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Luggage Industry - Getting Hammered

I checked out ebags.com today, after not seeing it for a while. It was sad. Ebags has luggage marked way down and only seems to have a few brands in stock. Possibly brands that the Ebags/Samsonite company owns. Almost looks like it's going out of business. Then, I started thinking about the workers in countries like the Phillipines and Vietnam who make the luggage. These poor folks must be in financial dire straits. Most of them are low-income workers as it is.
Then, I visited a local clothing store - same thing.
Consumerism has its problems. But, lack of consumerism has consequences as well. I need to just be grateful for what I have.

Posted by
566 posts

I haven’t followed the luggage industry, but I have a few eBags pieces and get emails from them. They changed their business model this summer and basically only carry their own brand. But they are owned by Samsonite, so it makes sense they carry that brand. On the other hand, with the travel industry hurting, it would make sense if they are, also.

Posted by
1711 posts

Thanks for letting us know. I was gonna get some packing cubes for my niece for Christmas. She is a terrible overpacker and I thought this might help her with future packing. Gonna order some tonight.

Posted by
85 posts

When I worry about workers in dire financial straits, my impulse is to stop buying from the brands and retailers that exploit them.

Are people aware of ethically-sourced imported bags? Now and then my Backerkit/Kickstarter feed will feature soft goods such as travel backpacks, designed and manufactured by small, innovative companies abroad. Global charities like Unicef, or local environmental organizations such as the Ecology Center in Berkeley, might sell bags (most likely small ones like day packs, totes, and purses) made by worker-owned cooperatives in developing countries.

I know of two options for made-in-USA bags, both of which feature products that are practical, durable and creative. Tom Bihn is based in Seattle and Topo is based somewhere in Colorado. In my experience, Tom Bihn has fast order fulfillment, fast but affordable shipping, and excellent customer service. Topo had top-notch in-store service when they operated a store in San Francisco, but their online store suffers from slow order fulfillment, expensive yet unreliable shipping, and a totally overwhelmed customer service department.

On my "no" list is The North Face, which several years ago closed its headquarters in my city, Alameda, in pursuit of tax breaks and cheaper wages outside California. Headquarters location notwithstanding, their bags are imported from low-wage countries.

Posted by
1395 posts

I've never been able to win you folks here on the RS Forum over to this company but I'm not giving up trying:
JANDD has a coastal California origin and provenance, and the goods are indestructible.
https://www.jandd.com/travel.asp
They started in Santa Barbara and are now located in Chula Vista.

Posted by
126 posts

To second the mention made above, with products made in the U.S. (and a price that reflects it), Tom Bihn bags (headquartered in south Seattle between E. Marginal Way and the UPRR Argo rail yard) are a favorite of mine. I can vouch for the durability and quality of construction, as well as the ethics of the firm and its willingness to stand behind its products.

For example, I've had their "Empire Builder" small travel bag/briefcase (can do either very well and both on short trips) for more than 10 years, with many years of daily car/bus/train commuter use, hundreds of airplane business trips including a dozen or so between the U.S. and Europe, and it looks nearly the same as when I picked it up at their store when I lived in the Pacific Northwest over a decade ago. The only sign of wear that's visible is the thick brass zipper pull on the main compartment, which has lost some of its black enamel so you can see the reddish color of the brass peeking through in spots. The fabric has no signs of abrasion or fraying.

Posted by
1597 posts

I really wanted to love Tom Bihn..... and I didn't

I just didn't really like the "organization" factors and the weight. To me it was overpriced for what I was getting so I sent it back :(

Posted by
1306 posts

Thanks for the reminder about JANDD. I was trying to remember their name. That company needs a better name - like "bomb-proof USA bags."

I always have mixed feelings about foreign manufacturers. If the employees are fairly compensated - fine. If not, then avoid. Desperate people trying to survive.

Thanks for the replies.

Posted by
24193 posts

This thread has had me thinking. Not about the luggage - I'm afraid we always will have more luggage than we ever use because we travel with smaller lighter pieces now, but I never throw anything away and the repaired and taped up luggage (with the zipper with a mind of its own, but our fav piece) is many years old now and we won't replace any. That would have been the same regardless of the virus.

What I have been thinking about is the sub thread about luggage made in countries with low wages and working conditions.

What I wonder - I agree that everybody should have good working conditions, or at least not bad, and everybody should be paid a living wage, and that it is not good to support businesses which take advantage of the workers - but if we all stop buying products made in those places, luggage but also fashion-for-the-minute clothes, shoes, bedclothes, etc., what will happen to those hard working people paid by the piece (if they are lucky) when business dries up either because people aren't buying or because the owners have found another country were they can pay even less with even worse conditions.

In other words, is boycotting certain brands really improving matters for those workers?

Posted by
5298 posts

RedOxx is another made in USA brand of tough bags. A bit less structured than Tom Bihn. Cotopaxi is an imported brand that has an eco-focused face: I dont know their details.

Posted by
126 posts

Carol,

It's true that the bags are heavier than those made of thinner and (probably) flimsier materials and I suppose the weight being a problem would depend on one's strength and packing style.

But I'm curious what you mean by "'organization' factors?"

