Away, the direct-to-consumer luggage brand beloved by celebrities and influencers, appointed current COO of Lululemon Stuart Haselden as its new chief executive officer, a spokesperson for the company confirmed to Adweek.
Haselden may be seen as a calming force coming in to lead the brand, which has been at the center of a deluge of negative press after The Verge published an explosive article about Away’s company culture on Dec. 5, with a particular focus on the actions of Away CEO and co-founder Steph Korey.
The article described a tense and at times toxic atmosphere with demands for employees to work 12-hour-plus workdays as well as on holidays and weekends, Slack channels that berated individual employees in a public forum and restrictions on when employees could take paid time off if performance was not met. The article included several leaked messages from Away’s internal Slack channels, including many from Korey herself.
In a statement to CNBC, Korey apologized for her behavior the day after The Verge’s story was published. “I am sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it,” she said. “It was wrong, plain and simple.”
As Haselden steps into the CEO role, Korey will be moving into the position of executive chairman and will remain on the company’s board of directors. Korey’s co-founder Jen Rubio will remain in her current position as president and chief brand officer.
Haselden, a retail veteran who has held top roles at Lululemon (where he’s spent the past five years), Saks and J.Crew, where he served as CFO, is a fitting new choice to lead the brand.
“Stuart’s impressive track record in strategically scaling retail businesses and teams offers invaluable expertise as Away enters its next phase of growth,” Korey said in a statement. “I believe Stuart’s leadership, supported by other key executives who have joined Away this year, will have an enormous impact on our business, community and culture, and we look forward to learning from his depth of experience.”
Away has been something of a DTC darling, known for its hard-shell suitcases that include a battery to charge your phone. The brand, founded in 2015, was valued at $1.4 billion in May and announced it had raised $100 million in a Series D investment led by Wellington Management Company. It managed to overcome a major hurdle when the rules around including operational lithium-ion batteries in luggage changed, a move that knocked many of its competitors down as they were able to provide replacement removable batteries for consumers.
The company told The Wall Street Journal that they had been searching for a new CEO since spring 2019, implying that the timing of Korey’s departure is coincidental.
“In just under four years, Jen and Steph have built an exciting and disruptive brand that has redefined how people look at travel. When they first approached me about joining, not only was I overwhelmed by the impressive company that Away is today, but also the huge potential that lies ahead,” said Haselden. “I’m thrilled to join them in leading the team at this critical stage of the company’s growth and to help usher in an era of continued success based on strong leadership and culture.”
Haselden will start in the role at Away on Jan. 13, a spokesperson for the company said.