SDBI Circle of Friends / 30. July 2013
Daniel and Markus Freitag on their involvement in the European Fashion Award FASH, their beginning as students, and what an award can do for you.
When you were students, you designed a weatherproof bag for yourselves, which is still in production today. There are plenty of students with a good concept, but it is rare that it turns into a 160-employee company. How did Freitag become a brand?
Markus Freitag: Our second ever bag had “Freitag” (Friday) printed on it. But we did not become a brand until someone copied us. In 1997 the swiss supermarket chain Migros launched a “Donnerstag” (Thursday) bag and caused a dispute in the media. At the time we had only two part time workers. This copy more or less turned us into an original.
Daniel Freitag: It became strikingly clear that our bag is a synonym for a certain generation and lifestyle. Another milestone was our flagship store here in Zurich, which we built in 2006 from 19 used freight containers. We designed it with the same mentality as our bags. I was certain that there are values we could also apply to other areas.
How important is it to you to work as a team? In the fashion sector groups of two often have a lot of success, such as the brothers Dean and Dan Caten of Dsquared, Albert and Peter Kriemler of Akris or couples at labels like Escada and Prada or Yves Saint Laurent.
Daniel Freitag: Thanks to the dialogue and working as partners decisions gain a different level of quality. When it comes to design questions, where there is no right or wrong, reciprocal validation lets you progress faster, become more daring, but also helps you to slow down, when one is too enamored of an idea.
Markus Freitag: Because of the existing personal relationship I can immerse myself more deeply and directly into the process than I would be able to if it were purely a business partner or colleague. The pain threshold simply is higher; maybe, when two work together you get a little more passionate. From day one, I’ve been able to deal with Daniel on a level that I, to this day, don’t even apply to our longtime coworkers.
Why did you get involved in a competition for the next generation of fashion designers?
Markus Freitag: In our company, we’ve become increasingly aware of how important it is to find good young newcomers. We are interested in the conceptual process at the European Fashion Award FASH. It is important and exciting for us to maintain this contact and to put out our feelers. In return, we may be able to offer some of our experience.
Daniel Freitag: Freitag offers individuality and at the same time affiliation to a brand identity; after all, fashion lies right between these two poles. Despite working as product designers, we are very closely connected to fashion: the Freitag bag has an effect on many outfits, and is sold in a lot of fashion stores. In Italy, for example, it is offered next to brands like Gucci and Prada. Our bags have also been awarded as “Milestone of Urban Fashion”.
We are different from the fashion industry mainly due to the seasonal cycle, but a lot of what happens at Freitag applies to fashion and vice versa: a search for quality, individuality, the question of production locations. We consistently strive to find good answers.
Markus Freitag: At the first Bread & Butter Show in Cologne in 2001 we presented unwashed Freitag bags matching the grunge look: After all, we received a number of awards ourselves in the last 20 years, and benefited from them. We are now giving back a little bit of that success and at the same time get to meet young new talents. A cycle is coming to completion, and we love cycles at Freitag.
There are many newcomer awards for young fashion designers. Why is Freitag supporting the European Fashion Award FASH?
Markus Freitag: SDBI has its roots in history. And there is a demand for quality, embodied by its director that I can identify with very well. We share the goal of the award to become more important and more established. Last but not least, the SDBI’s network is very interesting, which I was able to experience during a visit to Munich in January.
Daniel Freitag: There is a conceptual proximity to Freitag. Observing fashion on the various markets, I see a variety of interpretations. SDBI not only searches for attractive looks, but also looks at the concept behind the design. This demand, combined with an international character, is shared by us. The European Fashion Award FASH is neither a local project nor a faceless, global scheme. We would not agree with either. The work of our designers lies between fashion and industrial design, communication and architecture. FASH puts a spotlight on identity, encourages interdisciplinary work. It fits perfectly. This is why we want to encourage the young designers and their talents. The award is truly designed to benefit the students. Companies don’t get to take the credit for their creativity. All this matches the Freitag principle of sustainable action.
What do you hope for?
Markus Freitag: This type of involvement is a mutual give and take. I am looking forward to the young talents and their perspective from the outside. We also believe that the winner who will end up working as an intern with us will be able to gain a lot from our experience.
Daniel Freitag: Of course, there have to be structures when you are working with over 160 people. Therefore I consciously create space for creative processes. I am hoping that we will get a certain fresh breeze from the newcomer and enjoy joint creative work, like at a university. We grow by close to 15 percent per year, so we need additional good people.
