June 18 2024  |  Industry News

Heys' expansion in travel retail

By Hibah Noor


Heys Founder and CEO Emran Sheikh: “From our humble beginnings, our growth into a global travel brand has been fueled by a clear vision, strategic planning and an unwavering commitment to our core values”


Heys has developed from a small family-run business into a global brand, known for its eye-catching, innovative travel products. The company’s Founder and CEO Emran Sheikh talks with Global Travel Retail Magazine, highlighting the brand’s strategy in travel retail, its focus on Gen Z travelers and its dedication to innovation.

Global Travel Retail Magazine (GTR Magazine): Established in 1986 in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, as a small family-run business, Heys has grown from a home-based business into a global travel brand, synonymous with creative travel products. Please tell us about the brand’s development and its expansion strategy.

Emran Sheikh (Sheikh): Heys has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings, driven by our unwavering commitment to three core values: innovation, quality, and customer satisfaction.

From the outset, we have focused on creating unique and stylish travel products. Our dedication to design and innovation has allowed us to stand out in a crowded market. Milestones like the introduction of the xCase in 2003, the world's lightest luggage, and our Smart Luggage in 2018, the world's first phone-connected luggage, have set trends and established Heys as a leader in the travel industry. Additionally, our fashion-forward designs, such as the Fashion Spinners, continue to set us apart.

Ensuring our products are built to last has always been a cornerstone of our brand. We continually invest in research and development to utilize the best materials and latest technologies. For example, Duraflex, which can withstand impact forces of up to 2,000 kg as tested in Canadian certified labs, ensures our customers receive products that are not only beautiful but also durable and reliable.

We maintain a customer-centric approach. In an era where genuine customer service is increasingly rare, we pride ourselves on going above and beyond to deliver exceptional experiences. We strive to exceed customer expectations, creating lifelong customers and fostering positive word-of-mouth in the social media world. This customer-centric approach has helped us build a loyal global customer base.

Our expansion strategy involves entering new markets through a combination of direct sales, e-commerce and partnerships with international retailers. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, we now have offices and distribution centers in Chicago (USA), Germany (EU), Seoul (South Korea), and Melbourne (Australia). We are also excited to be launching in China and the UK later this year.

From our humble beginnings, our growth into a global travel brand has been fueled by a clear vision, strategic planning and an unwavering commitment to our core values.


Heys has expanded into a larger distribution facility


GTR Magazine: Where are Heys products already listed in the duty free/travel retail channel? What new markets are you targeting and why?

Sheikh: Heys products are currently available in the duty-free markets of Canada, Austria, Spain, India, Panama and the Philippines. We are excited to announce that Heys will soon be available in duty free retail in Germany, China, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. These markets have been strategically targeted due to their status as growing travel hubs, which align perfectly with our existing global distribution network.

While Heys caters to a diverse demographic, we are particularly focused on targeting Gen Z travelers.

Gen Z values innovation, sustainability and style, elements that are central to our product offerings. From our visually stunning Astro collection, which has garnered over 7 million views on TikTok, to our technologically advanced Smart Luggage and eco-friendly materials, we design with the Gen Z market in mind. By continuously adapting to emerging trends and preferences, Heys remains a relevant and preferred choice for younger travelers. Unlike more established brands with a conservative, older customer base, Heys attracts a younger, more fashion-forward clientele.

Heys’ Vantage Smart Access System is available in Slate Blue and Black


GTR Magazine: Heys has always been a forward-thinking company, launching the xCase, billed as the world’s lightest carry-on in 2003, years before baggage fees were even thought of. How important is innovation in the world of luggage and what are we likely to see in the future?

Sheikh: Innovation is everything to us, which is why we hold over 50 global patents. In a highly competitive industry with low barriers to entry and numerous new and established brands vying for market share, innovation is what sets us apart. While new brands focus on social marketing and established brands concentrate on market share, we innovate with the agility of a startup, coupled with the unique ability to distribute globally.

Although I can't divulge our latest innovations until they are patented, I can share that at the forefront are new opening systems, materials with unique properties and the integration of advanced technology into our cases.


Smart Luggage exemplify Heys' dedication to innovation and enhancing the travel experience


GTR Magazine: Tell us about the Smart Access Opening system and Smart Luggage.

Sheikh: The Smart Access Opening System and Smart Luggage exemplify Heys' dedication to innovation and enhancing the travel experience.

Globally patented in 2014, the Smart Access Opening System is designed to provide travelers with unparalleled convenience. Traditional hardside luggage typically opens in the middle like a clamshell, making it cumbersome to access and pack. In contrast, the Smart Access system allows the luggage to open from the front, providing easy access and enabling packing into a single deep cavity. Additionally, it retains the option to open in the middle, giving travelers the flexibility to choose the opening system that best suits their needs.

Heys Smart Luggage represents the evolution of modern travel, seamlessly integrating technology to enhance convenience and security. Connected via our Heys app, it offers three smart features:

  • Built-in Digital Scales to avoid overweight baggage fees. Simply lift the handle to see the weight of your bag displayed on your phone, ensuring you stay within airline weight limits.
  • Bluetooth TSA Lock allows you to wirelessly lock or unlock your Smart Luggage via the app. The lock lights up red when securely locked and blue when unlocked, providing visual confirmation.
  • Proximity Alerts via your phone if your luggage moves out of a predefined range, helping to prevent loss or theft.

All these smart features are powered by AAA batteries, making them completely safe for travel under IATA rules for all airlines. By using standard alkaline batteries instead of lithium, we ensure that our luggage is not only convenient but also adheres to travel regulations, providing peace of mind and ease of use.

These innovations reflect Heys' commitment to enhancing the travel experience, combining functionality, style, and cutting-edge technology.


The Smart Access Opening System is designed to provide travelers with unparalleled convenience


GTR Magazine: What role does sustainability play in the brand’s plans for the future?

Sheikh: Sustainability has always played a key role for Heys, particularly in our approach to innovation. In 2006 – well before sustainability became a widespread social trend – we were pioneers in introducing hardshell luggage made from recycled plastic. Our EcoCase, crafted from recycled parts of automobiles, fridges, and other post-consumer products, set a new industry standard and trend.

Now in its fifth generation, the EcoCase product line continues to evolve, featuring enhanced durability, lightweight properties, and cost efficiency. Our unwavering commitment to sustainability drives us to continually improve and expand our eco-friendly offerings, such as our Ecotex Packing Cubes and Xero Softside Luggage, both made from 100% recycled water bottles. Through these efforts, we ensure that our products remain both innovative and environmentally responsible.

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