These Artist Collaborations Are Redefining Travel Gear

Travel products are becoming roving canvases for artists

Designers Tia Adeola, Ji Won Choi, and Sandy Liang posing on a New York rooftop with bags they designed

Courtesy of Away

We’re dedicating our November features to arts and culture. With cultural institutions around the world in full swing, we’ve never been more excited to explore the world’s beautiful librariesnewest museums, and exciting exhibitions. Read on for inspiring stories on the artist collaborations that are redefining travel gear, the complicated relationship between cities and spontaneous arthow the world’s most historic sites maintain their beauty, and an interview with mixed media artist Guy Stanley Philoche.

The worlds of travel and art have long been intertwined. Acclaimed galleries are among the world’s top attractions, and beautiful destinations have inspired many of the masterpieces inside those galleries. Now, thanks to new collaborations between brands and creative visionaries, it’s not only possible to travel for art—but also with it. From suitcases with illustrator-designed prints to graphic hiking boots that make a statement with every step, more companies are tapping artists to design travel gear that makes an impact, and not just visually. Many of these companies use creator partnerships to support community initiatives, highlight diverse voices, and encourage a more thoughtful and sustainable approach to consumerism. After all, this isn’t the type of gear you would throw away after a few trips. More than ever, the interest in conscious travel extends to the luggage, apparel, and accessories that accompany us on adventures.

The Revival of the Cool Weekender

Direct-to-consumer luggage brand Away has had a cult following ever since its sleek and spacious carry-on disrupted the suitcase scene in 2016. Now, the company is giving a post-pandemic update to its bags suited to short getaways, train journeys, and road trips. This fall, the brand announced the launch of its first designer collaboration series, an annual program that tasks emerging fashion designers with reimagining three of the brand's core travel products: the Large Everywhere Bag, Front Pocket Backpack, and Travel Pouch Set. For the inaugural collection launched in October, Away enlisted New York City-based designers Sandy Liang, Tia Adeola, and Ji Won Choi.

Nigerian-born designer Tia Adeola's tweed and ruffled textiles pull from her interest in art history. At the same time, Seoul-born Ji Won Choi's bags feature her signature vibrant color-blocking and white piping. The resulting three collections deliver a bold punch without sacrificing the practical details Away's bags are famous for including their clever internal organization systems with zipper and slip pockets.

"I was excited to take some of Away's products that lend themselves to more regional and domestic travel and outfit them with a bold print that is colorful and loud, but on the Away products, looks more like a floral camo," said Liang, who was inspired by the energy of Canal Street when designing her bags.

Away the Weekender Bag in blue color block with white piping

Courtesy of Away

Away wasn’t the only brand to give their weekender bags a fresh interpretation. Outdoor apparel and gear brand Fjällräven has teamed up with Swedish illustrators Linn Fritz and Moa Hoff to provide the Kånken—a square-shaped backpack first launched by Fjällräven in the 1970s—with an artistic update. The functional school bag has since eclipsed its humble roots, even earning a craft designation in 2017 by the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design. To celebrate its legacy, Fjällräven’s Kånken Art initiative invites Swedish artists to share their connection to the iconic bag and the outdoors by designing an exclusive collection that gives back to nature. For example, Hoff brought her memories of trekking through Northern Sweden with her father and school ski trips to life through a print inspired by Scandinavia’s birch trees, while Fritz created a pattern to raise awareness about ocean plastic. More than just a visual love letter to nature, every piece sold contributes to Fjällräven’s Arctic Fox Initiative, which supports environmental projects such as The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and The 2 Minute Foundation which creates awareness around ocean plastics.

Humans are just as biodiverse and creative and can come together in solidarity for the greater good in the same way nature does every day.

Outdoor Gear to Spark Change

According to recent National Park Service data, 77 percent of visitors to the 419 national parks are white, even though people of color make up nearly half of the U.S. population. With studies like this exposing the lack of access and representation in the outdoors community, more travel brands are doing their part to close the gap.

