Travel looks somewhat different this year, with somewhat being an understatement. When the pandemic hit at the beginning of the year and quickly trickled across continents, countries and cities, we didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Soon after the spread, countries began to close their borders, effectively constraining us all within our domestic waters.
This has also been the year Bangkok based luggage brand, Wander Global decided to launch.
We sat down with co-founders Ying Ming Lai and Kuanmanus ‘Deary’ Limcharoen to talk about the broken luggage industry, launching in the middle of the pandemic and why a good luggage has to be truly functional.
Wander Global is a direct to consumer luggage brand based in Bangkok which sells suitcases and travel accessories online. Currently, travel curious customers can buy from multiple channels; website, Instagram and Facebook.
Typically, luggages are something of an afterthought. You grew up most likely sharing multiple suitcases with your family members, not really paying attention to which black luggage you’re checking in. Then, as trends progressed, the likes of Rimowa and Samsonite began flooding the travel market, instantly creating a status symbol like wearing a Rolex or driving a Tesla (you get the idea).
It’s often become a joke that when Thais return from travels in London or Paris and walk through immigration with Rimowa luggage on their trolley, they often get stopped and checked more often than non-brand luggage carriers.
The trend has given rise to luxury luggages, with consumers spending an average of THB20,000-THB30,000 on Rimowa suitcases. If you think about it, that’s a luxury price tag on a very standard product. The suitcase segment is heavily marked up, with an emphasis for brand value rather than functionality, in many cases.
On the other end of the spectrum, travelers can also find extremely cheap luggages from the likes of online marketplaces for THB1,000, but chances are, you won’t get much repeated use out of them.
This then, leaves a well designed gap in the market-ripe for disruptors to come in and capture a slice of the market.
Wander has a much more accessible price tag, with the carry-ons currently priced at THB4,740 as part of a 40% launch discount.
“We’re able to produce high quality products but set a more affordable price, compared to other brands because we’re selling directly to consumers, not through a department store or anything,” said Ying Ming.
The origin story, noticing roadblock in industry
Frustrations with marked up pricing and subpar quality in the luggage industry led the co-founders to think about launching their own travel brand.
“As a frequent traveller, I wasn’t able to find the right luggage for myself. So I wanted to create the perfect luggage for myself, something that offers practical functionalities coupled with the best quality, but is still easy on the wallet.” said Ying Ming.
That’s how the idea for Wander Carry On was born. The team obsessively sourced for the most premium materials from manufacturers around the world, such as wheels and zippers from Japanese brands and polycarbonate body from German-based Bayer.
The team then went through a challenging, selective process of picking out every single component and detail to go into the luggages. For a zipper alone, there’s about a hundred designs to choose from.
“Finding good, trustworthy manufacturers is a time consuming process, but we want absolutely top quality luggage for our customers” said Ying Ming.
Then before they could go ahead with the bulk order, the pandemic hit, and suddenly it didn’t seem like a good time to launch a new, unestablished luggage brand.
It was time for Wander Global to pivot slightly, starting with pocket perfume bottles and travel sized shampoo & soap bottles.
The perfume bottles were especially a hit. Luckily, Thailand experienced a short semi-lockdown and eventually, our domestic travel kicked off and travelers across the country, especially from Bangkok, started booking discount tickets to the likes of Phuket and Chiang Mai, enjoying local hotel deals.
This meant pocket perfumes became in demand, and recently, Wander launched custom engraving services, just in time for the year-end gifting season.
The global market
Wander isn’t a new and unvalidated segment. If anything, the concept of direct to consumer luggage was pioneered by US based unicorn Away, founded by Steph Korey and Jen Rubio, which has since seen its fair share of sky high valuation, international expansion, products expansion (weekend bags, packing cubes, travel kits and passport holders) and workplace scandals.
Away was founded upon the founders’ frustration with luggages, similar to Ying Ming and its products solve real travel problems, while attacking the mark up prices fueled by brands, marketing and retailers by going directly to the consumer. Away isn’t available in Thailand though, and the shipping costs means it’s more logical to go local, particularly if both brands are solving the same affordable, functional paint points.
In 2020, the global luggage market was valued at approximately US$22.8 billion. By Q4 2021, the travel industry should see rapid recovery, assuming that there is widespread distribution of covid-19 vaccines and luggages should also enjoy the surge.
This doesn’t come without its challenges, though.
Luggages are an investment, and it’s a space consuming object you don’t use monthly (unless you’re on a big travel sprint). What more, suitcases are such a practical thing some people may not be entirely hung up on aesthetics, you buy one reliable one and it lasts for years.
With the right brand positioning, good pricing and reliable product though, there’s always room for a new disruptor.
Currently, Wander Global is selling carry-on luggage, ideal for a domestic weekend away. The plan though, is to offer more travel related products & accessories, as well as bigger luggages.
A lot of thought and curation went into the design, and it’s clear that from the hundreds of options given by the manufacturer, Wander chose to merge functionality, practicality with enough emphasis on aesthetics.
The handle is sturdy, with solid wheels to match from Hinomoto Lisof Silent Run Wheels, which is a premium product used mainly by brands with much heftier price tags than Wander. We’ve taken the carry-on for a mini spin, and the hype about the Hinomoto wheel is indeed valid-the worst thing cheaper luggage can do is be loud and rusty.
Open the luggage up, and you’ll see that the interior has belts, zippers and compartments on both sides, which will effectively eliminate the frantic rummaging you’ll have to do before boarding. There’s also a secret pouch, with two laundry bags tucked inside. Thoughtful and practical? We’d say so.
There’s not much else an efficient, experienced traveler needs from carry-on.
The carry-on has only launched for less than a month. Going forward, Wander is planning to build out the travel brand with more luggage variations and content in the pipeline.
“Ultimately, we want to grow into a global, premium travel brand with an economy price tag,” said Ying Ming.
These days, travelers are well seasoned and savvy. There’s no need to splurge on an expensive suitcase if you can find one with rival functionality at more than half the price. Educating customers is something Ying Ming is also planning to branch out in.
“Personally, I love to find good deals and travel hacks. In the future, I am also planning to use the Wander platform to educate customers about leveraging credit card points, airline points and more to get discounts and fully earn the value of what they’re spending.”
By directly addressing the pain points and frustrations of the supply chain of luggage, Wander is well positioned to tackle the market of savvy, up and coming young travelers who are itching to book an international flight after a vaccine comes. We for one, are optimistic about 2021.