Factory Tour
Freitag's Zurich Headquarters

When you arrive in Zürich, you arrive with a few certainties: The trams will run like clockwork, the city will be spotless, and at least a third of the population, it seems, will be carrying a Freitag messenger bag. During my weeklong stay in Switzerland this spring, the Freitag bag — with its recycled truck-tarp shell, seatbelt strap, and inner-tube edging — began to seem something like a national accessory, strapped across the chests of everyone from students to curators to actual bike messengers. Founded in 1993 by Swiss graphic-design brothers Markus and Daniel Freitag, the company’s headquarters are now located in the middle of the city, near Zürich’s Hardbrücke station and just a stone’s throw from the tiny flat where the brothers sewed their first bag.


Freitag’s 30,000-square-foot factory is located in Zürich’s Maag industrial area, named for Max Maag, a Swiss industrial engineer who made his fortune in the early 20th century manufacturing gear systems for oceanliners. Freitag took over the space in 2003 and now employs 76 workers on-site.
Photo (c) Tobias Madörin


The administrative staff works on the second floor in container-like offices built atop a former crane track.
Photo (c) Tobias Madörin


For its 15th anniversary in 2008, the company sent out invitations in the form of Swiss license plates, each embossed with the name of a Freitag employee. (The plates now identify workers and designers at their stations.) The party’s theme? Trucker chic.


To produce 170,000 bags yearly, Freitag brings in nearly 300 tons of disused tarps from the soft-sided, long-distance freight trucks that travel across Europe. Freitag eventually discards more than half that due to buckles and cracks in the fabric, and the number of tarps that end up in use each year is equal to the yield from a line of trucks 15 miles long.


When soiled tarps arrive at the factory, they are first cut into smaller sections to make for easier handling. The tarps are then stored by color and type in the dirt warehouse.
Photo (c) Simon Johnston


After a wash cycle in the industrial-sized machines, clean tarps are photographed for later identification, rolled up, and sorted back into the warehouse.
Photo (c) Simon Johnston


The construction of a bag begins. Designers cut the tarps by hand using transparent templates — the better to figure out which area will create the most visual interest while using the most raw material possible. A single bag is typically made from random parts of a single tarp so as not to be too garish.
Photo (c) Simon Johnston


Stitching, the only part of the production cycle not completed on-site in Zürich, is outsourced to France, Portugal, and Tunisia.


A stack of finished bags awaits photography. A custom-built camera-and-rotating-drum system creates 360-degree views to show consumers and distributors what they’re paying for, seeing as how no two bags are alike.


The Freitag brothers continue their commitment to sustainability in strange new ways — they recently installed a compost heap inside Vienna’s Walking Chair gallery, giving away 100 limited edition bags on the condition that patrons would return food scraps to the gallery for a period of three months — and quotidian ones: The finished bags travel by bike to the Zürich F-shop, located just a few hundred yards away from the factory.


Freitag debuted its corrugated-steel Zürich flagship, made from 17 gutted and reinforced shipping containers, in 2006. On the roof, visitors can go “truckspotting” over the Autobahn A3 freeway, the view that inspired the original Freitag design.
Photo (c) Roland Tännler


The Freitags' first bag was added to MoMA’s permanent design collection in 2003, but the brothers are also responsible for a slew of other designs, including iPhone cases, wallets, laptop bags, and this, the brand’s packaging, logo, and identity.