspects of the travel industry.
Raden CEO Josh Udashkin based his suitcase design on observations made at the airport, and the annoyances that slow travellers down on their journeys.
As a result, a Raden case isn’t just super lightweight, but it also makes the most of technology: the case has got the gadgets required to charge your phone; weigh itself; tell you its location; and alert you when it’s about to come round the carousel. Considering that many travellers lack brand loyalty when it comes to cases, Raden is refreshingly little in the way of logos. These improvements have resonated with travellers, with $2m of the bags selling in the company’s first four months.
Design Hotels x Horizn Studios
Design Hotels launched its first luggage collaboration with Horizn Studios in 2016, to create a case aimed at “connected, globe-trotting creatives”. The suitcase includes its own GPS tracking system that you can follow via a smartphone, along with a built-in battery; and it’s made from ultra lightweight material. Only 250 were manufactured, making these something of a specialist edition rather than a mass market product. However, it’s a sign that hotels are making their first steps into the luggage market. As more and more companies emerge to shake up the utility of the humble suitcase, more of these kinds of collaborations could be on the cards for hotels wishing to embrace the move towards innovative and forward-thinking service.
Danish startup LuggageHero is making life more convenient by letting travellers secure their cases in temporary storage units around the city – perfect for people who want to move around without the hassle of returning to their hotel. It borrows existing locations, using local shops, bars and cafes, and allows users to book online in hourly slots. It’s an ingenious idea, and like any good startup, begs the question: “How did no-one think of this before?” It’s currently only available in London and Copenhagen; and while there’s no word on what cities will be added next, it seems a take-off is definitely on the cards.
While all of these point towards promising changes for the world of luggage, surveying the travel industry suggests that real innovation is still seriously lacking, with most hotels still reliant on a traditional porter and luggage room. It’s clear that what travellers expect is more flexibility, and more ways to seamlessly integrate technology – and reap the benefits that come with it.
There’s a wealth of opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of, but it’s becoming apparent that for many travel brands there’s still plenty of heavy lifting to be done.
Emma Tucker is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and visual culture. She has written for publications including Eye on Design, Dezeen, Creative Review, Grafik, The Pitch, The Spaces, Wrap and Riposte.