Daniel Freitag reveals the story behind the compostable F-abric line of clothing

Photo Mirjam Kluka

To many, the name Freitag is synonymous with sustainability, thanks to the company’s flagship product: messenger bags made from recycled truck tarpaulins. But Daniel Freitag, who founded the company together with brother Markus, wanted even more. ‘We believed that Freitag could become a brand, not just a branded product, by extending the feeling behind those bags to other products or areas.’

Over the course of countless brainstorming sessions devoted to exploring possible directions, one idea slowly crystallized: a new ‘tarpless’ approach that would mean the abandonment of the firm’s iconic truck tarpaulins in favour of a new clothing range designed (initially) for Freitag factory workers. ‘Sustainable fashion is nothing new – and it’s far from impossible to find a good pair of trousers,’ admits Freitag. ‘It’s not easy, however, to find clothes that match our set of values as well as our expectations for the materials and the places in which they’re produced.’

Photo Lukas Wassman

While dabbling in a new field did offer Freitag creative opportunities, it also opened up a sizable can of worms. Working with a different material meant the company had to relinquish the successful ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ production process behind its popular messenger bags (Frame 105, p. 196). ‘We thought all we had to do was find a good fabric, work out a good cut, and produce everything close to where we work,’ says Freitag. ‘We gradually realized, however, that it was much more complicated than that. Material with an “organic approach” wasn’t enough; we needed something that would tick all the boxes.’

What followed was the creation of an entirely green life cycle for the new product line, which started with sourcing fabric in Europe and included a reduced carbon footprint in terms of travelling distance. ‘We wanted fibres that could grow in Europe without the use of excessive pesticides and that were also factory-proof: long-lasting yet good-looking. Last but not least, they had to be fully biodegradable.’

Photo Mirjam Kluka

His third demand represents an important distinction. Three months after the first pair of trousers landed on the compost heap, everything but the garment’s polyester thread had disappeared – ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t necessarily equal ‘compostable’ – but that wasn’t good enough for Freitag. The company then sought out a new compostable thread to complete the loop. ‘Perfection is a long process,’ he says. ‘There’s always room for improvement. We use as few chemicals as possible – no bleach, for example – and the final result is environmentally safe.’

Photo Leandro De Stefani

Now hanging in stores, the F-abric range – composed of hemp, flax and Modal, a beechwood fibre – raises an intriguing question: does Freitag consider sustainability or fashion to be more important to the project? ‘Both. Some colours are hard to produce, and we use low-impact dyes, so there are limitations in that sense. But we just heard that one of the shades – industrial green – has been named the fashion colour for this season. Luckily, we’re on trend. It’s interesting to see what’s going on in the fashion world, but it’s better to find your own style and way of working than to try and be something you’re not. That’s why we call the product “clothing” rather than fashion.’ The latest F-abric development is the first pair of compostable jeans, for which Freitag designed its own denim twill from bast fibres.

Photo Leandro De Stefani

What’s certain is that the Freitag brothers see ‘the product’ as just one element of a bigger picture. Sustainable manufacture is not the end of a product’s life cycle. ‘The first trousers that came from the production company were delivered in a plastic bag. It wasn’t “wrong”, but it felt that way, because of all the energy we’d spent eliminating the tiniest trace of polyester from the clothes. That’s when we realized that we had to insist on biodegradable packaging, too.’

Photo Lukas Wassman

There’s one notable exception to the otherwise fairy-tale ending to F-abric’s cradle-to-cradle story: the button on each pair of F-abric trousers. It’s the only part of the range that isn’t biodegradable, which is exactly the way Freitag wants it. Specially developed by the company, the button (patent pending) can be unscrewed and removed from the garment. Freitag proudly points out that it will probably outlast everyone who buys the trousers. ‘We’re communication designers, not only product designers. We know how important it is to deliver a story. The beauty of our bag is that it’s made from a unique material and tells its own story. A pair of our trousers can’t do that. When I wear them, I don’t think about anything apart from the fact that they’re comfortable. But when I fasten this special button, it reminds me that there is something different about them. That’s why we invested so much time in a simple button – to trigger our customers to think about every step in the life cycle of a piece of clothing.’

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This article first debuted in Frame 108. Find a copy of the Jan/Feb issue in the Frame store.

Leaderbord: Vescom 2
Leaderbord: Vescom 2

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