The Hong Kong–based company’s CEO and Managing Partner tells us how Covid-19 has changed the game for airline amenity kits while driving a greater commitment to sustainability.
Formia has created bespoke amenity kits for more than 50 international airlines. Are there any broad differences you’ve noticed between products made for Asian carriers and those in the West?
Airline amenity kits are meant to be packages of delight for customers, making their hours in the sky relaxing and invigorating. A good-quality, well-designed, and thoughtfully curated amenity kit can create a memorable experience for the traveler that will last beyond the flight. At Formia, we bring together airlines with a diverse range of brand partners to curate amenity bags with indulgent skincare products and an integrated connection with the brand post-journey.
We do take into account the difference in regional trends and customer desire when designing an amenity kit. Working alongside the carrier, we look into the specific needs and values of the travelers in order to make sure we design an amenity kit that appeals to them personally. For instance, we launched Japan Airlines’ long-haul business-class amenity kits with Paris-based fashion, music, and café brand Maison Kitsuné, whose founders are Japanese and French. A unique concept, developed with the Japanese business-class traveler in mind, it combines heritage and modernity to create a sleek Paris-meets-Tokyo kit, blending culture and comfort.
Can you tell us a little about the process of determining which essentials go into each kit? Is that decided largely by the client?
At Formia, we aim to enhance the customer experience, by providing travelers with responsibly curated products to create meaningful moments in the sky and beyond. Our approach to design starts with intensive research aligning the brand with the airline client, taking into consideration regional and demographic trends, with sustainability and wellness in mind. We work closely with individual airlines as well as brands and are experts in interpreting the brands’ DNA to design amenity kits that are tailored to the airlines’ passengers’ values, based on consumer research. We have moved beyond just supplying products to curating memorable experiences, considering different passenger behaviors through conscious designs and meaningful brand partnerships, while also taking into account evolving market and environmental influences.
Over the years, we have collaborated with a vast range of airlines and inspiring brands.
A highlight was designing the amenity kits for Singapore Airlines’ first-class suites with French luxury brand Lalique. These bespoke kits were designed with reusability in mind and can double up as a charming jewelry box or a case for carrying travel essentials. Inside, passengers were treated to a retail-size, gifting concept of an Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, or a scented candle and a variety of high-end cosmetics. This was part of a wider collection that included luxurious Lalique sleepwear and washroom cosmetics.
Another example is the set of exclusive kits created for EVA Air’s business class with luxury Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo. The two kits include a smart, textured faux-leather bag and a sleek hardcase inspired by Ferragamo’s trolley collections — the first time the hardcase concept has been adopted by a luxury brand onboard. With delicate embossed patterns inspired by Taiwanese Aborigines, the unique bags tastefully integrate the airline’s cultural roots with modern luxury. Each bag contains a selection of sumptuous Ferragamo skincare products and feature Ferragamo’s iconic Gancino zip pull, complete with a highly covetable detachable branded key chain.
For China Airlines’ business class and premium economy class, we developed a range of innovative travel kits in collaboration with lifestyle brand The North Face. With durability and multi-use in mind, the bags can be reused as a toiletry bag, on hiking trips or for cosmetics and stationery. Amongst the treats inside are the exclusive Moroccan hair oil — coveted in the Taiwanese market — and lip and sleeping masks by renowned Korean skincare brand Laneige, all of which ensure China Airlines passengers arrive at their destination looking their best.
Many airlines responded to the spread of Covid-19 by removing high-touch items like magazines, menu cards, and in some cases pillows and blankets. Were amenity kits also a casualty in the first few months of the outbreak?
Very quickly, at the onset of the pandemic last year, our clients’ expectations changed immediately. We launched a Clean Kit range with quality PPE, sanitizer products, and innovative high-performance textile concepts to support the health, safety, and wellbeing of inflight passengers. This pivot ensured that amenity kits continue to still remain very much an integral part of the passenger’s travel journey and we are able to support airlines in providing a safe and comfortable inflight experience for every customer.
How has Formia adapted to these current circumstances? What initiatives or new projects have you launched since the start of the pandemic?
Since April last year, we have continuously evolved the Clean Kit range to offer more choice in both products and concepts. We also expanded our brand portfolio with considered additions in wellness, as well as sanitizing experts Raze and Zoono, lifestyle brand Smiley, and natural skincare brand Thann. Underpinning the Clean Kit range, we have used sustainable packaging and material solutions such as washable kraft paper and recycled PET.
Furthermore, Formia has developed an innovative textiles solution with certified performance technology for its masks, snoods, and sleepwear range. This is all part of our drive to develop 360-degree wellness concepts that will not only support the health and wellbeing of passengers but extend beyond the travel journey.
