Growing up at the edge of the woods in an old farmhouse that their parents had renovated themselves, Markus and Daniel Freitag began spending a lot of time in their own workshop already at a young age. They scoured the local dump for treasures and then breathed new life into them. They built rafts and soapbox cars by sharing not only considerable manual dexterity, but also countless ideas. After their initial professional training – one brother as a scenery designer, the other as a graphic designer – the young men found themselves spending gray, rainy days in the kitchen of their student digs looking out over the city's cold industrial zone and at the numerous trucks that thundered over the transit route outside their window.
Whether this tale is part of the brand's lore, or whether it actually relates the true source of the inspiration for the sought-after waterproof bags is beside the point. What becomes abundantly clear is that the brand FREITAG and its founders developed at the same pace. Markus and Daniel morphed from designers into entrepreneurs, made their brand popular beyond the Helvetian borders and imbued the initially chaotic student project with an organized structure.
Neither of us function according to conventional patterns. And the FREITAG brand is the same. It doesn't really fit in well anywhere, either. Which is definitely good.
With the opening of flagship stores in New York and Tokyo and the relocation of operations into a much larger production hall, a new chapter of the FREITAG story is now being written. "Over the years, we have learned that we tend to grow with the size of our location, so we're confident that we will somehow grow into the new site, too," Daniel says. The constant transformation that running an enterprise like FREITAG brings doesn't cause Markus any sleepless nights, either. "We've gained some insight over the years and have used it to postulate a theory: Designers are the Better Entrepreneurs." It goes without saying that Markus and Daniel intend to live up to this. Though not without a little outside help: for the past 10 years they have employed a CEO, currently Monika Walser who recently joined the company. "This is the business model we believe in," Markus states and adds:
When you are working with a brand, you absolutely need a Creative Director in the upper echelons.
The new location conveys a strong and visible statement to the public about the way the brand is developing. Although, naturally, the trademark values will remain unchanged: sustainability, environmental consciousness, functionality and individuality. These are all ethical standards that anticipated the ecological awareness boom and led FREITAG to success.
We only talk about things once we've achieved them, and we avoid losing ourselves in visionary plans. But, what we will certainly hold on to are the values that FREITAG stands for.
"Every single thing that was ever an essential component of FREITAG became a fashionable topic at some point. Individuality was one of them. Then the "used look" was all the rage. After that, even cars wanted to be green – and we were all those things, right from the start."
Whatever the next revival will be, I am sure FREITAG will have one or two responses ready to react to the sign of the times.
The method of production has also remained constant, even if the product range has grown over the years and their new "Reference Collection" is, at least visually, striking out in a new direction. For any one of the projects, the first step is always hoisting the truck tarps onto a big table where the eyelets and rivets are removed and the unwieldy sheets are cut into more manageable pieces. These are then washed in gigantic, loudly humming washing machines. After that, the clean pieces of tarp are laid out and sorted according to pattern, color and thickness, and then rolled up. In the next step, "bag designers" use templates to cut out exact parts that are then sewn together into bags. As each tarp has a different imprint, no two bags ever look alike. The final product is photographed, and the picture is put on the package to make it ready for the online-shop.
Both brothers are drawn to an elegance of style that only comes into its own over the passage of time. This reverence for processes is not only mirrored in their products, but also in their lifestyle. While Markus lives in a 400-year-old house on a lake, Daniel currently practices "urban camping" as he jokingly calls it. He lives in an old carpenter's workshop that is at least one-and-a-half centuries old. He offsets the rustic charm with pared-down furnishings designed in Japan.
And, since 1998, when they traveled to Japan for the first time, Markus and Daniel have had a passion for Japanese design.
I like the tongue-in-cheek quality Japanese design often has. It’s wonderful when you can afford to introduce a certain playfulness into an object.
Further points in favor of Japanese style are the high quality and the timelessness of the aesthetics. In their enthusiasm, the bros (as they are always referred to in-house) interrupt each other without the usual Swiss diplomacy of announcing that they are about to cut in. While Markus continues to enthuse about blue Makita cordless screwdrivers, Daniel starts explaining the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi.
I'm fascinated by products that need to acquire a certain patina before actually being considered finished. Japanese design manages to combine this philosophy with aesthetics that are none the less precise and exacting.
Although in Japan and New York their label is being bandied about as a trendy new insider's tip, the home market is already a few paces further. Here, the big run on the bags is over. Whether this is simply because nearly everybody has one at home, or because the current fashion dictates something else is not relevant. Markus and Daniel don't seem to be very concerned.
We have been declared passé so often, we've learnt how to deal with it. And, fortunately, we don't depend on people who proclaim that you're "in" or "out".
Discovering Markus and Daniel Freitag's personal imperfections takes longer than this interview lasts. A crooked tooth or a missed spot while shaving doesn't count – that actually seems to have the opposite effect with these two. Both wear blue shirts and have haircuts that look totally natural, yet are somehow too perfect to really be a product of hazard. And they speak with a cheerful, yet studied eloquence that makes you wish for an app in technical terminology. (Cue: re-contextualization of the yogurt cup). In a way they seem almost too good to be true – but it is an organic sort of goodness with an edge to it. They are perfectly staged, yet entirely authentic. Upon leaving, we once again hear the orchestral booming of the washing machines that somehow evoke Leonard Cohen's anthem: «There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.»
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The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group