While some may think it antithetical to have a travel company with its roots in sustainability, Indré Rockefeller and Andy Krantz, cofounders of the sustainable luggage brand Paravel, set out to do just that in 2016.
“When we launched Paravel, it really was about a product that was timeless, that was resilient, meant to last a long time, and that had really high quality. Products that you could use and pass down with just sort of a little spot cleaner repair,” Rockefeller told WWD, emphasizing that time tested, natural materials were always a crucial part of the brand’s ethos.
The brand launched with around 10 products — many of which are still available today — that were broad in their definition of travel.
“Our goal when we set out to build Paravel was really to reimagine travel,” she continued. “And in the beginning, that really started with thinking through what our definition of travel is. So many of the traditional sort of travel goods and products were built around this idea of getting you from point A to point B in sort of a utilitarian fashion. We asked ourselves, ‘what does travel mean to us?’ And we decided that it’s not just the idea of going somewhere, it’s also a state of mind. And it doesn’t have to be long-haul travel, it doesn’t have to be an airport experience. To be moving with your curiosity was really something that could show up in many different ways. It could be a picnic in the park; it could be trying out a new restaurant; it can be your commute into work.”
Yet while creating pieces meant to last and be bequeathed is a noble first step toward ameliorating the consumption crisis, the brand’s relationship with sustainability meaningfully evolved in its first few years in existence.
“We were working on sustainable material innovation and it was something that we had been working on in the background for a number of years, in terms of thinking about how we can continue to push the envelope on what sustainability means,” said the entrepreneur. “And in 2018, I had a chance to go on a polar expedition with The Nature Conservancy. I spent two weeks in Antarctica and that experience reframed my relationship with the urgency of this climate crisis. It was really a pivotal moment for me personally, but also for the brand. When I docked back in Argentina, after I got cell service for the first time in two weeks, my first call was to Andy, my cofounder, and we had a conversation around how there isn’t time for us to continue keeping sustainability in the background as we tried to find these perfect materials or these alternatives.”
Rockefeller acknowledged that one can allow perfection to become the enemy of good.
“That was the moment that sustainability went from something we were working on in the background and a priority to the priority, and the lens through which we viewed the business. We could have spent years looking for the right sustainable materials and waiting to feel like we were ready to share our results. Instead we reframed it as, ‘Let’s just be open about it. Let’s have this conversation as we go. Let’s be transparent. And let’s take our community along with us.’”
Rockefeller describes this inflection point as freeing, saying that: “It felt [initially] like what right did we have to speak to this if it didn’t feel like everything was in place? But ultimately it was not only liberating to be able to acknowledge what we’re working on and where our shortcomings were, but we were holding ourselves there by asking our community to hold us accountable and that created a different dynamic.”
So what do these efforts look like for Paravel, as the company tries to differentiate itself within an industry that is suddenly seeing businesses large and small push sustainability to the forefront?
“We continue to push the boundaries of material [research and development] and what we can replace with sustainable materials. Sometimes it’s about taking a product that our customers and community love and continuing to change it to be more and more sustainable. Other times it’s building something from the ground up using sustainable materials and using a materials-first approach,” Rockefeller said, reflecting further on her time in the arctic.
“The one big difference that we’ve had in our product offering since the beginning is that we did not launch with wheeled luggage at the outset. That was something that we introduced later. That was the product that we were working on when I went on this polar expedition to Antarctica. After that conversation, we decided to completely scrap the wheeled luggage prototype that we had, which was probably about 80 percent of the way there in terms of completion, and start from scratch. We said, ‘OK, there are elements here that are using sustainable materials that we feel good about, but have we pushed as far as we can push? Have we gone back three, four times to our suppliers, saying, no, we don’t want virgin aluminum, we want recycled aluminum — even if we were told no the first time?’ So we completely scrapped that prototype and started from scratch. Our Aviator [suitcase], which launched at the end of 2019, ended up being this hallmark product that stood for a lot of the work we’ve been doing in sustainability — everything down to the recycled zippers and the lining made from recycled plastic water bottles, recycled polycarbonate, recycled aluminum.”
But certainly the work isn’t done there?
“There are a number of sustainability initiatives that are in place that we will continue doing,” Rockefeller emphasized. “A lot of that is focused on making sure that we’re measuring, reducing and offsetting our carbon footprint. That’s ongoing work that will continue to evolve over time, and push on those boundaries. Because that’s important, as is material science and material innovation and making sure we’re always at the cutting edge of what material sustainability can look like. And going from recycled materials to sort of bio- or plant-based materials; looking at the carbon footprint of various opportunities; looking at science innovation.”
In line with this, Rockefeller has taken a major step toward keeping the brand, and herself, moving forward. The Stanford MBA, who has had stints at Vogue, ModeWalk, Moda Operandi and Delpozo, joined Columbia Climate School’s first class in the fall of 2021.
“It’s not the most common path when you’re in a fast-growing company and a founder of one — when things start moving fast to just sort of stop and go to school,” she conceded. “Columbia Climate School opened their inaugural cohort this September and I have had such an amazing opportunity to test and push myself, but also to get a deeper understanding of an issue that I have been following and self-educating on for a long time, to sort of get an uncomfortable understanding of this issue. There are so many classes that I’ve taken that have just reframed how I think about my role personally, professionally. It’s been a really wonderful experience for me to push myself and then be able to bring that back to the Paravel team.”
Paravel, named one of the Top 10 World’s Most Innovative Companies (Social Good) by Fast Company, has offset 16,853 tonnes of CO2 and has upcycled 4.7 million plastic water bottles to date, but its founder is quick to note that this is just a start.
“Our work is never done. You never get a green checkmark next to a collection or an initiative or product and say, ‘I’m done.’ We should all be constantly pushing on the boundaries. It’s really having that 360-degree view on what all the opportunities are that we can create to recognize our footprint — and that means being intentional about measuring it — and then not just offsetting it, but also reducing it and being intentional about that.”
But while the materials are key, environmental progress, like nearly everything, also hinges strongly on the human element, Rockefeller said. “We have a code of social responsibility — thinking about how people who work on the product are treated and who we are partnering with. And how can we inspire and share with our community? If you look at every single vertical from that perspective, there are opportunities for every company to think through not just creating product and putting onus on the customer to buy it, but taking responsibility as a company for our own footprint and working to have a net positive impact.”
Paravel’s offering is available on their e-commerce, as well as wholesale partners including Net-a-porter and Matchesfashion, and prices range from $425 for the Aviator Grand suitcase to $25 for a luggage tag.