One of the goals of the award is to motivate the universities and students. What type of designer is Freitag looking for in the future?
Markus Freitag: Talents, who think and act with a holistic approach. Designers, who consider the brand environment beyond the product: product, manufacturing, history. Add to this a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit.
During the presentation of the Swiss Award in the Economy category you said: “We not only want to inspire established designers, but also experienced entrepreneurs.” Why?
Daniel Freitag: When the creative segment meets the reality of commerce an area of friction is created. We realized that both are needed: the business management perspective as well as the search for core content. The key value of creativity has to be at the center of the business, this is what creates the individual character of a brand.
In an interview, Rolf Fehlbaum, owner of Vitra said to me: “I am responsible for the difference. I can provide the part where the company is different than others. And my colleagues are better in the areas where the company is similar: technology, organization, marketing.” You, as designers and owners, subscribed to a similar concept, by hiring a general manager. How much of a model could this become for other companies?
Markus Freitag: We are happy that we as designers are able to hire managers, instead of the other way around, which is more common. However, the management needs to be much more open to dialogue and not adhere to the typical corporate thinking. It is not easy to find people like that.
Daniel Freitag: Many companies consider design as decorative styling. Our experience has shown that there is great potential in integrating strategic design management into the business processes.
You have received a lot of fame and glory with more than 20 awards. Is it a blessing or a curse?
Daniel Freitag: You can consider it a blessing for Freitag, and I am very pleased with these endorsements. On the flipside we both are our own biggest critics. We are two brothers who constantly question each other. This ensures that despite all the awards we can still figure out what we want to do next and where the largest potential is.
As experienced award winners: what benefits are there to be had as a winner at the European Fashion Award FASH?
Markus Freitag: Credibility!! This prize is not awarded because someone can sell him- or herself well, but because the project has substance. The decision is not made according to one person’s taste and not ad-hoc after a show, but a jury of experts evaluates the projects for two days and discusses from a number of perspectives who will be selected as the best. Therefore this award has substance and is a seal of quality; lastly because it takes personal initiative to enter the competition.
The award winners will experience a strong sense of motivation, leave anonymity behind, can use it to their advantage in job applications, and new doors will open for them – even maybe the opportunity for mentoring. We want to try to contribute our part, as we did last year at a Portfolio workshop.
Daniel Freitag: Such an award boosts your courage and makes you more aware of your capabilities. Self-esteem is important in our profession and in these tough times. You reflect and pause: is there an essence I want to carry on? What is my personality, my signature? Without this award there is a danger that you reinvent yourself from collection to collection.
How important is glamour to you?
Markus Freitag: We have been approached about this, but I don’t need to mix and mingle. We ride across the red carpet on our bikes to get past as quickly as possible. Besides, as Swiss nationals the bling-bling factor really isn’t in our blood.
Daniel Freitag: I don’t have anything against a glamorous appearance, it is part of it all, but the question remains: is there more? It is difficult to find the real depth and substance of these kinds of events.
Thank you very much!
Freitag: Recycled Individual Products for Urban People
Since 1993 Freitag has been producing bags and accessories from used truck tarpaulins. Each tarpaulin has its own story, varying level of use and wear, resulting in an individual appearance. The bags are cut by hand in Zurich, and feature a distinctive look depending on the color, lettering and the design of the tarpaulin used. In 2003 the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) integrated the first bag, the F13 Top Cat, in its permanent exhibition. The Design Museum Zurich even dedicated an exhibition to Freitag as a model for the creative industries.
These days the company has 160 employees who produce 400,000 products per year, sold in 450 stores in 25 countries, ten proprietary F-Stores as well as online. Freitag grows by 15 percent each year, which made it necessary to move to new company headquarters, only a few minutes by commuter train from the central train station and airport. The NOERD building implemented by Freitag features a cafeteria where the staff also meets employees from other creative businesses.
Freitag also designed its process of product development. In addition to the perfect project management it is necessary to sound out the commercial and creative interests. Freitag works sustainably and cyclically. The brand’s vision is “We believe in the next life of things. That’s why we think and act in cycles – and cycle“. This credo is also the guideline for the expansion as well as the development of the brand towards new business areas.
Freitag has been a member of the SDBI Circle of Friends since 2013.
Interview: Joachim Schirrmacher
Photos: Oliver Hischier/SDBI