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QWSTION Store Zurich :: Shop Visit

by , July 10, 2017

I’d envisaged Zurich as a stiffer hub: bankers, finance, a slightly more affluent shade of concrete to our home, Berlin. Expectations, as is typically the case, couldn’t have been more off point. Teal waters trickle along boardwalks through the heart of this city, a great Lake shimmers under warm May sun, and the white peaks of the Glarner Alpen hold the altstadt in focus like a postcard.

Such was the backdrop for our shop visit to QWSTION and their concept store QWSTION Store Zurich… a concept store and workshop created, curated and maintained by the namesake Swiss carry house.

QWSTION Zurich front facade

QWSTION create contemporary everyday bags for the modern metropolitan individual – hybrid bags that defy categorisation and close the gap between high fashion and functional utility. An inherently conceptual outfit, “good answers”, in their opinion, “are always the result of the right question”, which in their case concerns the enhancement of carry goods via an intuitive re-think of everything from look to function, construction and beyond.

We’d arrived off a night train from Berlin, the somnambulant, slow route to Switzerland priming us well for our unexpectedly tranquil destination. In the city’s former industrial quarter – a previously unfashionable district endemic of most Western cities wherein factories have made way for third wave roasteries and gallery shopfronts – we trundle off the main street and sidle by the sliding doors of QWSTION HQ.

 “QWSTION Store Zurich… showcases not only the QWSTION range, but a rotating line of like-minded brands…”

Christian Kaegi, acclaimed industrial designer and QWSTION’s design chief meets us at the entrance. Relaxed in trainers and designer slacks, he welcomes us into the store’s interior. The breadth of it is difficult to understate. More ‘gallery’ than store, the joint is large: a bright, eclectic showroom that immediately challenges my conception of the conventional retail experience.

“We decided not to do a mono brand concept,” Christian tells us, extracting a fresh cup of espresso from a strikingly compact silver unit on a bench behind a set of product displays. “We decided to partner with brands we know, who have a similar philosophy behind them.”

QWSTION Zurich Inside

As a conceptual retail experience, QWSTION Store Zurich… showcases not only the QWSTION range, but a rotating line of like-minded brands, each an expert in a particular product niche, from publishing to shoe wear, designer LP record players, to coffee machines.

“These are made by some guys from Zurich,” says Christian of the compact unit trickling our morning fix. “Their goal was to completely re-think the espresso machine – the Italian ones take 15 minutes or so, and that’s a bit long in the morning. This one takes two minutes to heat up.” He hands me a cup; it’s strong and delicious.

Upholding a community ethic, many of the niche brands on show here are QWSTION’s friends, or have come to be through mutual knowledge and appreciation of each other’s work. “It’s really a partnership,” Christian says.

I look around at the range covered: mood boards mark each display with pictures of the folks behind each product, blurbs communicating where the products are made, each individual process and concept involved. In a late-capitalistic world of faceless, fast consumption, this educational, ‘slow fashion’ approach is a neat counter-alternative to the hard sell.

QWSTION Zurich interior - weekender collab

As well as products, the store also provides a support platform for the work of local designers, a rotating showcase that’s updated each quarter. At the moment, the high-tech, gender-fluid work of local maverick Julian Zigerli, who QWSTION recently collaborated with on a special bag series, rests behind us on a feature platform.

Though the shop has only just clocked its two-year anniversary – it manifested from a two-month pop up in Berlin, while a parallel store established itself in Vienna in between – the brand itself has been around almost a decade.

Co-founder Sebastian Kruit brought QWSTION’s crack team of five together in 2008, a dynamic crew of aesthetes including, next to Christian, industrial designer Fabrice Aeberhard, graphic designer Matthias Graf and back-end maven, Hannes Schoenegger.

 “We designed the space ourselves,” he says: a split-level setup with a mezzanine lounge overlooking the expansive white design floor…”

“The whole thing started from a personal need,” says Christian. “We just couldn’t find the type bags we were looking for. We wanted something kind of in between fashion and function: something you could wear as a backpack, which is a lot more comfortable when cycling – we all cycle a lot. But on the other hand, we didn’t want it to look, like, outdoorsy, functional only.”

The QWSTION product display claims its space humbly in the store’s rear corner, an egalitarian partner to the diverse players surrounding it. The bags meet the brief: an artful blend of function and form – earthy, neutral tones, understated, classic designs, all effortlessly urban. That they were conceived here in Zurich starts to make a lot of sense.

QWSTION Zurich Bag Wall

“Switzerland has quite a long history in design,” says Christian. “We studied here so that’s definitely influenced our approach – [but] it’s not a fashion city, so functionality is important, but then integrating functionality in a simple, reduced product, that’s probably very Swiss.”

