Brands that are built around travel and experiences are evolving to become more than just consumer goods companies, offering supplemental services for travelers.

As the experience economy grows—the travel and tourism industry now comprises one-tenth of global GDP—brands that sell travel-specific products are re-orienting themselves to be more than just consumer goods vendors. Whether a brand is building a media strategy around travel culture or turning their stores into shoppable destinations, these players are working to become purveyors of experience, built off the back of and invigorating the travel economy. However, because many of these companies are selling commodities, they will need to stay on their toes, anticipating changing consumer needs and attracting new customers to prevent sales from flattening and rendering themselves obsolete.

1) Away is stirring up wanderlust and providing the necessary tools to act on it with its luggage brand and media arm.

Away, founded in 2015, was born out of the experience economy, targeting millennial consumers by selling luggage direct-to-consumer. Luxury brands used to have the easiest path to becoming lifestyle brands, but the direct-to-consumer shift has allowed more economical brands like Away to accomplish similar goals.

Away started out competing in the consumer goods space as a product company, selling only luggage. But more recently, the brand has amplified its brand story with a podcast, Airplane Mode, launched in May 2017, and with a quarterly print magazine, Here, in July 2017. The magazine, which features travel diaries, photo essays, interviews with travelers and city guides, is placed inside each Away suitcase that is sold, and is also available for purchase online and in-store. This creates a cyclical and symbiotic feedback loop between the company’s media and luggage products: providing customers and potential customers with content that inspires them to visit new places or book a vacation, Away then provides readers the tools to do so.

Particularly because the brand markets its products as “lifetime-guaranteed,” the magazine and podcast are also a way to extend Away’s presence beyond a one-time suitcase purchase and grow the brand as a cultural touchstone—staying top of mind despite the fact that a suitcase is never a frequent purchase. However, Away has recently greatly expanded it product assortment from suitcases and carry-ons to garment bags, makeup bags, weekenders and other travel accessories. This expansion was likely inevitable for a brand that markets its products as extremely durable, but nevertheless needs to continue generating a steady stream of revenue. Without the media content, Away would have to constantly expand its product line, which can only go so far for a commodity luggage company. But the question remains whether this strategy is enough to make Away a lasting brand that can sustain itself and expand beyond the young, coastal customers that it currently targets.

2) With the rise of athleisure and travel wear brands, travelers have more than toiletries to stock up on before their trips.

From Fabletics and Athleta to the dominating Lululemon and rising star Outdoor Voices, the athleisure market has both grown and diversified over the last decade. The increasing prominence of athleisure answers to various changes in the apparel industry, including the casualization of the workplace and the rise healthy lifestyle trends, but it is also largely linked to the ascent of the travel and experience industries.

Outlier wants to be the go-to brand for people on the move.

Outlier, a men’s apparel brand, was founded on function, performance and high-quality fabrics that are lightweight, water- and odor-resistant and neutral in design. The idea for the brand stemmed from co-founder Abe Burmeister’s desire for better performing cycling pants that he could use on his commute.

Travel wear brands embed in the process of travel itself—they not only sell something that helps travelers en route, but are bound to the traveler throughout her entire trip. Notably, as more people spend money on travel, fewer want to appear as tourists—both out of comfort and out of smart travel practices.

This semantic shift from tourist to traveler is epitomized by Outlier. In fact, Burmeister takes it a step further, stating that he would not identify Outlier as a travel brand, simply because “You shouldn’t wear anything traveling that you wouldn’t wear at home.” As the brand drives its mission forward, creating items from activewear to workplace casual attire, the brand will likely gain loyal customers who think of Outlier as their go-to for whatever they want to do and wherever they want to go, whether that means a bike commute to work, a hiking vacation or a workday at the office. The company’s Instagram feed showcases photos and videos—travel selfies and action shots—of its apparel in its natural habitat, wherever it is meant to be.

Outlier sells exclusively online and is not available in any retail stores. As the brand continues to grow, becoming the brand of choice for people on the move, it will be important to watch how its online-only distribution either helps or harms this mission. A big part of being a brand for travelers is being available when and where shoppers need it, and even though the brand has fast online shipping, some offline footprint might make sense in the future.

Anatomie is building a collection of travel apparel for women—a one-stop shop for everything customers need to fill their suitcases.

Anatomie, a womenswear brand established in 2006, serves as a foil to Outlier in terms of its mission. Founders Kate and Shawn Boyer—a couple with years of experience in the activewear business—identify the brand as a “travel-specific luxury line” for the global traveler.

Anatomie creates each piece with comfort, style and timelessness in mind so that customers can wear their clothes in any situation. The brand’s neutral appearance, along with its easy-care, breathable fabrics that do not shrink or wrinkle, don’t require dry-cleaning and are UV-protective and moisture-wicking, are built to be versatile, allowing travelers to dress items up or down.

While the co-founders define Anatomie as a luxury brand, for them, luxury implies comfort and personalization—not a price point. On its site, the brand also creates mini-collections of its products, featuring packing guides for different types of vacations (hiking, golfing, safaris, cruises, sightseeing, business trips, spa vacations, etc.). It also sells travel accessories and other essentials. Much like Away, Anatomie is attempting to lure its customers into the world of travel, and wants to be the first apparel brand travelers think of when they want to stock up before a trip. Then, when travelers go to pack their bag, they can pull all of their Anatomie items off the rack, without having to second guess the function of any item in particular.

Right now Anatomie sells direct-to-consumer from its site and wholesales to about 400 specialty stores. Moving forward, if the brand were to expand its product assortment and build a brick-and-mortar store around travel, it could become a one-stop shop for all travel necessities—right now, its brand intention and story is likely lost on its wholesale items. But unlike Outlier, Anatomie’s wholesale footprint allows the brand to have a much wider reach so that it’s available when and where travelers need it. This distribution path is smart—in moderation—as it seeks to grow.   

3) While some brands are fitting into the lives of travelers, others like Le Labo are inciting people to embark on a trip.

Some speciality brands are also making strides in the experience economy in the form of destination retail. Le Labo, a high-end, artisan fragrance brand founded in 2006 and now owned by Estée Lauder, has crafted a cult following around its highly personalized in-store experience. Shoppers at the “lab” can sample and select a Le Labo scent that a sales associate will freshly hand-blend, engrave their purchases or print a custom sticker for each perfume bottle and candle.

In 2007, Le Labo began a program called City Exclusives that stocks an exclusive fragrance in each of its stores—the product is only available for purchase in one store location and is unique to, and inspired by, the city of operation. City Exclusives have spurred a movement of traveler-customers who want to collect the exclusive fragrances, setting off on a worldwide “luxury scavenger hunt.” In doing so, Le Labo shows the potential of localization, which can both create for scarcity and aspiration and imbue the shopping experience with an enduring experiential component.

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