Each Away suitcase comes with an eject-able lithium-ion battery for charging smartphones, tablets and other USB-cord-addled devices.
Each Away suitcase comes with an eject-able lithium-ion battery for charging smartphones, tablets and other USB-cord-addled devices.

Save for Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, luggage has never had a particularly sexy connotation. The 1% of yore hired people to carry their belongings, and some celebrities still glide through airports with nary a suitcase in sight.

But about a year ago, amid the sea of black polyester-nylon that dominates most airports, I started noticing something new: sleek, colourful, grooved hard-shell rolling suitcases with built-in chargers.

They’re made by Away, a two-year-old luggage start-up. Fans include Rashida Jones, Karlie Kloss and Dwyane Wade, all of whom have designed limited editions with the company.

At an airport in India, I saw a woman fight back tears when a gate agent told her that she might have to check her Away carry-on, owing to overhead compartments that were more compact than average. At Away’s light-filled store in West Hollywood, I watched a woman storm in, demanding to know all the colours the carry-on came in because she wanted to add something “fresh” to the navy and black pieces she owned.

Cults have formed around merchandise like face cream and butt-lifting leggings. But rolling suitcases?

“Sometimes, when I really miss my luggage, but I have no place to go, I’ll just open up my luggage on the floor and fill it,” says Shelley Bazemore, 60, a counter-intelligence analyst in Maryland who served 21 years in the Army. After reading about Away online and researching “like I was researching for a doctorate,” she bought six Away suitcases and half a dozen personal items.

In 2015, Jen Rubio was working in brand marketing for the British fashion label AllSaints. She found herself travelling a lot for work, and while wheeling her black nylon “no name” bag through the Zurich Airport, a zipper burst, spilling her clothes all over the floor.

Thanks to some duct tape, the bag made it back to London, where Rubio lived at the time. She relayed her travel woes to her friend Steph Korey, whom she met while working at Warby Parker.

As young people want to do these days, they figured they could make something better.

They interviewed hundreds of friends and associates and conducted anonymous online surveys before introducing Away’s first suitcase, a polycarbonate carry-on that came in four colours.

“The whole paralysis of choice was one of the things we wanted to solve when we started this,” Rubio, 31, says at their Manhattan office the other day.

“You go into a department store, you see a $600 (about R9 300) bag, and you see a $60 bag, and you don’t really know the difference.”

Away fills the space in the middle. Its most popular suitcase is the $245 “bigger” carry-on, which comes with an eject-able lithium-ion battery for charging smartphones, tablets and other USB-cord-addled devices. The first iteration of the suitcase required a screwdriver to remove the battery, and last year, when airlines changed their rules regarding lithium-ion batteries because some of them had burst into flames mid-flight. Other luggage brands are also trying to entice a new generation of wired travellers.

Tumi, which was founded in New Jersey in 1975 and named after a Peruvian ceremonial knife used for sacrifices, corralled a group of Instagram personalities to post about its bags to promote 19 Degree, its first aluminium luggage collection.

Recently, German brand Rimowa erected a temporary shop in Beverly Hills, California, and invited celebrities with large social media followings, including Pharrell Williams and Alessandra Ambrosio.

Will the trend catch on? Let’s see. 

New York Times