Cycle And Recycle

This Is How Two Brothers Created An Iconic Swiss Brand Out Of Reclaimed Materials
Markus Freitag, pictured, and his brother, Daniel, created their first messenger bag prototypes out of used truck tarpaulins in 1993.
Markus Freitag
Founder & Creative Director, Freitag

A small workshop in a barn in the back of a farmhouse where Markus Freitag and his brother, Daniel, grew up outside of Zurich was the birthplace of what is now one of the most recognizable made-in-Switzerland brands.

"When we were kids, my brother and I would collect old wood, and build rafts and racing carts," recalls Markus Freitag. When they were about 15 years old, the boys' first entrepreneurial venture together was making new bicycles from old parts that they would collect by scouring the neighborhood for scrap metal. An apprenticeship as a display artist and window dresser at a small store where his mother worked, was another opportunity for Freitag to figure out how to construct artistic creations out of reused materials. "The owners of the shop didn't have a budget, so I'd use old pieces of tarp found outside to create window displays. They'd be leftover after a hole in the street was covered up after a pipe broke."

The brothers use recycled materials to create their waterproof messenger bags and accessories.
Throwing Out Ideas
Everything Old Is New Again

While an art student and living in Zurich in the early '90s, Freitag saw a trend emerging among bike messengers. "They were using backpacks, but they didn't seem very functional. They'd have to stop and take off the bag to unpack it when they made a delivery."

And then an idea struck: what about creating a bag that was more convenient and accessible, but also waterproof to withstand Zurich's rainy season? But how to make them? The college student didn't have the funding to buy expensive materials, let alone something good looking and durable. While gazing out the window of his apartment, and brainstorming, colorful tarpaulins covering big trucks passing by on the freeway caught his eye.

All Freitag goods are still cut by hand from recycled materials in their factory in Oerlikon, a 20-minute bike ride from the city center.
Wheels Turning
The Road To Success

Freitag immediately jumped on his bike and rode to the nearest trucking company. "I knocked on the door and asked if I could have their old tarpaulins," he said, and they obliged. He rode back to the apartment dragging the 220 pound truck canvas attached to his bike, and set out to create the Freitag brand's first messenger bag.

Today, their messenger bags are still created from recycled truck tarpaulins, old seatbelts, and bicycle inner tubes. The goods are cut by hand in their factory in Oerlikon, where they re-use rain water collected from the factory's rooftops to wash the tarps. The business has grown to offer customers 40 different bag models, as well as a collection of durable luggage and accessories.

In 2014, Freitag introduced a new textile made from plant materials to their product offering.
True To Form
The Blueprint Stays The Same

"Everything we create is more or less made the way it was in the beginning because it's not really possible to mass manufacturer what we make. Because each tarpaulin is different, we have to cut each piece by hand. If you did it industrially you would have no control over the individual design. Yes, we could produce bags out of new material, and that would be much easier, and much more efficient, but it wouldn't be what the company is about."

Their company also exists in a city that is consistently lauded for its unparalleled environmental credentials. "Recycling and eco-conciousness started very early in Switzerland," notes Freitag.

In 2014, the Freitag company introduced its new 100 percent biodegradable textile, F-ABRIC, made from Europe-grown plants. And then they launched a new, fully compostable clothing line. "The idea behind all of our products is based on the same philosophy," says Freitag. "To close the cycle, so that the end of life is actually the beginning of something new."

Local Recommendations

Explore One Of The Greenest Cities On The Planet With An Eco-Conscious Entrepreneur

From the shores of spectacular Lake Zurich to lush gardens in the city center, restaurants serving locally-sourced ingredients, and boutiques selling hand-crafted goods, Markus Freitag shares his top spots to go exploring in one of the world’s most sustainable cities.

Bike To Botanical Gardens

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Zurich by bike is a great way to explore the city while reducing your carbon footprint. Borrow a bike for free at various Züri rollt stations all over town. Freitag says the city’s gardens and parks are best discovered by bike. In the middle of town, but still off the beaten track, is the University of Zurich Botanical Garden (107 Zolikerstr; +44-634-84-61), famous for its dome-shaped conservatories, which mimic different climates: tropical mountain forest, lowland rainforest, and drylands.

