- Buyer's Guide
QWSTION Interview :: Brand, Beginnings and Business
QWSTION was formed by five founders who shared a passion and a problem – an appreciation for well-designed products but no carry that could satisfy their particular needs. So Sebastian Kruit, Fabrice Aeberhard, Christian Kaegi, Matthias Graf and Hannes Schoenegger decided to make their own bags and several years down the line QWSTION is a thriving carry brand recognised for the understated aesthetics and versatile functionality of their pieces. In order to discover more about the brand, business and beginnings of QWSTION, we delved into the details with the team who was there from the start…
What is the essence of your brand?
Good answers are always the result of the right question. By questioning the norm and following our vision we want to create a more refined product. We do it by questioning not only the product itself, but also aspects of material, manufacturing, distribution, and branding. QWSTION is not a fashion brand, it is a brand for products. We want our products to be durable and practical companions that work just as well in a business meeting as while riding your bike. Therefore we aim to create timeless styles and evolve our collection continuously. With multiple carrying options our luggage offers lots of flexibility to make life easier.
QWSTION bags are designed and developed in Zürich, Switzerland, where the brand was founded in 2008.
How do you connect with and understand your core customers?
Firstly, we are our own critical customers. We were all looking for a bag that we couldn’t find, and therefore started developing our own.
Our assumption that there are other people with the same needs proved to be right pretty soon.
As far as connecting with our core customers to understand their needs, we had lots of positive experiences with our own shop projects. Our web shop was important from the start, and more recently we opened stores in temporary locations in Zürich and Berlin.
What things won’t you do with your brand?
Most likely fast food, cars and weapons.
What key insights drive your product direction?
It’s important to be clear about what you are doing.
Which carry product are you the most proud of?
It’s more difficult than ever to create something truly original.
When we launched our Backpack as one of the first three products in our collection back in 2008, there was nothing like it on the market; the clean look, the functional inner layout with gadget pockets and the style somewhere in between a bag and a rucksack made it stand out. Our Simple-Strap® (as used on the Tote and Shopper) and 1-for-2-Strapsystem® are quite unique as well.
Can you describe the culture in QWSTION?
Questioning the norm and doing things a bit different are definitely important. Every member of the founding team has different skills that complement each other, but we share a love for well designed products.
What should we expect in the next 12 months?
Be surprised! We have quite a few new products in the pipeline…
What are your main channels for inspiration?
Everyday life provides us with plenty of inspiration.
What is an example of some random inspiration that has helped you?
While developing our Twistlock we tested different shapes and sizes, to find the best usability. The 2-Swiss-franc coin seemed to have a good radius, so we folded one in half. It proved to have the perfect shape and size, so we based the final design on it.
What was the catalyst for your brand starting?
We started with several prototypes and gave them away amongst our friends. Their feedback was the catalyst to get started.
What was the point of no return?
Right when we decided to start producing our first collection in 2008.
What single business moment has given you the biggest smile?
There have been many of them, mostly it’s emails from happy customers.
What are your thoughts on direct to consumer versus via retailers?
What makes a good retailer is his sensibility for the right selection and presentation of products. It’s clear that as a brand there is a price tag to this. Direct to consumer on the other hand lets us define the context of our products ourself. There’s not really a versus here for us, both ways are important.
How has your own concept store in Zürich changed things?
It definitely raised the awareness of QWSTION, not just in Zürich but internationally.
European sensibilities vs USA sensibilities? How is QWSTION different for being based in Europe?
Our team communicates in three languages and involves six different nationalities. We all have travelled a fair bit, and accordingly wanted to create an international brand. The Swiss design heritage has influenced our thinking; simplicity and functionality have always been important aspects. Design-wise we believe our products work just as well for the USA as they do for Europe. With the current exchange rates the price points in the market place us slightly different though.
Sustainability seems to be a strong focus for you guys. Can you talk about how you navigate that?
It should be common sense to think about sustainability when you launch a product nowadays, although it’s quite complex and there are lots of greenwashing traps on the way.
For example, what’s the point of using recycled polyester (R-PET) if the fabric is made from bottles that were solely produced to be shredded again to make the fabric?
In regards to production the questions are, what kind of product and what materials do you want, where can you find the skills and what makes sense logistically. That will define the where. As a brand we feel responsible to define the standards we want to pursue and implement, no matter where. Reducing our ecological footprint is an ongoing process that involves the type and durability of the materials used just as much as the quality achieved in the manufacturing process. This said, we carry the «Made in China» label with confidence and are continuously increasing the amount of organically grown cotton sourced in central Asia.
What haven’t you figured out yet? What challenges are you still trying to figure out?
There are many challenges ahead…it’s all about the journey!
How much time do you spend at your suppliers in Asia?
A lot! We discuss all the new developments, check on the ongoing production and all the materials. Our collaboration has been consistent in the last couple of years, which makes our regular visits not just necessary but also worthwhile and rewarding. It would be impossible to make our products as they are today without a good partner.
What single thing are you most proud of with QWSTION?
We are proud of our products and how they make people’s lives easier.
How do you think about natural versus synthetic fabrics for bags?
We are only using shell fabrics from renewable resources, although there are high-quality synthetic materials with an abrasion resistance we cannot reach this way. Below-the-line synthetic materials tend to be cheaper and less sustainable, while not offering the same quality of hand feel.
Are there things you do on any of your carry that doesn’t make commercial sense?
Commercial sense comes after sense for us.
Who do you design new products for? An idealised persona, or groups, or a particular person?
It’s been all of the above, depending on the product.