superchat zurich: daniel freitag

© freitag / photography: lukas wassmann - daniel and markus freitag clad in f-abric garments

the day started early. in fact, a little too early for our usual morning routine. but with an intriguing revelation scheduled later that day in zurich, we willingly headed to the airport to catch a plane across the snowy alps. the invite came from freitag, the brand of adamant eco principles and a growing collection of cult bags made from recycled truck tarp. the arrival at the company’s impressive production facility couldn’t have been more friendly. greeted as longtime friends, we were ushered into a lofty hall where amidst towering steel shelves laden with production materials an inviting setting had been created where lunch was served.

fully compatible with the company’s vision, the delicacies on offer weren’t just tasty but also a culinary extrapolation of its principles, featuring an abundance of organic produce on which all attendees feasted. daniel and markus freitag, the fraternal duo behind the brand, joined in, wearing soft green overalls and helmets, and performing some sort of recycling act. things got even jolly when they tossed in left-over food and empty wooden plates in the noisy shredder. it wasn’t until much later that everyone realized they had in fact seen a glimpse of the big revelation.

after an interesting tour of the purpose-built, sustainable premises, revealing various stages of freitag's production and design, the real deal became evident by way of a presentation by the two brothers and a few members of their staff. low-key and larded with witty visuals and anecdotes they passionately spoke of a new drive called f-abric, a new and independently developed, yes indeed, fabric. entirely made from vegetable fibres and produced in europe with a minimal use of resources, hardware, it’s also entirely biodegradable. these so-called bast fibres are native to europe and are sourced from france, belgium and the netherlands.

compared to common textiles, the various production stages for f-abric take place within a radius of 2,500 km [1,600 miles] from freitag’s headquarters in zurich and also contribute to a modest carbon footprint. on top of that flax and hemp cultivation doesn’t require the use of pesticides. obviously, this effort took a lot of research, but the two brothers and their team pulled it off. after five years of prepping and tweaking they’ve launched three innovative fabrics - a broken twill, a jersey and a herringbone - and a capsule men’s and women’s collection that'll drop in stores coming november.

the use of rivets has been avoided, and instead freitag patented a clever metal button which can be unscrewed and reapplied to a new garment. the clothing line has a classic cut, and because the brothers oppose the fast and volatile fashion cycles, the look can be best described as simple and timeless. also included in the collection are two bags, both made from the new materials. right after the presentation all invitees went on a bike tour across town towards the freitag flagship store. the towering structure consists of stacked containers, and it was hard to resist climbing up and check out the sweeping city views. from there it was a short stroll to rosso, a cozy neighbourhood restaurant, where a sumptuous dinner was served. and just before we could tuck into the first course, we had the opportunity to sit down with daniel freitag for a little chat.

© freitag / photography: lukas wassmann - daniel and markus show off a piece of f-abric

these days recycling is part of a modern way of life, and freitag’s business concept fits right in. did you set up the company with that in mind? my father is a pr professional and my mother is a social worker, maybe our focus has been influenced by our parents and their respective jobs. you know, doing something good for society and spread the word. switzerland has historically been quite forward in terms of recycling, and has therefore always been a part of our childhood. but from entrepreneurial point of view sustainability was never the top priority. first and foremost i’ve always wanted to make a product that’s functional. secondly, it should look good, and in third place there’s the sustainability factor. all are equally important, but i prefer people buying our bags because of how cool they look and not the other way around.

the world has increasingly 'fashionized'. it looks as if freitag as a brand has not been unaffected by this either, given the recent release of fashion-inspired bags. how do you maintain a balance between the original core values of the brand and this influence of fashion? we need to figure that out. it’s quite incredible that a bag that we designed 20 years ago is still one of our best-sellers, and that seems impossible in the fashion business. so, with freitag it’s more about product design, and from that perspective we deal with new shapes and models. we don’t follow trends but instead solve problems, so to speak. in the textile business the fashion influence is much stronger, but then again we really wonder if making multiple collections a year is the way fashion brands should operate. does it really need to be like that? it all seems so overheated. our clothes should be combined with stuff the customer already owns and loves, and we just would like to contribute to a person’s individual style by providing good elements.

when looking back in time, what would you consider the highlights of your career so far? i’m proud of not having diluted our brand philosophy in any way and also of being very consistent with our concept of using recycled truck tarp. i’m also very, very proud of having such a great team. it’s essential to have good people around you if you’d like to grow and expand. mind you, we have a staff of around 150 people, making us very small player. but i have the feeling that each and every one of them are part of the freitag culture and feel proud to work there. for me it's still a challenge to bring these people together, make them connect, interact and have them benefit from each other.

freitag has always been associated with a creative, quirky, and perhaps also slightly subversive, global community. how do you stay connected with your customer? well, humour is very important, but it’s difficult to capture in marketing because it’s such a personal thing. since this is our very own company, we’re able to manage this element ourselves in a way we’re comfortable with and we always try to apply humour in certain aspects, such as the way we communicate in social media. the message that you read between the lines or that you see in the details is important and we are very much aware of it. our following has grown in a very organic way.

your stores look pretty awesome. how do you go about opening and picking a location for a new freitag store? it’s not some sort of strategy but happens through organic growth. we now have ten stores and each one has some sort of story. our first store in davos opened there because our grandparents live there and we love visiting the city in winter. the store in the high-end ginza area of tokyo opened because we simply didn't have stockists in that area of town. we just went for it out of, yet again, a gut feeling.

© freitag / photography: oliver nanzig - decomposed f-abric pants