From there move on to the nearby Zurich Succulent Plant Collection (88 Mythenquai; +44-412-12-80); with seven greenhouses of exotic cacti, aloe, and other desert plants, it’s an unexpected landscape in the waterside city. Then, wheel your way to the Chinese Garden (138 Bellerivestrasse; 44-380-31-51), also known as the temple garden by the lake because of its location at the Zurichorn. A gift from Zurich's Chinese twin city, Kunming, as a symbol of friendship in 1994, it is one of the most extraordinary temple gardens anywhere outside of China. Its abundant plantings of pine, bamboo, and plum blossom, represent the garden's theme, "Three Friends of Winter."

Fair Trade

Shopping For Made-In-Switzerland Products

Shopping is a national pastime in Zurich, but Freitag also says he likes to buy from Swiss manufacturers with an eye toward the environment. Soeder (124 Ankerstrasse; +44-558-34-43), a warehouse full of shoes, socks, knitwear, home accessories, utensils, and cosmetics, is a favorite. They personally source sustainable, handcrafted goods that are stylish and locally made. The same sensibility attracts Freitag to Limited Stock (22 Spiegelgass; +43-268-56-20), a little store tucked into a back alley of Old Town in a former locksmith's workshop, which carries hand-made gardening tools, beautifully decorated Nymphenburg porcelain, and little trinkets and treasures you never knew you needed. Then there's what Freitag called "the most decent shop in the world." Circle: The Sustainable Shop (3 Brunngasse; +43-243-69-21) sells products that "hurt no one and exploit no one; neither humans or the planet." One of their most intriguing products: the Fairphone, the world’s first ethical mobile phone.

Alpine Dining

Explore The Zurich Food Scene

Awaken your senses at avant-garde and off-the-beaten path eateries, where run-of-the-mill lunch and dinner menus are tossed aside in lieu of inventive cooking. Maison Manesse (2 Hoppfenstrasse; +44-462-01-01) bills itself as fun fine dining, liberated from the formality of traditional upscale restaurants. Try Fabian Spiquel's experimental menu, where the element of surprise is in each one of the chef's choice of six or seven tapas, which may include his famous 63° Celsius sous vide egg, accompanied by local truffles.

Immerse yourself amongst local creatives during lunch hour at the rooftop Noerd Kantine (170 BinzmuhleStrasse; +44-310-30-90). On top of the Noerd building where Freitag is headquartered, rub elbows with the building's office workers taking a mid-afternoon break , while enjoying one of three daily lunch specials, like coq au vin or alplermagronen, Alpine macaroni, potatoes, and cheese. For a change of scenery, and then some, head to the edge of town above the Schwamendingen district, to Wirtschaft Ziegelhutte (70 Huttenkopfstrasse; +44-322-40-03), for traditional Swiss fare prepared with fresh-from-the-garden ingredients, and respect for the snout-to-tail principle of cooking.

Singular By Design

This Is No Ordinary Culture Crawl

Poster fans, rejoice. Zurich’s Museum of Design (96 Pfingstwedstrasse; +43-446-67-67) recently opened its impressive collection, which includes 350,000 posters of political, contemporary, and commercial importance to the public. It’s worth joining one of the free tours offered by insightful docents who explain the origin and meaning of some of the most socially relevant posters in the world, including presidential campaign posters from Kennedy for President in 1960, to Obama in '08. Some of the pieces in the collection are from art-house cinema, Kino Xenix (53 Kanzleistrasse; +44-242-04-11), which have been sending out film posters to their devoted club members since 1981. There, screenings range from independent films to documentaries. Xenix began as a student film club and is housed in a 1904 schoolhouse. For optimal viewing, grab a seat on one of 12 leather couches placed in the front four rows. In summer months, the gravel area in front of the theater becomes an open-air cinema, perfect for breathing in Zurich's fresh air beneath the stars.

Beauty All Around

Nature In The City

You don't have to travel far outside the city to find nature's beauty in all its glory. In fact, urban life and nature converge seamlessly in Zurich. Its landmark mountain, the Uetliberg (8143 Uetliberg; +44-457-66-66) may be common on the tourist map, but the Planet Trail is off the beaten path. The easy, two-hour hike is a fascinating tour through a model of the Earth's solar system, which begins at the Sun, a yellow ball on a mast, starting in Uetliberg. The trail ends at the Adliswil-Felsennegg LAF cable car station at Pluto. Don't feel like walking back? Take a train from the nearby station and you'll be back in the city center in no time.

For a picturesque view of Lake Zurich enjoyed at your own pace, grab a pedal boat at Pedalovermietung Rapperswil (8640 Rapperswil; +41-55-220-67-22) and drift your way to the tiny island of Lutzelau (1027 Postfach; 55-220-57-57), a natural reserve with a small restaurant serving fried fish snacks known as fischknusperli.