Minimalism, creativity and sustainability – 20 years of Ucon Acrobatics
Ucon Acrobatics, the Berlin-based label for bags and backpacks made from recycled, innovative materials is celebrating its 20th birthday. After starting out as a skate label in apparel, Ucon Acrobatics today exclusively produces bags and backpacks. The founders’ drive has always been, however, to design products for the urban individual which are minimalist and functional in design, as well as sustainable in production – even at a time when sustainability was still a marginal phenomenon. Today, Ucon Acrobatics bags and backpacks are sold in more than 500 stores in 34 countries. All designs are created in a former cowshed in Berlin’s Friedrichshain, often in collaboration with renowned artists.
Berlin, xx yy 2021. 20 years is a long time – especially for smaller labels like Ucon Acrobatics. Experiencing ups and downs, the founders have managed to turn an idea they had at a young age into a globally distributed, successful and recognized backpack brand. This is also due to their creativity and consistency when it comes to sustainability: “Minimalism and sustainability are not trends to us. They are parts of our DNA,” says Jochen Smuda, who founded Ucon Acrobatics together with product designer Martin Fussenegger. “One of our maxims is that no one should suffer for our products. No people, no animals and not the environment,” adds Martin Fussenegger. “We firmly believe that only knowledge about the production and composition of materials breathes soul into a product.”
The beginnings: production in the basement and sales from the trunk of the car
Turn of the millennium: Jochen Smuda was a professional skater with the ambition of starting his own skate label. Martin Fussenegger had already founded a skate hardware company during his school years and was full of creative talent. “We started printing the first shirts ourselves in a friend’s basement. We took our parents’ car to skate events all over Europe and sold our stuff out of the trunk,” Smuda says. Soon they moved production to a friend’s sewing shop in Poland to realize their own designs. With this collection, they immediately caught the attention of skate stores. “For the first six years we put every penny of profit back into the company, very slowly building up the brand, which is still owner-managed today,” Smuda continues.
The big change: switching from clothing to backpacks
“As a small label we couldn’t keep up with the rapid rotation and falling prices in the clothing industry. The point came where we didn’t want to be part of it anymore,” Smuda says. In 2015, they rather incidentally launched a small range of bags and backpacks with the same minimalist design and sustainability standards as the clothing. Waterproof, durable backpacks made from innovative materials for ‘urban nomads’ with aesthetic aspirations.
Contemporary backpacks for the ‘adventure of everyday life’, designed in Berlin
The bags and backpacks ushered Ucon Acrobatics into a new era. They became incredibly popular within a short period of time, leading to the clothing getting fully replaced in 2016. The new products still represent all the values that have been so important to the founders for 20 years and which they also live by every day: “We try to live sustainability both as a brand and personally. For example, our office in Berlin runs on green electricity. We all come to work on foot or by bike and eat a pure vegetarian diet,” says Fussenegger. The backpacks are made of innovative, sustainable materials such as rPET, which is made from recycled PET bottles. “But we’ve also had series made of paper and cork before,” he adds.
The future: creative collaboration and sustainability
You can feel the experimental spirit and attention to detail in Ucon Acrobatics’ creations. The anchoring in creative Berlin is identity-forming, as this enables the label to regularly collaborate with photographers as well as creators of magazines, design studios and other brands. Ucon Acrobatics still has a lot of plans: “We want to establish ourselves as a brand that combines minimalism and functionality in the most beautiful way,” says Smuda. Fussenegger adds, “We want to make our products better and more durable, moving forward on the path of sustainability while embodying solidarity values.”
- The goal is to create products that are as durable as possible in order to meet our sustainability standards.
- We are all very design and art savvy and our artist collaborations have been a fundamental part of our company philosophy from the beginning.
- For us, overcoming the climate catastrophe is the most important task of our generation. Even though our label is only a very small cog in the big wheel, we hope that we can continue to do our part.
- Sustainability is anchored in our DNA and comes above everything else. Any process we can do better, we do better.
- No one should suffer for our products – not people, not animals, and not the environment.
- Our customers are looking for high-quality bags and backpacks and appreciate our investment in sustainability and transparency. Just like us, our customers are ready for change.
- The functionality is barely visible in our products and limited to only a few elements. This is how we manage to be more timeless than others.
- We want to establish ourselves as a brand that combines minimalism and functionality in the most beautiful way.
- For us, ‘Ucon’ became the acronym for ‘Urban CONquest’. We love urban versatility, a kaleidoscope of cultures and the little details of everyday life. The word ‘Acrobatics’ stands for how highly complex things – be it in movement but also in design – can achieve elegant lightness. The appropriate tagline for Ucon Acrobatics could be: ‘Balance and agility in everyday life’.
- It settled in our minds very early on that every product should be something we loved.