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The Strategy Behind Shay Mitchell’s Travel Brand Béis

The luggage and lifestyle brand is expanding its product and marketing strategies while launching collaborations and pop-up stores as its founder, Shay Mitchell, eyes expansion and profitability after five years in business. BoF learns more.
Actress Shay Mitchell sits among two olive-coloured suitcases and weekender bag from her brand Béis.
Actress and entrepreneur Shay Mitchell founded travel brand Béis in 2018. (Greg Swales)
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Actress, entrepreneur and executive producer Shay Mitchell launched her lifestyle and travel brand Béis in October 2018 with the vision of catering to an on-the-go lifestyle by creating bags, luggage and travel accessories she could not find in the market. In just five years, the brand is nearing $200 million in profitable gross revenue by the end of 2023.

This summer, the brand hosted a tour of pop-ups, experimenting with physical retail and in-store creative marketing moments in three North American cities and will be doing a holiday pop-up in New York with Shopify.

“We have an exceptionally high return customer rate, far higher than what is typical in our category,” Béis president, Adeela Hussain Johnson, tells BoF. “As we look to the future, we will continue to engage with our current consumers in a way that builds loyalty and trust while investing meaningfully in brand building and awareness-driving initiatives. [...] Our objectives as an organisation are to maintain the momentum of our growth trajectory, but to do so responsibly and in a way that is both sustainable and scalable, long-term.”

Since its launch, Béis has built a significant direct-to-consumer e-commerce offering, with the majority of traffic to Béis’ website primarily driven by growth within paid search, paid social and affiliate marketing, supported by Mitchell’s 37 million-strong follower base. Béis works with retail partners — Nordstrom, Revolve, Bloomingdale’s and, most recently, Canada’s Indigo — to diversify their consumer reach.

“DTC will continue to be the lion’s share of our business, as we are a digitally native brand and we intend that to continue. However, we have learned through our pop-ups in the last two years that our consumer does love IRL experiences and interacting with our brand through the brick-and-mortar channel. So, we will continue to learn and expand that channel as it makes sense for different categories within our portfolio,” adds Hussain Johnson.

The pop-up tour is one strand of the brand’s exploration of expanded marketing arenas, alongside the likes of billboard advertising and major brand partnerships, such as its collaboration with Mattel and Barbie The Movie around the launch of the Greta Gerwig blockbuster. Béis is also working with innovative materials, exploring the likes of cactus leather in its Premium Collection, which launched on November 8. Product lines have also expanded to include lines for travelling parents and their children, as well as baby and pet bags.

“We are investing significantly in R&D and testing to understand how we can continue to improve and expand our portfolio with materials that allow us to achieve durable, long-lasting products,” says Hussain Johnson. “Though the majority of our business is in our classics, which are always around, we recognise that we do drop seasonal collections and not everyone needs 10 weekenders. So, we are in the process of exploring how we can offer consumers ways to give their bags and accessories a second life.”

Now, BoF sits down with the brand’s founder Shay Mitchell to learn more about her strategic vision for the future of the brand.

Béis founder Shay Mitchell in a Béis campaign for the brand's anniversary.

How do you respond to evolving consumer needs and expectations?

We have an analytics department that gathers all data for the brand. I also gather feedback from my friends, family and my assistant. She will sit in on design meetings and I will ask her: “Would you carry this?” It may seem small but we are a consumer feedback-driven brand, so in addition to hard data, I’m always collecting my own feedback from my immediate circle to better understand how they shop.

We’re still a small enough brand to be nimble. For example, when Covid-19 hit, we had a whole line-up of suitcases that were about to be rolled out, but we paused the drop and reassessed. We make bags for people on-the-go, so with the world drastically changing, we asked ourselves “what are people still going to be doing?” They’re going to be going to markets, to parks, beaches, to the grocery store, so we designed for that. We are not just designing for long-haul, plane travel — whether you’re going on a walk, to the gym, to the grocery store or to work, we have a product for you to make it easier.

It’s also about being able to pick up on cultural moments quickly and what makes us so good at this is our team, whose eyes and ears are always open. We can quickly react to trends or feedback that are relevant, in order stay fresh in the content and product we develop.

How do you test out new category and product ideas?

