Fair and organic clothing is the business of Zündstoff in Freiburg. The idea to open their own store for green clothes came to Matthias Rau and Sascha Klemz, founders and political scientists (by degree), in 2005 when they "had a cup of fair trade coffee while looking for sustainably produced and environmentally friendly clothing. Globalization was then in full swing, and more and more companies had their production already in so-called low-wage countries, where laws regarding fair labor and environmental conditions were hardly considered. "The search for serious alternatives was not easy because we were fresh from university and had the desire to clothe us modern - and not just "eco"." The perfect base to put together a range of good and stylish apparel. Here, Matthias Rau talks about his favorite outfit, the biggest challenge in retail and what he would do differently today.
Innately, you are political scientists. When and why did you decide to open up a “green” store?
2006, right after graduating from college, we took the plunge into self-employment. Trigger for this decision to start a green store (by the way, then just an online shop) was our involvement with ecological and social problems, which accompany the manufacturing of clothes. And the dissatisfaction with the offer on the German market: we wanted to wear cool streetwear, not the clothes that comply with prejudice of organic garments.
What does your assortment look like? Which are your anchor brands? Which brands did you last add to your assortment?
We just recently added brands like pinqpong, who manufacture backpacks out of recycled PET-bottles. And also MelaWear, who produce very nice hoodies made from 100% organic cotton. Naturally, the “big names” of the new eco-fashion are also represented at our store: Armedangels from Cologne, the denim brands Kings of Indigo and Nudie Jeans, the sneaker brand Veja or the Danish menswear brand Knowledge Cotton Apparel.
Which role do accessories play when it comes to sales and merchandise?
We always try to have a nice range of accessories at the store. Of course it’s nice to sometimes buy ecologically correct sunglasses. But our main idea and focus still lies on the clothing sector. It’s important to us that our customers are able to clothe themselves entirely fair and organic – from the socks and underwear up to the jacket.
Please tell us five products you can’t do without right now.
I personally like the simple things. My favorite outfit right now goes like this: Veja Holiday Runner on my feet, a Lean Dean from Nudie as trousers, in addition a longsleeve, again from Nudie Jeans. When it’s getting colder I put on a Hoodie, for example one by Recolution. Furthermore, I don’t go outside without my messenger bag by Brooks, who recently produced a small collection made from organic cotton and with a great quality.
How important are trade shows for you? Where do you buy your merchandise? Which trade shows do you attend?
The Ethical Fashion Show, which takes place during Berlin Fashion Week, offers a good overview on the diversity of the ecological fashion industry. Some brands do also exhibit at unconventional trade shows, so we also pay them a visit.
Did you generate a bigger turnover in comparison to last year? And to what do you attribute the development?
The store and online shop are developing well. I assume that is due to the increasing awareness of the consumer for the topic of sustainability, as well as the always growing and improving offer in eco-fashion. And last but not least, our team is always giving 100 percent.
What does the revenue ration between online sales and stationary retail look like? What is more profitable?
That’s hard to say, since it works hand in hand. We sell some products better online than in the store, others on the other hand work better in stationary retail. Customers who know us from the Internet stop by the store on their Freiburg-trip, and others that move away stay loyal to us by shopping online. However, such an online shop is a lot of work, sometimes I think that you might have it easier at first by just running a well-sorted and specialized stationary retail, especially being a small distributor.
What does your store have that others don’t? What’s your USP?
Our approach is to just sell sustainable and fairly produced garments and to communicate that transparently as well as our claim to not look “eco”.
Is there a store that acts as a role model for you? Any store (worldwide) that inspires you?
I like to look at nice things and stores, but can’t really enjoy it anymore when the substance doesn’t really fit and products without a claim for sustainability are sold there. Therefore, I like things and stores with a more timeless approach, for example high quality denim stores.
Right now, what are the biggest controversies and topics in retail?
I don’t have a real overview there. We mostly move in or small eco-bubble. At least we’re not agitated right now…
What are the biggest challenges in retail?
I think it is not as easy in stationary retail to find a good location. The German city centers are strongly dominated by retail chain stores and the rent is very high. And an online shop is a pretty logistical effort for small distributors.
Which is the most important ingredient for a successful retail?
In my opinion, one should have a clear concept and know what one wants to sell to whom and why.
What would you do differently today?
As lateral entrants we had to obtain a lot of knowledge, which others with a proper education in the fashion- or business field already bring along. That’s a thing we could’ve probably approached more systematically sometimes. And we partly underestimated the amount of work it takes to run a store/online shop.
79098 Freiburg im Breisgau