Last year, Merrell tapped artist Latasha Dunston to create gear that promotes diversity in the outdoor world. Aptly titled "Outdoors for All," the capsule includes a range of men's and women's footwear, as well as apparel and accessories, including a graphic tee and tote bag. To further show their commitment, Merrell is donating 25 percent of the proceeds to Vibe Tribe Adventures, which encourages Black women, men, and youth to explore the outdoors.

Merrell Nova 2 Sneaker with a black, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple gradient colorway

Courtesy of Merrell

The collection stars are undoubtedly the Antora 2 and Nova 2 trail running styles, which were given a vibrant revamp while still retaining beloved features like the removable EVA insoles, protective rock plates, rebound EVA foam midsoles, and Vibram TC5+ rubber outsoles. Dunston, who also creates murals and illustrations and hosts outdoor painting workshops, drew inspiration from her time spent in nature. "I believe humans are just as biodiverse and creative and can come together in solidarity for the greater good in the same way nature does every day," she said in a press release. "That is where the solidarity fist with the different colored nature elements came from. It is also a design that manifested out of necessity."

Outdoor gear titan The North Face is also exploring how collaborations can bring new perspectives to their existing products. When reinvigorating its classic Search and Rescue line this fall, The North Face teamed up with New York-based artist and LGBTQ+ activist Shantell Martin to explore deeper themes of intersectionality and identity. The result is a hiking gear collection, including a wind jacket, hoodies, sweats, duffel bags, sneakers, sherpa fleece, and ripstop wind pants featuring Martin's signature black-and-white drawings. The release was accompanied by a short film about Martin's creative process and a mural at Truman's Brewery on Brick Lane in London that gives access to an exclusive AR experience centered around themes of identity and self-expression.

Close up embroidery detail

Courtesy of Arc'teryx

Mission-Driven Events

To support local artists and community initiatives—plus give old clothing new life—Arc'teryx launched its Artist Series to invite select artists worldwide to create wearable works of art from classic Arc'teryx jackets, pants, shorts, and bags. Each Artist Series event takes place at one of the brand's stores and results in a small collection of repurposed items, with the proceeds going toward a community initiative of the artist's choosing.

At Arc'teryx's Soho store, Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Shaun Crawford created a capsule of tie-dye gear that benefited the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. In Calgary, Piikani Nation member, artist, and competitive pow-wow dancer Karli Crowshoe of The Chief's Daughter hand-beaded 16 Arc'teryx jackets and totes to help single mothers of Indigenous pursue post-secondary education. And at the Picadilly location in London, upcycling mastermind James Tailor of Greater Goods created one-of-a-kind pieces out of unrepairable Arc'teryx items to benefit Flock Together, a grassroots organization that works to break down stereotypes by bringing together people of color to birdwatch.

As in-person events make their triumphant return, RIMOWA is making its presence known as the world's art fairs. In recent years, the luxury luggage brand has made an effort to champion artists' work while paying homage to the aviation-inspired aluminum cases it first released in the 1930s. In past years, the brand has commissioned Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to design a collection of 46 suitcase stickers inspired by rocks and lava, with the proceeds going toward helping the Little Sun Foundation deliver solar energy to the most vulnerable communities around the world.

In 2019, they tapped Los Angeles-based artist Alex Israel to create a limited-edition collection of cases in hues that draw inspiration from the water-colored skies of the West Coast, as well as matching wheels, luggage tags, and stickers. The launch took place at Frieze Los Angeles, allowing guests to climb into a gigantic piece of luggage to preview Israel's designs. This fall, the brand will take its events one step further with "As Seen By," an exhibition that gave a diverse group of artists, designers, and creative studios old raw materials (think grooved aluminum sheet and spare parts) to create large-scale sculptures. Following its launch at 3537, a space by Dover Street Market in Paris's Le Marais, the exhibition will tour the world (including a stop at Art Basel Miami) before concluding in Berlin in 2022—giving travel and art lovers one more reason to book a city escape.

Article Sources
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  1. ABC News. "America's national parks face existential crisis over race." July 1, 2020.