By his own admission, Josh Udashkin is not a samurai packer.
The 33-year old Montreal native always checked a bag when traveling with footwear company Aldo, where Udashkin worked before founding the smart luggage company Raden in 2015.
On the 22nd episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, Udashkin talk about how the genesis for Raden came from something he noticed on the luggage carousel during business trips. “It was shocking not being able to recognize any products,” Udashkin said. “It’s something that bridges the function and fashion gap. I just [didn’t] see the next brand of the future for people of my generation.”
So he went to work building the first “modern” suitcase, taking on luggage brands such as Rimowa and Samsonite that have been accompanying travelers for over a hundred years. Raden suitcases are equipped with technology such as built-in phone chargers and location tracking, designed to ease the burden of traveling. Each suitcase pairs with an app that includes features such as Bluetooth-assisted weight awareness to help consumers avoid the dreaded overweight luggage fees many airlines charge.
“I felt that, unlike in apparel or footwear or anything else, there was a real opportunity to build something kind of category defining,” Udashkin said. “For us, that involved industrial design, packaging, branding and the entire user experience.”
Early on, Udashkin rejected a purely direct-to-consumer model, choosing instead to dedicate more time and attention on creating a durable product at a fair price. Since luggage is a product that gets banged around more than a pair of headphones or smart watch, Udashkin spoke about wanting to develop something that would sell at a price point somewhere between luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada and private label suitcases that might be thrown away after just two trips.
Raden also began designing an app to provide consumers with another layer to their experience traveling with the brand’s luggage. “I think that’s the opportunity here, to say we have every piece of it figured out. We don’t, but we’re investing in the right team of people to do that,” he said.
After spending almost a year in the prototype phase, working out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal (“a great city for mobile development if you’re on a budget”) and Taiwan, Raden emerged as a product company that rejected the imagery and celebrity of lifestyle brands.
“How can you have a lifestyle on day one around your product unless you’re faking it?” Udashkin said. “I think that works in the short term, but over time the customer gets smarter. If you don’t keep working on your product, eventually you lose.”
Udashkin has sold his luggage through a blend of retail and wholesale platforms, with the Raden website accompanied by a SoHo pop-up store that opened in April. Reviews of Udashkin’s modern suitcase have been kind, or as Vogue explained, “If Rimowa and Apple had a baby, this is what it might look like.”
Striking that balance has positioned Raden at what Udashkin said he believes to be a fascinating intersection between fashion, travel goods and consumer electronics. Even though Raden might not appeal to consumers who favor the look or brand name of Louis Vuitton, Udashkin isn’t worried.
“I guess they fly private,” he said.