The CEO of Caraa on fashion and business

Aaron Luo started in finance before founding the luxe sport bag company.

When Aaron Luo wants to get to know someone, he has a simple trick. “I just take a look at what bag they’re carrying,” says the co-founder and CEO of Caraa, a New York City-based sport bag and accessory company. “I think a bag says a lot about the personality of the person. Are you active? Do you work out? Do you travel? Do you like to stay organized? I think the bag can tell it all.”

Indeed, before Luo and his co-founder, designer Carmen Chen Wu, launched Caraa in 2015, they conducted market research by people-watching at the juice bar at Equinox in Soho. “We wanted to understand why people brought so many bags—a gym bag, a handbag, a work bag—and then we wanted to create a solution so people could start carrying just one well-made, stylish and functional bag.”

The result was Caraa’s Studio Bag collection, designed to transition between all of life’s activities—changing straps converts it from a satchel to a backpack to a cross-body bag. Subsequent women’s collections followed and this month, Caraa is launching a men’s bag collection, sold exclusively at select Equinox locations. “We received thousands of emails from men telling us they had the same issues women did—having to carry around super-heavy bags or multiple ones that weren’t functional,” says Luo.

Here, Luo talks about starting Caraa from scratch, which trends are emerging in the world of bags, and his favorite workout.

You worked in finance before you started Caraa. What inspired you to launch a handbag company?

My family has been doing handbag manufacturing for more than 20 years in Europe and Asia so I did have some fashion industry background. And then I teamed up with Carmen Chen Wu, who has designed for brands like Ralph Lauren, Alexander Wang, and Marchesa. We both knew handbags and we thought there was really something missing in the handbag market. That’s what gave us the idea to launch Caraa.

What was missing?

We just thought the bag market was getting a little stale. Yes, there are some brands doing some interesting things in terms of aesthetic, but the functionality was really lagging. We wanted to create something for the millennial woman who can use one bag to transition from work to the gym to a date or whatever. Take our Studio Bag. On the outside, it looks like a satchel but when you start using it, you can wear it three different ways: cross-body, satchel, or backpack. We infused the lining with silver particles to make it moisture repellant so if you throw your yoga pants in after a workout, it doesn’t stink and accumulate mold. Carmen jokes that our bags are for the inner OCD in you because they have so many different pockets to keep you organized.

What trends do you see emerging in the bag world?

Smaller, more functional bags with more strategic pockets. Also, embellishments such as metal studs, pearls, and even gems are traditionally used on luxury handbags, or on couture dresses in luxury fashion. We are one of the first to bring it to high-end sportswear while keeping the bags functional versus just looking good. I think a few other brands are starting to test it out as well.

What gear do you pack in your bag?

I am using one of our brand-new men’s duffles. I try to work out every day and I do a bunch of different sports, but I am really into Muay Thai kickboxing. So I carry around head gear, gloves, shin guards, and clothes on top of my laptop and water.

Anything inside your bag that’s surprising?

I carry a tub of Clorox disinfectant wipes. Maybe it’s because Muay Thai is a contact sport and sweat is always flying around but when I’m done, I like to clean my gear. I’m also a little bit of a germ freak so I like to wipe things down as often as I can.

Do you have any great advice for launching your own brand or venture?

Whatever you’re launching, make sure you believe in it. Don’t just start a brand because you see an opportunity or there is money to be made. Brands who start from a mission and have a personal story behind them are a lot more relatable and a lot more sustainable long-term. Also, always lead with the product. If you lead with storytelling, when the storytelling stops and the product doesn’t hold up, it doesn’t work. Finally, make sure you have a solid budget.

How can you handle hurdles?

When you launch a business, the first few months or even year can be dark. You can never be too careful when it comes to ensuring the supply chain is done correctly. Know that you will probably struggle with building your community and getting your name out there in the beginning stages. You have to be patient.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Find the right people and create the right team. A lot of people say their most expensive mistake was not finding the right people or not letting the wrong people go quickly enough. For me, finding the right co-founder in Carmen was everything. So if you find the right people to grow your business together, the sky’s the limit.

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