An elevator convo with An Chieh Chiang, Managing Director of luggage brand LOJEL . See here for more from our Next Up series.
What do you do?
I am the Managing Director of LOJEL. I am also the third generation of this family-owned business. LOJEL started as a premium luggage manufacturer and has been catering to travelers’ needs for over 30 years. Our name is an acronym for “Let Our Journey Enrich Life” and as it suggests, we create products for journeys. We believe that inner journeys matter as much as outer ones and that personal growth is just as important as collecting memories. We balance leisure with learning and connection in travel and talk honestly about the challenges travelers face, and aim to design products to solve them.
How does your business work?
Technical excellence is core to the LOJEL brand. We design all products with an “inside out” approach. This means grounding everything we do in research and innovation, understanding the experience of packing and mobility, and finding intelligent, design-forward solutions that stand the test of time.
Every bag goes through rigorous quality control to ensure each component can withstand the demands of travel. Our process constantly evolves and we involve our community to help us consider every product from a diverse range of angles. We recognize that even with the best intentions and processes, the demands and reality of travel can expose shortcomings. Our team is constantly at work to observe these changes and continually improve.
We are currently in 15 countries, which gives us an advantage over other newly-established luggage brands when it comes to global warranty service. We’re also very conscious about our impact on the environment. Recycling isn’t enough – we need to make products that last longer. In an effort to increase the functional life of our products, we developed our “Design for Repair” initiative and made it a core value of our brand. “Design for Repair” gives consumers the tools to quickly and easily repair their luggage themselves.
How did your business get started?
When my grandfather was 21, he began working in the luggage industry with a simple sewing machine; he made leather bags which he sold at markets. He developed an international vision through his extensive travels, at one point gathering a staggering forty-three passport stamps over a hundred and eighty days.
He was looking for travel experiences where he could learn something new, and this ultimately formed the foundation of the LOJEL brand promise – Let Our Journeys Enrich Life. He then founded LOJEL in Japan in 1989 when he saw an opportunity to start his own luggage brand; Japan was the world’s second-largest economy at the time and a country whose artisans faithfully make their crafts while devoting themselves to enhancing their skills.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are usually those who are conscious about how they travel. We don’t want to just provide protection for the belongings, we also want to enhance their experiences throughout their journeys. It’s not the demographics that define our customers but how they share common values with the brand.
What’s a day in your working life like?
I currently live with my wife and two kids in Hong Kong so I usually wake up when my kids do (they always wake up early!). I start my day with some light exercise, then go straight to the office – I usually skip breakfast.
Because of the time-zone difference, often I start the day by getting in touch with our colleagues in Vancouver. Then, I will run through emails and deal with urgent messages. At one point, I was traveling as much as once every two weeks, but since expanding our team, I’ve been more selective about that and where I contribute my time.
I also personally visit our suppliers and partners across the world. This is something that cannot be replaced by digital tools. Woking in a travel brand, you don’t get inspired by just sitting in the office. The day I was in Mexico visiting our business partner, drinking Mezcal, and eating crickets still feels like yesterday!
Now, I focus on bigger initiatives, such as how we need to continue to evolve to be relevant to our audience and this world, or how sustainable we can become as a company. It’s also my duty to create an environment where our people are able to unleash their potential and creativity. This is how I measure my own success.
Where do you see your business in the future?
We are not able to predict the future, but we are also not a company that is burdened by our own histories or heritage. If we are going to be challenged and disrupted, it’s better that this comes from ourselves. Our own existence has always defined why the world needs us in the first place. So, whatever we do, we shall not forget our mission, which is to anticipate the needs of tomorrow’s world’s travelers and deliver experiences that define modern travel. In the future, we might even offer on-demand service as a subscription model!