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Why Away is betting on outdoor gear for its new product expansion

Luggage brand Away is making its foray into the great outdoors with the release of a brand new polyester gear line, aiming to capitalize on the demand for outdoor travel that may not be served by the signature hardshell suitcases that put it on the map in 2016. 

F.A.R – For Any Routes – is Away’s new line of backpacks, duffels and travel accessories that’s launching this summer. Crafted out of a durable and waterproof recycled polyester, the new line is designed for activities like camping and hiking with multiple compartments and straps to hold water bottles, clothes and gear.

The launch signals a major new expansion for Away, which has steadily grown beyond its signature carry-on offering while also creating a physical footprint with 13 retail stores. And it’s yet another sign that retailers are catering to new travel habits, which involve an increasing amount of car trips, close-to-home getaways and outdoor adventures.

Other brands like housewares line OXO and major retailers like Kohl’s, Decker’s Group and Dick’s have all expanded their product offerings during the pandemic to respond to the demand in people embracing the outdoors. Getaway, a travel company with cabin stays that Away is partnering with for the F.A.R launch, saw the greatest number of guest stays in the company’s history in the first quarter of 2022. In total, Getaway has seen a 588% increase in total bookings since 2018.

Away chief commercial officer Laura Willensky said in an email that though Away’s revenue briefly dropped as much as 90% during the pandemic, new products and marketing efforts helped the brand recover.

“High buyer intent and pent-up travel demand continue to fuel Away’s rebound, and beginning as early as Q2 2020, Away’s key business metrics significantly outperformed initial pandemic recovery estimates,” Willensky said, “with online and in-store conversion rates eclipsing that of pre-pandemic levels and a rate of recovery continuing to accelerate quarter over quarter.”

Marketing for the new line primarily focuses on outdoor experiences with the products depicted against scenes of rugged hillsides and cool coastal waters.

“This collection is absolutely for our existing Away customers, but it was also designed to get in front of a whole new audience,” Willensky wrote. “In order to capture that wide audience, the collection features a variety of adjustable and innovative products that cater to any and all types of outdoor travel — from those who enjoy simply being outside to those whose travel primarily focuses on outdoor activities.”

Away chief design officer Cuan Hanly said in an email that the new product line was two years in the making. Developing products with “a clear functional assortment” was the primary focus, he wrote. For example, one of the biggest items in the collection — a convertible backpack that goes for $220, comes with a laptop section, a chest strap and straps to turn it into a duffel. “It was specifically designed to help travelers pack more in and travel comfortably for longer distances,” he wrote.

Coinciding with the interest in outdoor adventures is the boom in “gorpcore,” said Edited fashion and retail analyst Avery Faigen. This is a new fashion trend that’s been emerging over the last few years that focuses on functional pieces inspired by the outdoors. And it’s paid dividends for apparel companies: the technical clothing sector, or clothing designed to be worn outdoors, grew 29% since 2019.

She said that while the outdoor gear space is crowded, Away may be able to encourage repeat purchases from its existing customers.

“They dominate that luggage space and they’re well known,” she said. “I don’t think they would struggle breaking into a space, it’s just going to be Away’s responsibility of how they can position themselves from the rest.”

The line is also at a lower price point for consumers, making a high-end luggage piece more accessible for many consumers in a moment when prices are rising faster than wages. The largest duffel goes for $190.

Faigen noted that the colors of the line — several shades of blues and greens, plus a poppy orange-red — are on-trend for outdoor retail overall, and are designed to evoke nature and thoughts of the outdoors.

Adam Lawless, director of communications with travel experiences booking marketplace Viator, told Modern Retail that nearly half of experiences being booked through the company are outdoors-focused, with increasing popularity compared to pre-pandemic levels. Demand for outdoor activities grew 153% percent from 2019 to 2021, while demand for water sports experience grew 311%.

The growth is driven by both pent-up demand from pandemic-era lockdowns, and as well as a desire for new types of travel experiences from Gen Z and Millennials.

“I think the days of hopping on a plane or jumping in our car and driving to a single destination and spending the entirety of your vacation in a chair facing the ocean or a lake are over,” Lawless said. “Especially for a new number of travelers, Gen Z and Millennials, who are really getting out and traveling, they want to get every ounce of adventure and excitement out of any travel they’re doing.”

Another aspect that’s fueling outdoor travel demand is the photographic evidence popping up all over Instagram, TikTok and other social media sites, Lawless said.

“When you’re posting your favorite photos from Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon or a scuba adventure, that creates an additional second wave of demand,” he said.