Soon a three-piece numbered limited edition of unisex bags and accessories will be released. How important are limited edition capsule collections for Freitag? Will you launch more ones in the future?
We have always developed products according to a design company approach as we still have in our collection the first model we produced since day one. Even if we are received as a fashion brand we have more a product design approach.
When we started, our company was not meant to become a brand or a business, though we have been able to deliver a different kind of luxury good. We started this company by chance as we needed a bike messenger bag, but we couldn’t get in Switzerland. So we just did it ourselves.
We have always operated like this: whenever some product was needed, we designed, developed and produced enough pieces in order to be never out of stock.
Though we are noticing that markets can be different and some may prefer certain models than others. In Japan, for instance, some love the colorful approach, in Switzerland there is more love for a single color and now we might start focusing more on editions of special styles or color editions. For this, we might start offering packages of products just like furniture companies, which focus on producing the next classic that won’t last just for one season. It is still our own philosophy, but for special occasions, we are considering we might be changing the approach.
What are your main markets?
Switzerland is still very strong and accounts for around 40% also thanks to some strong stores, like our flagship store (the container store) in Zurich. Though not every bag that sold in Zurich ends up in Switzerland. Somehow our bags are also perceived as souvenirs, like Swiss knives or chocolate and cheese. Freitag stands for a new philosophy and a new approach to Swiss design. We have a lot of tourists coming to our flagship stores and buying our bags.
Though each market has a different perception of the brand. In Asia, for instance, individuality is a main success factor for us. By wearing our bags many people in Japan or Korea feel that they can express their own individuality. Differently in Switzerland consumers appreciate the idea of sustainability. In Italy that kind of consciousness is growing. Though in France, Italy and cities like Paris and Milan, even if we are not perceived as an alternative to a classic luxury brand, we are considered as a quality, highly-positioned product. I think we have been able to deliver a different kind of luxury good.
And what about other countries?
Italy and Germany will come next. Japan is our first Asian market and a lot of Asian countries are actually looking at what is happening there. Seoul, Bangkok, Singapore... they are all very active markets. We have many fans in each of those cities and each have created their own online communities with own hashtags. Being a fan of something is a very Asian thing. This is not so typical for European and Western consumers if you are older than 20 and you are committed to be a big fan of something. For Asian people, even if you are in your 50s, they are ok saying they are fans of anything – if it’s a rock band or Issey Miyake or Freitag, it doesn’t matter. And that’s why we see a lot happening there and it is also nice for us to respond to this....
What is sustainability?
It is very complex as many aspects are implied in it. We started following a recycling approach that is proving valid. But every business field should start to re-think its approach and ask itself questions such as “Can you deliver a product that can be repaired?” or “How can you share products in order to harm nature less?” Sometimes, rather than coming up with products, focusing on service can be better. We are recognized for accessories, but we wanted to find some alternative to our recycled truck mono-material offer. For us our new F-abric project – compostable textiles from European hemp and linen - lead us toward a very natural way to step away from our own single material direction.
Though we are not trying to make a fashion collection at all. For us it is better offering a decent piece of apparel which in our perspective can be as sustainable as possible.
I was also a bit frustrated when our apparel pieces were tested among others ecological denims. We have not been classified as best because the system they used to evaluate us gives the highest rating to those using bio cotton, instead we use linen and hemp. Linen, for instance, is grown according to seven year cycles in those years when fields are supposed to relax because it does not leach the soil at all. On top, as linen is grown in Europe, it is better to use a European fiber rather than using bio-cotton coming from far away. A sustainable approach is complex and can always improve but it can often face difficulties.
Are consumers ready to pay more for sustainable products?
It is possible but you shall not try to compete with products which are produced by employing cheap labor and follow fast cycles. Sustainable products are just a niche today, but it’s growing and now even big brands pay attention to it. If you have a consciously made pair of trousers but not the rest of the collection what’s the point of that? Freitag, instead, is sustainable in its DNA, so maybe it is easier for us to grow into it.
Price can play an important role, but storytelling is key because the customer needs to understand what it needs. Our bags may carry some dirt on their surface as they come from trucks and they look exactly as some cheap products made in Far East. Explaining how things are done is even harder though you need that to explain the difference of your product.
I think Freitag is a storytelling brand as there is a big narrative behind every product. That’s also where we spend energy. And it’s also a challenge. We are based in Switzerland, one of the most expensive country in the world, and we pass through a very labor intensive production process. It’s not an easy job and even harder with the strong Swiss Franc.
What growth plans do you have?
We manage 16 mono-brand stores, including the latest opening in Milan. We work with about 460 multi-brand store partners worldwide and also sell through our own online store.
We follow an organic growth strategy as we are financing ourselves. It’s in the mix: we manage a good cross-selling combination between on-line and off-line. Among our next plans we might be opening a store in Germany soon and another one in Asia, but not in Japan. The US market is still an opportunity but since retail is quite difficult there, we are not planning to expand there in the near future.