Athan Didaskalou from July Luggage: Reinventing The Wheel – LIVE | #231

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Special live episode where Athan shares the unique July story

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Nathan Bush is a director at eCommerce talent agency, eSuite. He has led eCommerce for businesses with revenue $100m+ and has been recognised as one of Australia’s Top 50 People in eCommerce four years in a row. You can contact Nathan on LinkedIn, Twitter or via email.

A leading regular commentator on consumer trends, business strategy and innovation, Athan Didaskalou is an Australian entrepreneur and the co-founder of direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand July. With a background in brand strategy, Athan co-founded July in early 2019 with Richard Li to create a brand that people have affinity with at every consumer touchpoint. Launching with a single luggage product, the Carry-On, the brand has since grown to include a multitude of travel accessories and launched in the USA in 2021.

Athan is also the ex-founder of Australia’s largest online specialty coffee retailer, Thieves Coffee. Founded in 2013 with the mission to help more people discover Australian artisan coffee roasters, Thieves now delivers coffee experiences to over 70,000 people globally each month. Athan developed deep expertise in business strategy, brand development and innovation through roles at global advertising agency Ogilvy as Strategy Director.

You can contact Athan at LinkedIn

This episode of Add to Cart was our very first LIVE event. Brought to you by Convert Digital, we held an event for 150 of the best retailers and minds in eCommerce at Brisbane’s beautiful Howard Smith Wharves.  And the best part is, if you couldn’t make it, we recorded it so you can hear it today.  Nathan was lucky enough to be joined by Athan Didaskalou the co-founder of July, a luggage brand re-inventing the wheel and more to create lightweight, beautiful and practical cases that are ruffling the feathers of industry leaders like Samsonite.  Launching in 2019,  the brand was soon catapulted into a 90% loss of revenue due to the pandemic, but bounced back with revenue now reaching ten times higher than pre-COVID figures.  Regularly seen on the arms of personalities like Chrissy Teigen, Celeste Barber and Apple Martin and as the official luggage partner of the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, the Australian brand continues to grow.  During our live chat, Athan shares his unique organic PR tips, predictions around experiential retail and a portable way to stay connected the team at July are working on.  Plus, Athan answers questions from our live audience.

“Whose feathers can we ruffle in this category that’s been around for hundreds of years?

Athan Didaskalou

Re-invent the wheel

“How do you change something when suitcases is quite a generic category? We didn’t have much money back then, we did the most free research that we could do, reading free reviews online.  The issues that we found were that all the edges would get pressed in, so corners and sides would get pressed in from luggage handlers treating things poorly.  So we were like ok why don’t we make it rounder so you get better bounce back? This little thing that holds the wheel is the thing that dictates the shape of the case.  Most people end up getting these things off the shelf because it’s not worth the investment, it’s a crazy expensive thing to change for something that nobody would care about.  

So we had to make a judgement call.  We had to spend around $75,000, that was the first investment, we’d just started the business and we had to spend $75 grand re-moulding these (wheel housings).  And we were like, is anybody going to care, will anybody really give a shit if we change these wheel housings or not to get the curvier case that we wanted?  We did it obviously…and I think that set the tone for the type of business that July was going to be, that we were going to commit to doing things a little bit differently.”

Ruffling Feathers

“That’s what we like to do, whenever we try to make product, we’re like, who can we annoy the most?  Whose feathers can we ruffle in this category that’s been around for 100s of years?  The idea that we could do a suitcase with a pocket that came off would annoy the establishment, mainly Samsonite.  They might buy us one day, which is great, so Samsonite if you’re listening, everything for a price!  We know the Samsonite CEO in Australia very well, he does get annoyed when I say things like this.  

For us, we know Samsonite trades on light and strong, so we go, well why don’t we try to beat them on that, so we made the world’s lightest double wheel carry on, it’s 1.8kg, ultra light and it feels like a real suitcase.”

What’s your DNA?

“There’s always travel DNA in what we do.  People talk about their brands being lifestyle brands and all these sorts of things.  For sure, everyone wants to elevate to the next step of what their brand can be.  I definitely feel like there needs to be purpose though and sometimes you can over generalise what the brand can be.  

I like seeing July and knowing that we are specifically travel-focused.  What is travel anyway? Travel can be anything at the end of the day, but there’s always features and components and narrative around the travel.”

Questions answered in this episode include
  • How did July bounce back from a 90% drop in revenue?
  • How do you scale culture within a brand?
  • What will July do next?

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