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Away luggage saw healthy holiday sales growth despite a scorching exposé on its workplace culture

Away luggage saw healthy holiday sales growth despite a scorching exposé on its workplace culture
Jen Rubio (left) and Steph Korey of Away. [Photo: Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images]

The last six weeks have been turbulent at Away, the fast-growing luggage startup that was once a darling of the direct-to-consumer world. But has the internal drama at the company had any impact on sales?

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The answer seems to be no, according to third-party data provided to Fast Company by Second Measure, a firm that tracks and analyzes millions of anonymized credit and debit card purchases in the United States. According to Second Measure’s estimates, Away’s U.S. sales in December 2019 were 20% higher than they were in December 2018, while customers were up 23%. That’s despite the fact that the Verge published a scorching and widely read exposé about Away’s allegedly toxic workplace culture on December 5, 2019—just as the the holiday sales season was ramping up.

While Away did experienced higher levels of growth earlier in the year—with year-over-year sales up more than 100% in January and February—the figures show that it’s still very much on an upward trajectory.

A spokesperson for Away declined to comment.

If you haven’t been following the saga, the Verge’s expose featured interviews with 14 former employees along with leaked Slack messages, and portrayed cofounder and CEO Steph Korey as a demanding and, at times, passive-aggressive boss. This led to a wave of blowback on social media, as customers expressed disappointment.

Within a week of publication, Korey said she would step down as CEO, and Stuart Haselden, a Lululemon veteran, would replace her. Then, in a twist, Korey told the New York Times this week that leaving her post was a mistake and she did not want to capitulate to the “Twitter mob.” She said she would remain co-CEO along with Haselden. What’s more, Away announced it had retained the services of Clare Locke LLP—a law firm known for winning defamation cases—to go after the Verge and demand that the publication make retractions and corrections. The Verge has stood by the story.

The business media, along with people interested in direct-to-consumer startups, have been interested the unfolding drama at Away. But it’s possible that everyday consumers are unaware of what’s going on, or simply don’t care about these corporate issues. Second Measure’s analysis found that Away’s growth rate began to decline slowly over the course of 2019, which is not unusual for a startup of its size and scale.

The data is not a complete picture—notably, it doesn’t include Away luggage sold at third-party retailers—but it offers a window into the company’s growth trajectory. In December, after the Verge story came out, it’s year-over-year customer growth rate of 23% was actually higher than November, which was 15%.

In recent weeks, Vice has reported about how retail and customer service employees at Everlane, another fast-growing startup, have also complained about workplace conditions. In some ways, Everlane’s situation is quite different from Away’s: By Vice’s own account, employees at Everlane’s headquarters appear to be very happy, but the company has struggled to extend its corporate culture to staffers who are more removed and work remotely.

That said, both Away and Everlane are dealing with teething pains as they scale into larger companies. The question is: Can these companies keep growing as they deal with these internal struggles? From what we can tell from Second Measure’s data, it’s possible they will weather the storm.

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