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Freitag bags
Freitag bags have become a cult brandImage: FREITAG / Foto: Peter Würmli

Bag of tricks

October 23, 2011

The Freitag brothers' story starts with their love of finding new uses for old objects. Little did they know their passion would help them build an empire – out of old truck parts.

https://p.dw.com/p/12s6k

For their owners, Freitag messenger bags are more than just a way of carrying possessions around. According to Daniel and Markus Freitag, the brothers who designed it, the bag has a concept that comprises sustainability and individuality.

It's a concept that has helped the brothers build a cult brand. They continually get letters from customers talking about what their bags have been through. One couple even told them they met and fell in love when they saw each other at a grocery store and discovered they had Freitag bags cut from the same old truck tarpaulin.

"Its not about creating a product that hasn't been around, but maybe creating subconscious moments, which give you a good feeling of something you lack in life," said Markus. "The individuality of every bag is much more important than just the function of transporting something."

Markus und Daniel Freitag
The Freitag brothers are determined to keep ownership of their companyImage: Roland Tännler/ Freitag

Simple start

The story of Freitag bags started in 1993, when Daniel and Markus were students in Zurich. With bicycles as their main mode of transport and a lengthy rainy season, the brothers decided they needed better bags to carry their books in - something that would hold up in the inclement weather. That's when Markus looked out the window of his apartment and saw trucks with colorful tarpaulins driving down the highway.

The next thing the brothers knew, they were buying old trucks, tearing out the tarpaulins, seat belts and wheels and using an old sewing machine to create a solution to their problem. Before long they were giving them out to their friends and eventually traveling to San Francisco – a city full of messenger lovers – to try out a prototype that could go commercial.

Eighteen years later, the brothers have 400 retailers around the world selling their bags, as well as eight of their own Freitag stores, plus their headquarters in Zurich. Upgrading from a sewing machine in an apartment to an enormous warehouse that serves as the Freitag factory, the brothers say they are still staying true to their original plan.

They have 120 employees. Some go truck-spotting and clean the tarpaulins they buy, while others choose which pieces to use, and then cut them out using a transparent template and cutter knife.

Freitag bag factory
The Freitag factory in Zurich is getting busierImage: Noë Flum/ Freitag

Every bag is still made from used materials – tarpaulins, unraveled seat belts, bicycle inner tubes, airbags and any material that is sturdy enough to get through a few more years of wear and tear.

Customers can even design their own Freitag bags on the website and, if they visit a store, they get a free bike rental to discover the city with their new bag.

Brand friends

"Our customers, we like to call them 'brand friends,' probably feel that there has been some drive in it since the beginning that is honest and true," said Daniel. "So, we have been following this path without going away from that basic idea."

Freitag shop
Freitag now have eight stores worldwideImage: Florian Braun / Freitag

The brothers were invited to explain the secret behind their cult brand at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, where they addressed a room full of brand managers, advertising executives, journalists and movie producers. Their first advice was very simple.

"I think probably the best plan is to not plan to become a brand," said Daniel.

But when pushed on how they maintain the momentum of growth without compromising the integrity of their 'unplanned' brand, the brothers said they are determined to retain ownership over the product, even if it means growing at a slower pace.

"We are growing organically, and that works for us," said Daniel. "It is important to be in control of your ideas and do what we do because we believe it is a good thing and not because we need to or because an investor tells us to."

Moving at a slower pace is what the brothers do well. After all, even 18 years out of school they still prefer bikes over cars. In fact, they have never completed a driver's license.

Author: Jenny Hoff
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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