Interview with Selena Kalvaria: CMO at Away

Chief Marketing Officer at Away, Selena Kalvaria, spoke to us about the social impact of travel, where she hopes to travel again, and how luggage is evolving for the future.

How did you get into luggage?

Travel is really core to me and has been a passion my whole life, and I've been fortunate to be able to experience the world in a really beautiful way over many years. And I think the intersection of that experience, along with the things that we carry, is really exciting. So, for me, I always really cared about fashion and how I express myself and how I look, but then you realize that the luggage options in the market compared with these incredible trips you're going on, those two things simply don’t match.

The luggage you take with you should be as much an expression of you as, say, a handbag or a pair of shoes or a jacket. So, what I was really excited about with what Away was doing, was they weren't just talking about the product. It went beyond that, to what it enables, which is travel and the bigger picture, the emotional connection. From a design standpoint, it elevated the things that we carry and how we move through the world in a much more thoughtful, seamless and elevated way. I think the powerful combination between those two things made it ripe for disruption, and I was excited to join them on that journey.

And what does the CMO job entail at Away specifically?

I would say there are two verticals. The first is that Away is a brand-led business. What that means is that our company vision, our company strategy and the brand strategy are one and the same so that everyone in the whole company is charged with how you bring the brand to life. So, it's not just in the marketing, it’s in the customer experience at every touch point. It's how we fulfill orders, how we think about financial trade-offs in support of what the brand is and what we're all there to build? In that capacity, I act as the key stakeholder of the brand in ensuring that the brand strategy translates across the business.

On a more functional level, I lead our marketing organization, which means everything from brand love to conversion, and we believe that those things are inherently intertwined. I oversee brand marketing growth, marketing creative, PR, social impact and business development. The interplay between all those teams together is what drives the brand that everyone sees today, and by extension, of course, the results.

Away team volunteering with Global Glimpse
Volunteering is a huge part of Away's culture.

Is social impact a big part of Away?

Yes, I think it's been a part of the brand since the beginning. We believe that the more we all travel, the better we all become as people, and if more people can travel, that will result in a more connected world, a more empathetic world, more equity in the world. And what we know today is that the ability to move through the world safely is a privilege, and the ability to travel is a privilege. It's not an experience that everyone can access, so how our social impact initiatives have evolved, especially today coming out of COVID, is in response to precisely that inequity in travel, which has never been more apparent. 

The work that we're doing from a social impact perspective now, is with an incredible organization called Global Glimpse. They work with high school students from underprivileged backgrounds and bring them together to learn what it's like to travel, and then they go take their first trip together. We're just beginning our relationship with them and already we’re seeing such incredible work because that's how we build the leaders of tomorrow, by getting people out there.

And then the second piece I'll add on to that, which is more from a brand standpoint, but it connects to our social impact, is the definition of a trip per se. The experience of travel has traditionally meant going a long distance but I think this past year has shown us that the opportunity to escape can be much closer to home. Something that we're going to be talking a lot more about as a brand is how people can experience travel just around them and how that feeling of getting away can be found without making it a huge, far-off trip. We hope this will drive more equity in the travel experience as well.

Related: The Climate Impact of Flying - How Bad is It and What Can I Do?

How do you see Away and luggage evolving in the future?

I think for us luggage is just the beginning, I think there's the whole realm to explore when it comes to the items you actually take with you on a trip. And these are things that have always come from different companies and they haven't necessarily been tailored to travel. So, when we think about our role, it's how do we create a really unique system? The obvious example is Apple, where everything you have is connected to your Apple products. For Away, it would be creating a modular system where everything you take with you, no matter the type of trip, is from Away, with everything fitting together perfectly. I can't share much more for now, but our vision is certainly to extend into new occasions and for new need states for the journeys that people are taking.

cobblestone streets near Montmarte in Paris, France
Selena would like to visit Europe again (Paris, France)

What is a trip you would take again?

Oh, for me that would be Europe. That's Paris, that's London, that's Rome, Stockholm, even. Those are places in which you have this kind of universal experience but with a new flavor every single time you go. You go back five years later and it's like, that cafe I love isn't there anymore but now there’s something different. And it feels like you can almost discover the city all over again, every single time you see it, and it always feels fresh. Those types of places have a big place in my heart.

But then there are places I would only go to once, just to protect that memory. For example, the two weeks I spent in Patagonia, hiking and glacier climbing and doing the full gambit of the experience. And I have this very firm memory in my head of it being the most beautiful place on earth. I don’t know, I just feel like if I go back I think that memory will be ruined somehow. It’s a trip I often go back to in my head, so I want to protect that.

Related: 11 Ways to Travel to Europe With Points and Miles

What do you think the future holds for travel in general?

I think there are two things. One is what I spoke about earlier, that societally we're going to think about travel as not just getting on a plane and going far away, but all the trips in between and the various modes of getting there. I think people will feel like they're part of the travel “zeitgeist” in ways that they hadn't before. So that makes the whole opportunity bigger and it creates more of that inclusivity around the places we're able to go to, how we move and how we learn to connect with one another.

But the second piece, and I think perhaps more importantly, is a more mindful and intentional travel experience. It's about how do I go somewhere and not just experience it as a tourist, merely taking from the destination but actually contributing to it, meshing into that new place and being part of it, if even for a brief moment. I think people are recognizing that mindfulness and an intention actually makes the travel experience much more powerful.

Stay on top of the latest deals, get inspiration for your next destination, and discover the latest quirks of the airline industry. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Recent Posts