By Thomas Shambler
CEO sits down with TUMI's new Creative Director, Michael Petry, to ask why the world has suddenly started taking luxury travel and accessories so seriously
What brought you in to the world of luxury and luggage?
I started my career working for Adidas. It was my first foray in to the footwear industry. I travelled the world designing shoes for some of the best athletes, which led me to some of the most renowned sporting events (including many World Cups). I left Adidas to join Ralph Lauren, where I got my first taste of fashion. I made just about every shoe there was, from sneakers and loafers to brogues and sandals. Five years after that, I moved over to Prada. At that time, Prada's Linnea Rossa collection was just gaining momentum, and the company was looking to add more of an American touch. This fresh approach propelled the brand's popularity in the states. Now, I am at TUMI, and thrilled.
How important are things like materials when it comes to creating a new design?
New technological developments in materials influence the way I work as a designer. And at TUMI, we’re always looking for new ways to elevate our product through material innovation; from various leathers, textiles, and trims to hardware details.
To keep up with the fashion cycle, you need to create something new every six months. But at the same time, you need to make sure all your bags are durable and long lasting. How do you marry those counterintuitive concepts?
All our products are known for meticulously crafted and functional. We believe the best designed products make life easier, which is why we try to create beautiful world-class products that are specifically designed to uncomplicate or upgrade our customer's lives on the move. We do marry quality with innovation, as well as introducing new styles and aesthetics. We have many products now, from lifestyle produces – including collections for men and women – as well as what we are known for, business and travel.
How do you manage to take all those elements, and transform them in to something coherent?
We try to represent quality, style, functionality and iconic design – these characteristics are built in to every piece in every collection. With this foundation in mind, all our products borrow from the same DNA. Each season, we might visit a new place from a design point of view, incorporating graphic patterns and colours in to our products, or create a new silhouette or style – but they all share our core characteristics.
Where does the design process begin? Does someone in the R&D department get in touch and tell you they've found a new material? Or do you dream something up and tell the science boffs in the lab to make it happen?
We are constantly evolving our designs and products. As well as our creative team in New York City, we have a product development group in Asia that conducts research and testing throughout the year on new materials and concepts. They look at what is being developed in other industries, and then if that can be applied to creating an even better TUMI product. A good example is our Alpha 2 International Carry-On bag. This must be highly functional as travel is at the core of what we do. It's constantly tinkered with and improved – adding in new materials, for example – to make sure it's best in class.
Have changes in the travel industry impacted TUMI over the years?
Our products are known for functional superiority, and we have always done that. One of the best things about our brand is that we have a full assortment of lifestyle products; including collections for men, women, business and travel. People travel more, which means they are no longer looking for 'just a bag' to transport their belongings from point A to B. They want something that represents them, as an extension of someone's individual, day-to-day journeys.
How do you balance having new creative ideas, with a brand that has over 40-years of heritage? How do you stay true to the brand, but have to create something new every six months?
Since the beginning of my time here, the goal has been – and will continue to be – to evolve the brand aesthetic by making cool products. For fall 2016, we have mainly updated the silhouettes of the bags, as well as the individual styling. What has remained – and is true of all TUMI products throughout its lifetime – is the attention to detail. It's true; I am sure our customers will see my aesthetic and design language in these new products, but also realize that all our bags are still inherently TUMI.
Are there any particular challenges when it comes to making luggage?
To be a great designer – especially in the premium, luxury space, you need to understand the needs of the consumers you are designing for. To do this well, I create by experiencing life and involving myself in all areas of the brand. I not only think about how I travel; I am also constantly looking at how people are travelling, and what they are travelling with – whether I am at the airport, walking the city streets or visiting some place new. It's our job to perfect the journey of our customers. Let me give you an example. Weight and manoeuvrability were big in our fall collection, and we've continued to build-in special features to make travel more comfortable.
Luxury seems to be getting a lot more subtle. Would you agree?
I think that there is an increased demand for luxury products that are unique and tell a story, not only about the brand but the person who is carrying it. We offer a range of products and encourage customers to pick whatever speaks to their personality and style.
Objects like suitcases and bags seem to be more popular now. Less of an afterthought.
Absolutely, these pieces are less about simply getting many things from place to place. They are an important part of an individual style. However, they are still functional. If you wear a nice pair of shoes, they simply look nice. A nice bag, however, that can help your journey go more smoothly but also make you look cool.
Tell us about the latest collection.
Each season we visit a new destination and incorporate graphic patterns and colours important to that destination. For fall 2016, we decided that contemporary Japan was where we would visit. It has a rich colour palette rooted in nature, along with strong prints and bold silhouettes. Also simplicity, we designed our bags to be highly functional but very personal at the same time.
What are some of your favourites?
Some of you new products include the Harrison, Tahoe, and Vapor Lite collections. The Harrison collection features modern leather backpacks, briefs, and portfolios. The active, outdoors-inspired Tahoe collection is versatile and practical, crafted from a durable coated fabric with leather trim, coated zippers, and seam-sealing technology. The Vapor Lite line is for those who travel often, and is constructed from a special, multi-layer polycarbonate alloy. This makes it incredibly strong and durable.
So what's next from TUMI?
TUMI will continue to push boundaries with new design concepts and introduce new materials. We want to take the brand from travel specific – as people currently see us as – as that's no longer the case. Only 40 per cent of our business is luggage, and I think people are very surprised by that. 60 per cent of the brand is day bags, outerwear, and electronic cases. We also want to grow our consumer base to include younger and more trend-focussed individuals through more casual and tech-orientated products.
Many brands are currently partnering up with brands and celebrities. Would TUMI ever do something like that?
Collaborating and taking inspiration from other industries, designers, innovators, and global citizens have always been a common practice from our brand. We've partnered with leaders in luxury, such as Mercedes Benz, Johnny Walker, and Public School, to name a few. We are also in our third year of TUMI's 'Global Citizen's Campaign' which is designed to celebrate unique individuals who travel the world.
Are there any particular items that have done well over the past few years?
On a global scale, our backpacks (men's and women's) have become increasingly popular. Also, our women's accessories have done well, posting double-digit growth compared to 2014.
Where do you think the travel industry will be in the next ten years? And is this something that TUMI is planning for?
While the landscape of luxury travel will continue to evolve, consumers all over the world are looking for – and are in need of – superior, functional, innovative, stylish and cool products. We plan on giving them more of that. Luggage and travel pieces are becoming more of a lifestyle and fashion accessory. Comfort and style are the main attributes that our customers take in into consideration, and thus, these attributes will play a bigger part in our designs.