The designer with eyes (and ears) on the future of travel

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The travel plans of others – whether recounted in exhaustive detail or over-exposed in real time on Instagram – have become a kind of contemporary social kryptonite. For the team behind July, however, they’re nothing short of a superpower.

In the wake of a global pandemic that brought the travel industry and its constituent businesses to a standstill, consumers have become, well, a little bit flighty. Many Australians have embraced the concept of ‘revenge travel’ by seeking out longer trips to far-flung destinations in staunch refusal of the stasis wrought by the last few years (even in the face of global economic uncertainty). Further, the rise of remote work has given rise to a new generation of travellers — digital nomads whose pursuit of a work-life balance has come at the expense of hours once lost to the daily commute.
These evolving trends and the opportunities entailed haven’t gone unnoticed by July, the Melbourne-based travel lifestyle brand named after the month when many escape to the northern hemisphere for warmer climes. After weathering an almost devastating period of instability, the brand has positioned itself as a local leader poised to take on the world without losing sight, or the stories, of its customers.
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“That feeling when you travel, when you start thinking about ‘what do I need?’ all begins with a suitcase or a bag that - that’s where that journey begins”, says Alan Kirszner, Head of Product Design and Innovation at July. “We've seen evidence [of these shifting behaviours] through the type of product that we were selling the most: the largest checked bags that we can offer. People wanted more room to pack more. That’s people behaving that way out of that necessity to break through their pandemic feelings.”
As an industrial designer with experience spanning fields as diverse as FMCG, architecture and apparel, Kirszner emphasises attention to detail as a fundamental principle guiding his approach to product development. He seeks simplicity and minimal aesthetics, stripping away unnecessary visual noise to enhance functionality - a tendency he says has been second nature since his youth, raised under the guidance of architect parents. Effortless details, meticulously crafted, form the backbone of the design ethos he shares with the brand — an expression of their mutual commitment to excellence. Success, then, would appear to be design you don’t see at all, but rather feel instead.

“It's all about how you feel when you are using these products and that brings [it] back to the qualities of the wheels, the qualities of the handle. So many people don’t even consider what it actually feels like to push or drag luggage up and down the airport for an hour or two. It's all about that hidden detail.”

Kirszner, an Argentinian who now calls Australia home, recognises the country's love for travel and exploration as something integral not only to July's identity as a brand but also the customer experience it provides. Australians expect quality, friendly service, and a relatable experience from the brands they engage with, he says — a sentiment July has wholeheartedly embraced with mutual benefit.
“Being direct to the consumer, we can actually interact and find out a little bit about these behaviours directly from the consumers as well,” says Kirszner, citing one of the company’s most voluble, and reliable, sources of market research: direct conversation with everyone who comes into their stores. By delving deep into customers’ travel itineraries and gripes alike, Kirszner and the July are able to “cater for quite specific needs of the traveller” when developing new products.
Though innovation is always at the heart of Kirszner’s mission, new opportunities often begin with those universal friction points that arise during transit. For example, a detachable pocket design for carry-on luggage allows easy access to personal belongings during security checks and in-flight, streamlining the experience of scouring for one’s laptop in a pinch. Another – the introduction of ultralight carry-on suitcases weighing a mere 1.8 kilograms – showcases July's commitment to pushing material boundaries while maintaining strength and functionality. Such advancements not only meet customer needs, says Kirszner, but also contribute incrementally to a reduction in one’s carbon footprint as an always welcome secondary benefit.
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In recent months, July’s own travel plans have increased in scope and ambition. The brand has opened stores in Sydney’s The Galeries and Bondi Junction to complement a striking new flagship in Melbourne’s QV, one designed to evoke nostalgia through its internal architecture. A partnership with luxury retailer Lane Crawford has seen July expand its retail footprint across China and Hong Kong, with brick-and-mortar on the cards for the United Kingdom later this year too.
Kirszner says stores like the QV flagship are carefully designed to evoke the anticipation and excitement of travel, laying the groundwork for an emotional connection with customers from the moment they step inside. It's not merely about transactions, he says; it's about building a community around the brand who’ll always want to hear as much about the highlights of holiday as they will your mild misadventures.
July will feature on-site at the Semi Permanent Sydney Festival of Creativity & Design, which will take place on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd June 2023 at Carriageworks. Visit their installation for the chance to win $1,000 worth of luggage along with an exclusive offer of free personalisation and packing cells for Semi Permanent attendees.
Images supplied courtesy of July/Shelley Horan