Sunday, July 01, 2007

fitting in

Travelling alone is like being drunk. Emotions are experienced in extremes, no one around you understands what you’re saying, luck navigates you around a city and the ideas you come up with tend to be fairly silly. This is one such idea.

Something I was looking forward to when I got to Zurich was visiting the Freitag store. After 3 years, 2 laptops and being dragged around the world, my old neoprene slip had seen better days. Holes, rips, wear marks and recently a busted zip. Before coming to Switzerland, I emailed the Zurich based recycled material bag manufacturer to see if I could get a peak at their factory. They said no (which fuelled a Swiss guys theory that the bags are now made in China), but welcomed me to their flagship store to take as many photos as I like and pick up a discounted laptop slip while I was at it. When I arrived in Zurich, one thing I noticed straight away about the city was that 80% of the people (be that in business attire, riding a bike, vandalising a train station or simply loitering outside a McDonald's), have a Freitag bag. Like Birkenstocks in Germany, Uni Qlo in Japan or Farmers Union in Adelaide – local brand loyalty is strong. Every shape, colour and design is found hanging by recycled seatbelts from people's shoulders, and with the already used nature of the bag's material, it is impossible to pick the setters from the followers. When Peter Adams introduced me to Freitag about 5 years ago, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. No one else had one, let alone heard of them, and the one off, individual feeling that his bag had really appealed to me. Now that I was in Freitag’s natural habitat, I found the bags made up an army of individuals. Same same, but different. Then I got philosophical.

With the individual nature yet broad appeal of the product, Freitag is an excellent allegory for one of the paradoxes of the Western human condition: We all what to be different, but at the same time we want to fit in. Like the gentrification of a crack-den neighbourhood, these bags are no longer the keystone of cool, and the hip wave for Freitag broke about 4 or 5 years ago. In Zurich, this is no longer cutting edge fashion accessory. It has become part of Zurich’s social lexicon. It is considered the norm and other companies have begun to copy to cool. While these bags aren’t exactly something your nanna has, saturation point has been reached and the kids have moved on. Another parallel was the appeal of the exotic. While in in Australia, I'm just another Australian, but in the middle of Hungary, I'm a crazy alien from another planet. These bags anywhere other than Zurich are still considered pretty freaking cool.

My thoughts on how Freitag parallels with the meta and micro workings of human society and the psychology that drives it went on all sorts of tangents. In the end, I did buy a Freitag laptop slip and thanks to its bulkiness compared to my old slip, I've had to modify my backpack to get it to fit in. Funny how we modify our lives to be part of the team. When we next next up, we’ll have beers and I'll dribble on about the connections between man bags and the self for hours.

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