I don't have any connection to the firm other than being a customer, but that part of your comment was not inherently clear to me and I was wondering if you could explain it in a bit more detail.

Posted by
1306 posts

Sammy,
Organization usually refers to the design. Things like size, where the pockets are, where the zippers are, shape of bag and pocket options, layout, handles, etc..

Posted by
5298 posts

Yes. I took it to meant too many pockets, dividers, etc. And I agree. They help organize stuff, but take up useful space as well.

Posted by
85 posts

avirosemail, thanks for pointing out JANDD! It's so funny; I've owned some of their bike accessories (not bags) for years, but I'd never thought of them as a luggage supplier. Sure enough, they have travel items, too.

Posted by
2366 posts

When I worry about workers in dire financial straits, my impulse is to stop buying from the brands and retailers that exploit them.

Well, that will certainly help them now won’t it?

Posted by
81 posts

I'll go against the grain here. I typically buy the cheapest bag with spinner wheels. I refuse to spend a lot of money on an item that gets thrown around and is generally abused in airports. We travel a lot (pre-covid) and have bought maybe 6 different suitcases in the last 15 years.

Posted by
1597 posts

Yep. Tom Bihn had way too much "forced organization' for me. I felt like in their rush to "be creative' with packing "help" they actually made it harder to pack and quickly find things.

Posted by
189 posts

I love all of my Tom Bihn purchases. Their grocery bag is amazing. And since that’s the only place I’ll be traveling for a while. . .

https://www.tombihn.com/products/monster-truck

They have a great catch all that I bring with me any time I’m away from home you can put it on the dresser and put everything from earrings to cell phones in it so you are hunting around when it’s time to pack up https://www.tombihn.com/products/travel-tray

Posted by
15 posts

I love Tom Bihn. When I traveled to Seattle on business, I frequently visited the Tom Bihn factory. It was great to see quality products being "Made in America". I'm more than willing to pay more for American made products rather than cheap products from Asia. Tom Bihn also seems to treat their employees with kindness. They, in turn, treat their customers well. Their customer service is 5-star. It was helpful to try different items, see the colors in person, and always bought more than I intended!

Posted by
337 posts

Stan - Happy to see you mentioning Cotopaxi! They're a great company. While most all their items are made overseas, it's deliberately so - they're a certified B corp, and a key part of their businesses is being committed to environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes, good labor practices, fair wages, and so on. Portion of every sale goes to community development and fighting poverty in the developing world. Every item listing on their website comes with information about the factory where it's made, and links to a more detailed section of the site that tells you about that factory, processes involved, labor practices, and more. They have a foundation that gives out grants to select non profits, and also community development programs in areas where factories are located (for things like clean water programs, anti malaria programs, educational programs). They also make it a point to hire refugees at their facilities in the US.

(The only reason I know the above is I actually was childhood friends with the founder. We grew up as expat kids in Ecuador and were in the Boy Scouts and went to school together. Cotopaxi is the name of the volcano and national park we often camped at, and the school we attended! Funny enough I only noticed a few months back on the company's "About Us" page is a picture of us and others in our old scout troop on one of our Andean camping trips)

Great company, great products. I don't have any big luggage pieces from them but do have a backpack and messenger bag and other things like hats, jackets, and love them all. They're not so much a luggage company - more of an outdoor and adventure gear company a la Patagonia/North Face. But if you're in the market for backpacks, jackets, fleeces, sweaters, etc, highly recommend them.

I can also recommend Timbuk2 for luggage. Have a couple smaller items from them that I like (weekend bag, backpack). Made in the Bay Area, CA, I believe.

Has anyone here tried Away or Arlo Skye? I've been eyeballing a Tom Bihn Aeronaut, but keep going back and forth between one of those and some hardsided spinner luggage from either Away or Arlo Skye instead. In no rush as I'm not traveling anywhere anytime soon but perhaps when it starts to look like travel is more likely again...

Posted by
24193 posts

As I said upstream, I don't buy luggage any more so my comments are worth what you pay for them. I see how important working conditions are for you, Brian, so I'm surprised that you are considering Away after the long discussions here on the RS Forums about how badly they treat their staff.

Posted by
337 posts

I actually hadn’t seen any of those discussions, Nigel, so thanks for mentioning them! A little google search and reading through some articles real quick makes Away sound... well... less than perfect! Goodness.

Posted by
24193 posts

thanks, WorldTraveler, so it is like a yoyo. She left, but not left, back, now left again, but again not really left. hmmmm

Posted by
337 posts

For someone who was the CEO of a luggage company, she sure wasn’t good at knowing when to...
...
...
... pack her bags.

Posted by
1306 posts

I checked out JANDDMOUNTAINEERING and have purchased a few RedOxx items in the past.

JandD does not have much in terms of carry-on flight bags. Most of their bags are super heavy duty outdoor bags for bicycling. Also, as a woman - I would need to try on their packs first. The straps look like they are built for men's chests, not women's anatomy. JandD bags have dimensions that are either too big or too small for carry-on luggage.

RedOxx has its pro.s and con.s. If anyone wants a review of RedOxx - just let me know. I have a few of their products and can review them for you.