We create what I call “energy drops”, which is when we try something new and share a smaller run with our consumer. It’s a way to play with ideas and collect feedback and insight from the consumer as to what it is that they like about it, what we can improve upon and what should become a core offering. It’s a nice way to test the waters without having a full-on commitment because we’re not buying heavily into those drops.

We are also starting to do more collaborations for energy drops and those projects offer learnings, too. For example, when we dropped the Barbie The Movie collaboration, some people loved the colour and others loved the glossy finish. They said, “You should do this [finish] for beige and black.” I pocketed that feedback and thought, “Cool. Now I know.”

The first time we did a collab was with the model Elsa Hosk. That process was different because we were not just offering existing bags in new fabrications but designing new bags and prints for a Baby line. It was interesting to get her perspective on what she would design. We had hits and misses on that one, but we played around with print, we played around with the fabric and we created something that Béis had never done before.

Béis founder Shay Mitchell dressed in a pink suit dress and hat, holds a pink Béis wallet standing in front of a pink convertible car, in a campaign for the Béis and Mattel 'Barbie Pink' colourway collaboration in May 2023.

How has community feedback guided your design approach?

We have a two-way conversation with our audience. I will post from design meetings and have our community weigh in on colourways or patterns. We take consumer feedback to heart — if we are consistently getting the same feedback about a bag, we will implement changes. We test our bags through the design process and we continue to refine them even once they are on the market.

One of the things we have learnt is that there are people that want to pay a higher price point for a different kind of material, while others will say: “We love this bag. We just wish you could do a more basic, simpler version of it.” All of this feedback helps inform our approach. So, we have our core line, which we have had from the beginning. Then we came out with the Béis-ics, a more simplified design for a Gen-Z consumer at more of an entry price point.

We take consumer feedback to heart — if we are consistently getting the same feedback about a bag, we will implement changes.

Then, this November, we dropped our Premium collection, which offers existing core bag silhouettes in cactus leather fabrications, with elevated design elements. This collection is at a new price point for us. We wanted to design with a more sustainable fabric that looks and feels more premium. I’m curious to see how it is received.

This evolution of various categories at different price points came from consumer feedback. I love the feedback our consumers share. With the help of my team, when we drop a new product, we are keeping our eyes peeled for feedback — and this feedback loop helps us learn for next time. It’s a two-way street that we really value.

Béis founder Shay Mitchell standing in the lobby-style pop up store for Béis in Los Angeles.

How has the Béis brand and your vision for it evolved?

Béis started when I drew up my ideal travel bag on a cocktail napkin while on an airplane, with all the features I had mentally taken notes of over the years, like a key leash or a strap to attach onto your suitcase. With those ideals in mind, we started with our weekenders and our luggage.

Then, when I was pregnant, I needed a diaper bag, so we came out with our baby line. We also created a backpack with a rollout changing pad because sometimes, bathroom facilities are not equipped for parents to change their kids. My elder daughter then started needing her own bags for school, so we moved into the kids’ space — but we added features that add value to the parent, because I know the parent is going to end up carrying the bag.

So, in a lot of ways, we have been (selfishly) designing products for ourselves and our evolving families, but then we go into it with the perspective that those needs can be applied to the consumer who is also looking for functional, good-looking products to make their lives easier while on-the-go. So, we have grown by expanding into new categories that have grown as we have.

What role will a physical retail presence play in growing the brand?

We are majority direct-to-consumer and, until our first pop-up, we had only partnered with Revolve and had a very small section in Nordstrom, which was important for us because I wanted people to be able to touch and feel the product. However, with wholesale accounts, I’m not in control of that retail experience and that’s the part that has been missing for me.

I want our consumers to see how the products live in a room, because if you see it in a store, there’s no lifestyle there. The pop-ups are important because we can create an experience. They allow us to play around, to try something new, to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s not forever; it’s not a commitment.

One day, when we do go into brick and mortar, there will have been a lot of research into where we do it and how we do it. But for right now, I’m having so much fun just doing these timely hits. As a matter of fact, we are currently planning a pop-up with Shopify in New York at the end of November into early December.

What is next for Béis?

I want to be that go-to brand where consumers think, “That’s the place where I go to get what I need to make on-the-go life easier.” Just like how there are certain stores that, if I’m going camping, I know to hit up this specific place and they will have everything I need.

I’m creating bags and accessories to help whenever you leave the house. But I want to make that easier for you. Every single product is thought out. The sky has no limits.

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