Away Founder Jen Rubio on Success, Suitcases, and the Road Less Traveled
There's little chance you haven't heard of Away by now, between its Insta-friendly collaborations with Madewell, Pop + Suki, and even the Minions. Only this brand could make suitcases look chic, and that's largely due to founder Jen Rubio, a Warby Parker vet who started an entire minimalist luggage movement around the streamlined collection.
Away's technically more than just luggage; it's a label "creating thoughtful objects for modern travel." Similarly, Jen's more than a founder; she's also, as the creative director, the visionary who's made the brand an household airport name. Here's how she got there.
What were you like as a teen?
I was equal parts insecure and overconfident. I didn’t really know who I was, but would fully dive into new phases to try to figure it out. It almost feels like I lived a ton of lives as a teen, with different interests and friend groups and even personality traits as I tried to figure myself out.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
Comparing yourself to others does way more harm than good. I know it can be hard (especially as a teenager), but it’s so important to focus on your own path instead of worrying about what your friends are doing. Everyone operates differently and advances at their own pace—as long as you’re willing to work hard, you’ll get where you need to go.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
I have a pretty nonlinear background. After high school, I studied supply chain in college, which is actually what my co-founder Steph does now. I also spent a semester abroad in Seville with a focus on architecture. I actually ended up leaving college early. After a string of internships and a co-op, I got an opportunity to work full-time at a great company and never officially finished my degree.
I was interested in the advent of social media as we know it today, and left my corporate gig to do social media consulting. I later joined Warby Parker to head up their social media and build their online community. During my time there, I was able to work closely with our brand and creative teams.
I left Warby Parker to be the Head of Innovation at AllSaints in London, which took me all over the world. After leaving that job, I was on a trip through Europe when my suitcase broke in an airport and sparked the idea for Away. You never know when inspiration will strike.
What's one thing you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
Your career is bound to take many turns. Believe it or not, I actually grew up just wanting to be a lawyer. I took my LSATs, did great on them, and ended up never even coming close to being a lawyer. I never anticipated that one day I’d start a travel brand, but looking back, it makes sense since travel has always been my greatest passion. Every career choice you make leads you to a very specific place that will click once you get there, but it’s not always easy to anticipate.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Whatever you do, make sure the passion is there. At the end of something particularly challenging or trying, what keeps you going is your passion for that thing. I can't tell you how rewarding it is whenever I spot an Away bag during a crazy busy travel week. Some top out at 20,000 miles, and it gets me excited all over again about what I’m doing.
By Casey Lewis