The brand’s appeal, meanwhile, transcends local borders. As well as being strongly embraced by the Swiss community, QWSTION have already impressed design-conscious pockets of Scandinavia, Germany (particularly Berlin), and other urban hubs around the world, including in Japan, Australia and the US. While the bags might be created in Zurich, they’re not intrinsically a Swiss product. “It’s kind of universal to metropolitan areas,” says Christian.

With all of us pepped up on fast-extraction caffeine, Christian chaperones us to the rear workshop. “We designed the space ourselves,” he says: a split-level setup with a mezzanine lounge overlooking the expansive white design floor. It’s orderly and clean, “a setup that allows us to make our own prototypes, allows us to test things in an early stage,” he adds. Sun streams in through floor to ceiling windows, as he shows some of the latest thinking: a new top-secret vegan material currently being tested for durability, a light nylon pack, and some fresh leather releases due for September.

QWSTION Zurich workshop

Though QWSTION ‘play the game’ when it comes to retail supply, the expectation of a ‘seasonal’ product cycle is another industry convention they’ve decided to rethink.

“The way we offer seasonable product is through seasonal editions,” he says. “It’s mainly the wholesalers that ask for this – they want to offer something new every now and then…[so] if it weren’t for them, we’d probably be even less attached to that seasonal thing.”

“People like Christian and QWSTION – are modernising traditional perceptions.”

He reveals another collection in the works, this one almost entirely Swiss made: in-house developed hemp, interiors lined with merino felt, Swiss leather from Swiss cows. “[It’s] kinda of an experiment,” says Christian. “We wanted to find out if it was still possible to make bags in Switzerland, because there’s only two or three manufacturing workshops that can still do a bulk production.”

Though the bulk of the QWSTION line is produced in a boutique factory in Huizhou, China, an ethical and ecological approach guides the company’s entire platform.

QWSTION Zurich workshop 2

“A really important aspect is the sustainability of our products,” says Christian. “I mean, I wouldn’t say we’re where we want to be, yet – it’s kind of a long journey, because there’s just no systems in place, you know, in the industry – the textile fashion industry is very far away from being sustainable […] We started developing our own buckles, then we started developing our own materials, now we’re working with this organic canvas, which is in about 85% of the collection now. By next year, we will have full organic, which is one goal we had, but we’re already working on the next type of materials that are more sustainable than cotton.”’

The offshore factory, meanwhile, adheres to EU standards for working conditions and ecological aspects, an active partnership that Christian and the crew engage with closely. “It’s a whole different system”, he says of the environment in Huizhou (and the many challenges of trying to communicate in Mandarin).

As we wander back out to the playground of products in the storefront, I begin to wonder whether it might part of QWSTION’s long game to transcend the carry realm.

“We were wrong about this city. Our pre-conceptions perhaps reflected an older idea of what Zurich was about.”

“It’s something we’ve thought about,” says Christian. “But we’ll stick with this for now – we’re still a small team, and it’s important to stay focussed. I mean, you could totally get lost, you know.”

The temptation, in this diverse setting, of doing too many things at once.

“We would love to do other things, but we do that through the collaborations – bags already offer enough challenges, especially if you go deep into material development. It’s quite complex.”

QWSTION Zurich design files

What isn’t complex is the nature of QWSTION’s evolution: organic, intuitive, and born of need. In the future, expect further refinements, more sustainable methods, and perhaps another store or two. “Right now we’re looking for a location in Copenhagen, and Berlin. One or both. But we’re not in a rush – Vienna wasn’t planned, but it all came together. You can’t force that.”

Back outside, sun warms the concrete as birdsong chirps like music through the morning streets. I hear Swiss voices, Deutsch elocutions, modern trams skirting their way up Badenerstraße to the Hauptbahnhof. We talk design, about mountain biking (one of Christian’s loves), the Alps and the endless allure of the Swiss outdoors. We all agree that this country – Zurich in particular – is a pretty fine place to be.

We were wrong about this city. Our pre-conceptions perhaps reflected an older idea of what Zurich was about. Touch-points with the ‘rich banker’ archetype still exist here, but fresh generations – people like Christian and QWSTION – are modernising traditional perceptions.

QWSTION Zurich chatting with Christian

Like its trajectory, like its ‘anti-logo’ – a basic, un-ostentatious typeface – 

QWSTION’s approach to carry is refreshingly uncomplicated. Their intuitive brand strategy satiates the tech-need yet induces style without the complications of the fashion world. The bags are contemporary, simple, functional and practical. They’re usable, and they look good. Their timeless design means they’ll age well. In a world of add-ons, clutter and overkill, the QWSTION concept – like the city in which it thrives: a modern hub of relaxed confidence and understated joy – is a nourishing thing to bear witness to. In their organic respect for time – for letting things move at their natural pace – time will likely be very kind to them.

Photography by Honor Kennedy

*This was a sponsored post produced in partnership with our friends at QWSTION

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