New DTC toolkit   //   February 29, 2024

Inside Calpak’s road to its brand-new baby gear collection

Since DTC travel bag brand Calpak launched its line of puffy Luka duffel bags in 2019, the team realized that people were using it for more than vacationing. Many customers used it as a diaper bag, taking advantage of its nine pockets and shoe compartment to organize the clutter of kid gear like diapers, bottles and messy clothes.

That inspired the team to work on its first-ever baby gear collection in its 30-year history, which goes on sale online on Thursday.

“We didn’t need to recreate a whole new baby bag,” said senior marketing director Sounun Tek of the development behind the collection. “There was this insight that people were already using our bags for babies … so how do we now lean more into what the current marketplace looks like? How do we make what people loved about the Luka, and make it even more baby-parent specific?”

The six-piece collection of bags and totes is made from recycled materials and looks similar to the Luka. Styles include a large durable tote, a mini backpack and a crossbody that can attach to the back of a stroller. Beyond the fabric and color, the products have subtle features that are functional for taking care of kids, like a pocket for dispensing baby wipes, waterproof lining to handle messes and magnetic closures for fast access. Some also come with laptop or tablet sleeves.

“The category expansion is very thoughtful, and there’s nothing rushed about anything,” Tek said. “There’s just a lot of thinking that goes into it.”

Calpak has been around for more than three decades, but has popped off in popularity under the leadership of president Jennifer Kwon, the daughter of founders Edward and Judy Kwon, who joined the company in 2013 with the goal of helping modernize the brand. The company had previously focused on a core set of luggage, offering around a dozen products in 2016. But by last summer it had around 545 different SKUs after adding on more collections, colorways and travel accessories. And while Calpak still sells traditional luggage, those products make up about 30% of product sales. Last year, the company saw 53% customer growth and sold roughly 60,000 items. In addition to its DTC channels, Calpak sells select products in some retailers like Nordstrom, though the baby collection will primarily be on its own site to start.

The baby gear launch follows multiple viral hits, including the Luka line, a water bottle sling and makeup travel cases. But the Calpak team took its time in branching out. Tek said the baby line has been in the works for over two years to ensure it carried the signature Calpak style while still meeting the needs of people who are on the go with small children. That process included multiple designs, testing it out with staff members and then rolling out bags to select customers to get some feedback before opening up a waitlist on the site.

To help road test Calpak’s new line of baby gear, Tek said he took the products to Disneyland with his wife and two kids under four. “I stand by it from all different perspectives and levels,” Tek said.

Mary Ann O’Brien, founder and CEO of branding and marketing OBI Creative, said that new collections are ways for brands like Calpak to acquire new customers. Not only does baby get them into a new market opportunity, but it could also help manage the seasonability with travelorelated products, O’Brien said.

But getting there mindfully — and without sacrificing the brand or aesthetic — is key to their potential success, O’Brien said. An item like a baby bag could be easily over-engineered with too many pockets or compartments, or difficult zippers and closures.

“They are intentional, they have a method and an approach that they are sticking to and some brand tenants to hold firm on,” she said. “That’s the way to keep the value of your brand.”

Ahead of the launch, Calpak tested it out by opening up a few sales to its “Very Important Travelers” loyalty group. Once assured of demand, Calpak put it on its website where a waitlist garnered interest from more than 7,000 shoppers. And in the days ahead of the launch, Calpak teased the collection on social to broad acclaim, with one Facebook commenter noting “FINALLY.”

Moving forward, Tek said, Calpak will run a multi-channel marketing campaign including paid and organic social, as well as beginning to experiment with connected TV. Calpak could partner with baby-focused retailers for collaborations or sales channels. While he wouldn’t confirm which parents or retailers those are, he said other companies have already reached out about the collection.

The hope is that the new line will catch the eyes of busy parents looking for more stylish accessories. “There’s that parent’s sacrifice, ‘I’m going sacrifice my own aesthetic and style, because this bag has what I need,” Tek said. “There’s so much that [parents] are already juggling and trying to manage, like, let’s not have the bag be an issue.”