Credit-Suisse: 17.03.2008 It's been 14 years since the bag made from recycled truck tarpaulins and seat belts was invented by the Freitag brothers. A decade ago, their designs caused a furor in Zurich and now that interest has traveled as far as Tokyo. This is the story of a company that is holding on to its Swiss roots while growing globally, but at a sustainable pace. Freitag: Two teenaged Japanese tourists sit in a Zurich restaurant over coffee, admiring each other's latest textile acquisitions: a Freitag F13 bag, a Freitag wallet, a Freitag iPod case. It's no surprise that tourists from around the world know about Freitag. In fact, its flagship store in Zurich figures prominently in lots of guidebooks. Not only the selection of unique bags lure customers in, but also the store itself, which is a 26-meter tower made of old shipping containers. But what is it really about Freitag that tempts tourists to add the Freitag store to their list of sights to visit, and then spend up to 200 Swiss francs on a bag made from old truck tarps? It's a product with distinct values.
Freitag Is a Strong Zurich Brand
It was 1993 when the brothers Daniel and Markus Freitag introduced their first Freitag bag with its distinctive, unisex design. The bag caught on fast with young people in Zurich, and soon became a must-have item, mainly because they were colorful, original and carried a message about environmental friendliness, as they were pieced together from bits of recycled truck tarps. That year, the brothers produced just 40 bags – by 1994, it was five times as many. The brothers' timing was just right: This was the period when people, students especially, were getting into heated arguments about the destruction of the forests, the importance of recycling and the detriments of environmental pollution. So the two designers were suddenly hailed as visionaries. Sales growth has continued uninterrupted since 1994, and it's still reaching double digits today. The product range has also now grown to 50 different accessories: travel bags, shopping bags, and laptop and iPod cases. The privately held company doesn't disclose revenue but says that production in 2007 totaled 160,000 items, compared with the 40 the brothers produced in their first year. "It was always the product, its design and functionality that mattered most then, and now," says Alex Braunschmidt, Freitag's marketing manager. "We don't have the ambition to launch as many new products as possible, but rather to ensure quality." As recently as 1996, the brothers Freitag were the only employees of their company. Today, Freitag employs 64 people – most of them at a factory in Zurich, which handles all production processes except sewing. Immanuel Streuli, Freitag CEO since 1997, says the production facility in Zurich has a particular significance for the company. "It's an excellent geographical location," he says, "and our staff and suppliers apply very exacting quality standards. On top of that, its Swiss roots and the city of Zurich give the Freitag brand a human face. The brothers' history and their personalities are inextricably bound with it. Japanese consumers respond with particular sensitivity to these Swiss values." These core values are a unique selling point for the company, according to Regula Fecker, strategic planner and partner at Rod Communications in Zurich. "Freitag has succeeded, for a very long time, in combining the values of ‘Swissness,' sustainability, trend awareness, and the brothers' personal story into an authentic, consistent brand," explains the marketing expert Fecker. "Freitag has become a perennial component of Zurich's image as a stylish, innovative, worldclass city with enormous creative potential."
Building Brand Awareness
Freitag has been jealously guarding its image since the end of the '90s, putting specialists in charge of sales distribution and marketing. The Freitag brothers have always...