Away is trying to get on with business, after a series of scandals rattled the luggage startup. In December, The Verge published an explosive story in which some former employees accused the company of fostering a toxic work environment. CEO Steph Korey stepped down from her role, then surprised top executives by reversing her decision, which also coincided with the departure of the brand’s head of HR.
No doubt Away is keen to shift consumers’ focus away from its corporate drama. And Serena Williams, with all of her dazzling star power, is here to help.
Today, Away launches a collection codesigned with the tennis champion. In an announcement, the company says that this is just one part of a longer partnership with Williams that will continue, “with more Away x Serena Williams products to come in 2020 and beyond.” Williams will also be featured in Away’s in-house print magazine, Away, which also drops today.
Williams has been active in fashion and design for years. She has collaborated with Nike and HSN and, in 2018, she launched her own label Serena, which she presented at New York Fashion Week this past fall.
The Away collection is the first luggage she has designed, and the pieces within it are meant to capture some of her most iconic characteristics, like her boldness, intensity, and power. The line features hard-shell suitcases as well as the brand’s new soft-shell luggage in a striking red color, with black trim. (They are priced between $225 and $345.) On the interior, the bags are lined with a fun, colorful camo pattern in shades of blue, yellow, and red. When you unzip the expandable pockets on the soft-shell case, you get surprising glimpses of the patterns within.
According to a statement from Away, Williams was deeply involved in the design process, and was inspired by her own travel needs. Williams is regularly on the road, jetting between tournaments around the world, fashion shows in New York, and her home in Florida.
In addition to customizing products from Away’s existing line with her own aesthetic touches, Williams also worked with Away’s designers to create a new shoe cube ($35), which protects footwear while keeping it separate from the other items in your suitcase. “With this collaboration, we’re looking forward to giving people a window into . . . Serena, shedding light on the habits, rituals and experiences with travel that shape who she is,” Jen Rubio, Away’s cofounder and head of brand, said in the statement.
Since Away launched in February 2016, it has released several limited edition collaborations, partnering with everyone from supermodel Karlie Kloss to basketball player Dwyane Wade to the movie Minions. The strategy has allowed the brand to create demand for suitcases in new colorways and appeal to new audiences.
Of course, this time around, the partnership with Williams may serve an additional purpose, which is to take consumers’ attention away from the negative press the brand has received over the past two months. Even though Williams agreed to collaborate with Away long before The Verge dropped its exposé, her association with the brand could generate some goodwill, given what a beloved figure she is.
Then again, consumers might not be paying that much attention to Away’s internal drama. As I reported last month, data gathered by a firm called Second Measure—which tracks millions of anonymized credit and debit card purchases—found that Away did not see a decline in holidays sales, even after The Verge story hit. (Away did not respond to requests to confirm this information.) So perhaps, at the end of the day, the average consumer isn’t that interested in management crises at the startups they shop from. All they really want is a nicely designed product that works.