NEW YORK, United States — Founded in 1975, the luggage and lifestyle brand Tumi has become one of the world’s most established travel brands, sold in over 75 countries through upwards of 2,000 points of sale. At the core of its business, and top of mind with global consumers, sits the brand’s Alpha range. The product was launched in 1983 following the development of Tumi’s ballistic nylon, which was originally used by the US military in WWII to protect troops from shrapnel. Due to the increased durability of the nylon used in producing the bags, the Alpha range went on to become ubiquitous at airports the world over — and continues to be the commercial bedrock of the Tumi brand, which sold more than half a million units in 2018.
However, in addition to driving commercial sales and consumer awareness for four decades, Tumi considers the resilience of its ballistic nylon to have evolved the way consumers view the brand — with the same durable luggage becoming intimately woven into their travel experiences, passing from generation to generation. To celebrate the emotional bonds that consumers have built with their Tumi pieces, the brand collaborated with music legend, designer and actor, Lenny Kravitz and his daughter, actress and musician Zoë Kravitz, with the former a fan of the brand since he “began touring.”
Shot in the Bahamas and directed by Eliot Rausch, the 3-minute campaign video captures the lush ecology of the neighbourhood Lenny Kravitz grew up in, interwoven with the pair’s father-daughter narrative. Tumi’s campaign is the first time the Kravitz’s have worked together, with Lenny especially involved in the creative process behind the campaign.
BoF sat down with Victor Sanz, the creative director of Tumi and designer of the Alpha range, and Lenny Kravitz, to hear how Tumi approached innovating its core product and why this campaign was the right opportunity.
How did you approach innovating such a core product as Tumi’s Alpha range?
VS: When we set out to redesign the collection, we’re always keeping in mind that the decisions we make today, people will be living with for 20 to 25 years from now. So, we continue to try our best in understanding not only the present-day user but how also that individual will be travelling in 5, 10, 20 years’ time. How do we keep the product on the road? How do we more importantly make travel easier for our customers? With changing regulations and wear and tear of constant travel — how do we keep our products going?
It’s not just merely a styling exercise but it’s an in-depth distillation of what the collection is — how it represents the brand globally. We evolve all our collections by creating a new vernacular that is inherently Tumi without being so new that people don’t recognise it as part of the brand. When we speak to the designers, that’s always the biggest challenge: “Give me something new that’s recognisable.”
What new consumer trends are impacting how you approach design?
VS: I’ve been with the brand for 15 years and I’ve been able to see the development and evolution of this collection. When I joined the company, there wasn’t a bag with four wheels — everything was two wheeled and it was all about having the same kind of innovation and performance that the brand is known for. But as time evolved, the way we travel evolved.
Today, being connected is one of the most important luxuries that everyone desires. So, for A3 we incorporated a power system into the new travel gear. Our customers are flexible — they are not only in the airport but they’re travelling by train, they’re travelling by car, so how do you make all of these features work within their life? I think that was one of the challenges that we faced and overcame, ensuring that the product meets all of their needs.
What new consumer trends are impacting how you approach design?
VS: I think that one of the biggest trends that I’m seeing now is the exposure of people’s journeys. Now with the power of Instagram and social media, when people are travelling, they’re sharing those moments. There’s this constant flow of information and excitement. In the past, it was just about, “Hey, we’ve arrived here we are,” and now it’s, “Here’s my entire journey of how I got there and what I’m doing and where I’m going throughout the entire process.” I think you’re seeing a lot more attention on travel and experiences than the past.
Why is ballistic nylon so critical to the success of the range?
VS: When I joined the brand in 2003, our ballistic nylon was already performing well. It’s one of the best materials in the industry. I’m not just saying that because I work for the brand — we’ve taken our ballistic nylon to labs and tested it. We continually want to ensure that the collection still meets all performance metrics required to be a market leader.
It’s not merely a styling exercise but it’s an in-depth distillation of what the collection is.
We’ve continued to evolve Alpha and tweak it and refine the recipe as it were. Just the way that we’re using the ballistic, whether it’s wrapping the sides to give added strength, or the front pockets that have a lot more softness and allow for more storage on the front, we’ve added so much more of this material from when it first came about. A3 is highly tactical in itself and the consumer won’t see that as much, but when they use the product, it’s performing the way that we want it to perform.
Why is Tumi focusing on the more human and emotional elements of its brand in its campaign?
VS: In today’s society, everything is very disposable, we stand for a brand that we know is going to continue its use. For us, sustainability has always been about that longevity of the product. The by-product of the technical excellence and durability of our ballistic nylon is the long-term relationships Tumi customers build with their luggage.
We talk to our customers, whether it is people calling in or on the road, and it’s amazing how attached they are to the product. When they have a bag that needs a little bit of love, we’ll say, “you know we’ll get this fixed up for you,” and they say, “No, I love it just the way it is. I got my first job 30 years ago and this came with my first big account, and I’m planning on passing this on to my son or daughter.” There’s this serious connection that starts happening with our customers and the product — it almost becomes their passport in their life. That’s what we want to celebrate.
Mr Kravitz, why did you choose to collaborate with Tumi on the campaign?
LK: My relationship with Tumi started from touring, being in a profession where all of a sudden luggage became a big part of my life, having to go around the world and having to have a lot of belongings with me. I remember being in New York and going to a luggage store back in the day and purchasing my first Tumi. It started there. I don’t just endorse products. I wanted it to be something organic, as my relationship is with the brand, and I also wanted it to be something that was honest and soulful and that’s where the whole thing came about with my daughter.
Why was it important to have such a significant creative input into the shoot?
LK: It was shot here in my home town in the Bahamas and everything was real. The dock where I pick my daughter up from the water taxi, my own truck, my airstream that I’ve lived in — it wasn’t any different from how we move around here. Our connection is very deep here. This is a place where not only our family comes from and where so many things began, but it’s also a place where we can be comfortable in a community of locals that we are all very close to. We live in a town of roughly 500 people. Everybody knows everybody, so as a place it’s very special to us.
I wanted to tell a story about family and about relationships and about travel, so I came up with the scenario of taking my daughter on a journey to show her about her past, about where she came from, about her grandfather — how she got from A to B. I was working hand-in-hand with the photographer. As for the tone, it’s natural. I brought the team to all these locations that I thought would be important in the storytelling, and Zoë and I put the narrative together. I wanted the campaign to be about how this product is a real thing in my life and that I appreciate how it works, how it’s designed. I’m very much into design and I think they’re done extremely well.
Why was the Tumi campaign the right project for you and your daughter to work together for the first time?
LK: People have been trying to get us to do something together for years and we’re not into doing something just for a campaign or for money. It has to be something that we thought was correct. And it was, it was about our relationship, our love for our home land, our family, our connection and the place that we both come from, which is what my grandfather started here in the Bahamas many, many years ago. We thought this would be the correct thing to be our first time working together because it is about family.