Pioneer in leather goods made from recycled materials, Freitag expands. Still headquartered in Zurich, the company sets its sights on export…France is number one on the list.

 

Freitag is to leather goods what Swiss knives are to table arts: a must

< In twenty years, the Swiss label has earned the little as being THE pioneer in stylish, recycled bags and is the perfect example of the paradoxical success of a basic, yet unique product. It all started in 1993 when two brothers, Markus and Daniel Freitag, wanted to find a very practical, sturdy, weather-resistant messenger bag to add to their apartment window at the non-stop flow of trucks in Zurich. Since they couldn’t find the bag of their dreams, they decided to make one themselves using recycled truck tarps. Two decades later, Freitag still uses this unusual material for its designs. The bags are often unisex and can be divided into two lines: Fundamentals made up of about forty constantly renewed models, thanks to the continuous arrival of truck tarps, and since 2010, Reference, a range of articles “whose maturity and style choices, in particular for color, have evolved with the label’s historical clientele,” explains Niels Meyer-Jures, responsible for development in France. The combination of sturdy manufacture, simple shapes and the originality of the materials – recycled truck tarps combined with safety belt straps, bike inner tubes for seams – led Freitag toward a wonderful sales expansion, since the Zurich label now has eleven flagship stores and over 450 retailers worldwide.

A special position

Although it is widely distributed, Freitag has not given up the national character of production. In fact, both founding brothers, still in the company as artistic directors, focus solely on design in Zurich, where almost all production is handled, except for sewing which is outsourced to sites in France, the Czech Republic and Portugal. Freitag claims its authentic Swiss identity, thanks to the F-actory, where cutting, cleaning and design are handled for tomorrow’s bags. Collections are permanent yet constantly renewed, because they are based on unique pieces which give the label an atypical position: “the Freitag bag is very urban and functional, and it is not a ‘fashion’ product, strictly speaking, but rather a design product,” points out Niels.

Sacastar propose a large collection of bag for men

It is a product that is both timeless and marked by time, because the materials have previously been used. The duality leads the label to target a distribution network that is also plural…and very specific.”Our criteria for selection are intentionally targeted …because the Freitag product cannot sell alone. It is a complete concept and philosophy that you have to understand and love,” specifies the French country manager. In fact, in order to have perfect control over the concept and the pitch delivered by its retailers, it intentionally does not employ sales agents, but what the label calls – always for sales – label ambassadors.

Thus, 30 to 40 of the 160 employees work abroad. Among them, Niels Meyer-Jures, specifically recruited two and half years ago for France, still a very new market for Freitag. “As ambassador for the company in France, I am responsible for its network. A network that I monitor and that’s extends from our Parisian showroom where I set up appointments all year long”, he specifies. He does not limit himself to retailers who are specialized in ready-to-wear and/or fashion accessories, and he does not hesitate to work with multi-brands who work in the decoration sector, or even in the art sector. Like MoMA, the museum that made room for the label among its permanent collection in New York, Freitag is sold Le lieu Unique, a cultural center in Nantes.

Attracting new retailers

Although it is still not time to open a flagship store in France and priorities are not set on department stores – only Citadium, urban fashion specialist in Paris sells the label – the search for new multi-brand retailers continues. “We are already present in nearly fifteen shops in Paris and about fifteen others in province, such as Le Diable Méridien in Marseilles, Inside Urban Wear in Clermont-Ferrand, Chez Square, a player in design in Besançon, as is We are nothing in Bordeaux, we hope to expand the distribution network throughout France and increase our presence in Paris,” says Niels.

The initial strategy still applies to reaching this goal: the program consists of no sales agents but only one ambassador for the label, no participation in trade shows – except for the launching of the Reference line in 2010 which took place at Tranoi – but a sales showroom, no ventures into the traditional leather goods network, although the label recognizes that it “has potential with this type of retailer,” and a direction intentionally turned toward specific, design, even cultural concept stores.

“The larger the choice, the better the product sells”

There is nothing surprising about that when we discover the label’s flagship stores. They are quite experimental and use an ultra-visual, intelligent merchandising concept that must be respected by retailers. For this, an exclusive piece of furniture, the V30, was created in-house and even won the award, the Prix de Design Suisse. “Since we sell unique pieces, there was a risk of taking up too much space, especially in multi-brand stores. So, the larger the choice, the better the product sells. With the V30, we can display a large number of bags in a small space, and stock is avaible in the store,” points out Niels. The furniture is a strong selling point, with a very industrial look and it adapts to every store, because it is completely modular, both in height and width.

There is a picture of the model on each drawer that holds a bag, making it easy for both the customer and the retailer to identify, and it also allows the reztailer to change the visual when a bag is sold. More traditional POS promotions are avaible along with the new merchandising. France has nearly thirty retailers, less than three years after recruiting its sales ambassador. The pro-active network expansion throughout the world is largely due to the naming of    monika Walser as General Manager for the company in 2010. After her successful passage in the company with the label entering the French market, as well as South Korea and the opening of new flagship stores in Japan, she is going on to new professional horizons in early 2014. A new year that is sure to be marked by many changes at Freitag, starting with the arrival of a new General Manager.

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