It’s surprisingly hard to find beautiful, affordable luggage. When it comes to the practical, brands like AWAY are stepping in to fill the void by providing hardshell suitcases designed to last a lifetime and priced under $300. But if you’re looking for a well-crafted bag made of luxurious materials–Italian leather, hand-stitched embroidery, Swiss hardware–you’ll need to spend thousands of dollars on brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Valextra.
This month, a new Boston-based brand called Latitu° enters the market with ambitions to create luggage that can be categorized as “affordable luxury.” The brand’s direct-to-consumer approach shaves off middleman costs that traditionally inflate the price of luxury bags. Bags run between $350 and $895, are made from leather sourced from a family tannery in Italy, and come in limited quantities of 500 pieces in each style. “People often ask if we will stick to this model as we scale,” says Tanya Pham, the brand’s founder. “The answer is: Yes. I love the challenge of constantly having to come up with new collections as the previous one sells out. Customers, for their part, are always on the hunt for something unique.”
As an avid traveler herself, Pham found herself at airports in Jakarta and Paris talking to other women travelers about their luggage gripes. It was very clear to her that women were looking for attractive bags that reflected their personality, but that were also practical. These women had disposable income, but were more interested in dropping $3,000 on another vacation than on a designer bag.
Pham spent two years laying the groundwork for Latitu°. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she moved to London where she took simultaneous courses at the London Business School and the London College of Fashion. “During the day, I was learning about how to create an efficient, profitable business,” Pham says. “At night, I was learning about sourcing, design, and color. I think it takes both types of knowledge to create a luxury brand today.”
Pham sourced leather from Italy, zippers from Japan, and hardware from Switzerland and then moved to Vietnam for an entire year to nail the manufacturing process. She found a factory that has expertise in creating leather goods for premium European brands, then worked closely with the craftspeople to perfect the prototype and the final products. Most brands go back and forth with their suppliers over email, which can lead to all kinds of errors, especially when you throw in a language barrier.
And Pham was able to spot idiosyncratic problems with the factory line. “At one point, we noticed that one of the workers happened to have sweaty hands, which left little stains on the leather,” she recalls. “We spotted it early enough that we were able to move him to a different part of the factory line. When this kind of thing happens at a factory, there’s usually no incentive for anyone to speak up, so being there is important.”
Latitu° is all about the details. The bags are designed to make traveling as easy as possible. Take, for instance, the Venezia weekender, which I tested. The bag is significantly lighter than other leather bags on the market. It contains a zippered pocket that can be configured into a strap that attaches to your suitcase, so you can wheel it around if it gets heavy. “That’s a standard feature in men’s overnight bags and briefcases, but it’s surprisingly hard to find it in a women’s bag,” Pham says.
The bag contains an inside pocket that can be detached so you can carry it around like a clutch. This is particularly useful for carrying your passport, boarding pass, and currency around the airport, then stowing the whole compartment away when you’re done. The bag has a reinforced base to prevent it from sagging when it’s full, and is deliberately made from a leather with an embossed finish so that scuffs aren’t visible.
Three weeks into launch, Latitu° has already nearly sold out of several designs. Given that each bag comes in limited quantities, Pham is always thinking about the next collection. The current line contains plenty of studs and crocodile textures for the urban traveler. But her upcoming line will include embroidery, which is in line with the trend of floral patterns in luxury luggage. (See: painted chinoiserie on Gucci luggage.) “In my research, I discovered that women want luggage that is unique but also subtle and elegant,” Pham says. “That’s a tricky balance to achieve, but it’s my goal with every collection.”