Airline customers we have supplied Clean Kits to include Qatar Airways, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines.
Despite the ongoing circumstances, we have seen interest and progressed with opportunities from industries outside of the aviation space, not only for our Clean Kit range, but also for Gift-With-Purchase and promotional offerings in retail, where we work directly with brands to create high perceived-value products.
There are worries about the environmental cost of staying safe, particularly when it comes to disposable masks and gloves and single-use plastics. How is Formia reducing waste and becoming a more eco-conscious company?
As an eco-conscious company, Formia is now on an accelerated and highly focused path to sustainability. We have recently launched a newly charted sustainable strategy, with the help of leading sustainability consultancy GlobeScan. Ultimately, our aim is to develop considered solutions for amenities through conscious design, responsible production, and meaningful partnerships, to ensure Formia’s product portfolio is beneficial for its communities and mindful of our planet.
The first initiative we introduced as part of this strategy was to immediately convert production of all airline amenity kit socks and eye masks to be made from 100 percent recycled PET materials, which will result in significant waste savings. Based on 2019 volumes, it will save 1,500 tons of plastic waste, which corresponds to 79 million plastic bottles, from going into landfill each year.
The second was the introduction of new corporate social responsibility programs in both local and international communities, to support our drive to make ongoing positive contributions to both the environment and the communities in which we operate.
Some carriers are going contactless, not just at check-in but also on board. For instance, Qatar Airways will soon allow passengers onboard its Airbus A350s to access IFE via their own personal devices. Do you think that trend will reduce the appetite for “traditional” amenities?
Although there will be a rise in contactless technology within the travel and hospitality industries, we believe there will always be an expectation from consumers for a certain element of pampering, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, and that health and hygiene will be must-haves in addition to a great experience. Therefore, amenity kits will remain, yet will transition and evolve towards a hybrid concept where the product will become more thoughtful, integrated, and experience-led.
Formia will lead this charge by developing amenities that are enablers, which build comfort and wellness during the passenger journey, whilst providing a continued connection to the airline and brand post-journey. Our aim is to remain dedicated to developing responsible, tailored offerings with high perceived value, which create meaningful moments for passengers throughout the journey and beyond.
Aside from the acceleration of contactless technology, what other changes will leave their mark on air travel in the long term?
Travel in the “new normal” will be different. Health safety and flight safety will go hand in hand. More contactless technology will mean less direct human interactions, both on the ground and inflight. This opens the opportunities for driving efficiencies along the passenger journey, including personalization through pre-booking, as an example. Although we will see this increase in contactless touchpoints and consequently less human engagement, we believe we will see overall levels of care demonstrated by airlines increase, and the amenity kit is an integral part of this added care.
The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred us to re-evaluate and adapt to meet new passenger needs and desires. We believe that the future of air travel and amenity kits will be less focused on the product itself and more about the overall travel experience. For instance, for amenity kits, consumers will be more interested in after-trip usage, collectability, and forming extended connections with the brand. We believe that the more valuable the kits are for the consumers, the more successful those kits will be. As people choose to either gift the premium kits or reuse them in their day-to-day lives, this results in less disposal and waste for the planet, ultimately creating real added value.
Do you have a prediction about the state of air travel one year from now? Which markets or regions will recover first?
Although the travel and aviation industries may take a while to recover, we believe there is appetite for travel that will slowly start to pick up again as bans are lifted, and travel is deemed safer. Corporate travel is more likely to pick up before leisure travel as is short-haul before longer haul travel.
We’re already seeing an emerging trend of travel bubbles and health passports, and although it’s difficult to say which regions will recover first, we believe that whichever countries are taking a bold and proactive approach to vaccination will naturally be steps ahead of others.
As we look to the future, we are optimistic that passenger numbers will pick up towards the last quarter of the year, and are looking forward to further opening of the skies.
What do you think a post-pandemic amenity kit will look like? In your view, will it be a matter of years before PPE is no longer a requirement?
In a post-pandemic world, we believe that the amenity kit will continue to require the extra precautions that we have added into our Clean Kit range for years to come. Items such as hand sanitizer and even face masks will remain a necessary addition in order to protect passengers, not only to maintain the health and wellbeing of travelers, but also for peace of mind when traveling for leisure or business. Amenity kits will continue to delight and pamper the passenger, and deliver more meaning and purpose with well-designed and thoughtfully curated products and concepts that are both experience- and function-led.
Added to this, consumers will demand ever more accountability from companies for sustainable solutions, and Formia will continue to strive for positive change, starting with responsibility in our supply chain through to meaningful initiatives such as upcycling and reusability to ultimately drive circularity.