Meet Matthias

Founded in 2006 by Matthias Rau and Sascha Klemz, Zündstoff was their answer to cheap and disposable clothing that lacked environmental and sustainability standard and put employees in precarious positions, all the while paying them next to nothing. It’s a story we’re all familiar with: cheap clothing means corners have been cut somewhere. And Matthias and Sascha weren’t going to stand for it, and knew the market was out there for Germans who wanted to purchase clothing with meaning.

Their Freiburg, Germany based team has been expanding as their shop has grown in popularity, and they’ve recently introduced a brick and mortar store in their hometown. Representing established ethical brands like Armedangels and Nudie Jeans, they’ve got a little something for everyone both in their store and online.

We had an “e-sit down” with founder Matthias to see what’s on his brain.

What inspired you to start your company? 

We started Zündstoff in 2006, when the choice of ethical fashion was just a fraction of what is available now. We realized that it was pretty difficult to buy fair and organic apparel, i.e. took a lot of time, research and (international) shippings. And so we decided to start an online shop based in Freiburg, Germany, to offer small international ethical brands to the domestic market and thus support the growing movement and demand for ethical fashion.

What’s the greatest crisis facing consumers right now? If you could just pick one thing about the way people shop right now that’s keeping you up at night…

In general, I think there’s just way too much consumption! A lot of customers got used to “fast fashion” that is cheap and quick to consume, but far from sustainable. I think buying high-quality products that can be used for a long time, treating them with care and repairing them if necessary is not only better for the environment and the producers, but can also be more satisfying for yourself. Also we try to encourage our customers to buy 2nd hand clothing, as well as to borrow & exchange products instead of buying lots of new items.

Do you have any “go-to lines” that you bust out when/if people scoff at switching to an ethical lifestyle? How do you convince people that buying ethical matters? 

Honestly, I don’t really believe in preaching and rather think everyone is responsible for their own actions. Having said that, I’m happy to give lots of information to anyone who’s interested…

Tell us some concert step Zündstoff takes to help the environment. 

Well, apart from selling eco-friendly apparel which uses way less water and chemicals than conventional products we also take care of environmental issues when it comes to running our business. So we use green power in both the office/warehouse and the store, and a big part of the furniture in the shop is from recycled materials. Also, we use eco-friendly cleansers, print on recycled paper, drink organic fair trade coffee and so on. The little things…

What were you like in high school? Have you always been passionate about a conscious lifestyle or was it a gradual shift? 

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in a very small town, and wasn’t really into these issues. I guess I was somewhat different/strange though…

 How would you evaluate the culture at Zündstoff? How do you evaluate if someone new will fit in with this culture?

Peace, love, harmony! Well, mostly anyways. We are pretty low-hierarchy and also we’re a quite small team, so it’s important everyone can work well with everyone else. If we hire someone, all of the permanent employees get to know the candidate and have their say in the matter.

What has been your biggest and what did you learn from it?

We started zündstoff being two founders and for quite a while we’ve been working with only very few part-time employees. Hiring people and having to manage a team proved the biggest challenge to me so far, with a steep learning curve after some initial problems.

How do you evaluate success at Zündstoff?

Being a business that sells goods, we of course have to measure success in financial terms like any other company. But we don’t strive to make as much money as possible if it compromises our values or the atmosphere in the workplace. At the end of the day, it’s more important that our customers and ourselves are happy buying/working here.

What’s your favourite product on your website right now? 

That would be a woolen zipped cardigan called Rasmus by the Swedish denim brand nudie jeans. I find myself wearing it a lot lately.

Do you have any organic/ethical personal care products you love/that you can’t live without? 

Yup. Weleda Natural Salt toothpaste. Since I use it, I find regular toothpastes pretty off-putting.

What’s the biggest misconception about being into fair fashion? 

I guess that you look like a sad Hippie dressed in beige hemp clothing. Nothing wrong with hemp though in general, it’s a great material for textiles…

Has your work life spilled over into your personal life or is it vice versa? Or is there a line anymore? 

I guess it has insofar as I can’t really appreciate “beautiful products” anymore if they’re lacking a basic, underlying ethic in the way they’re produced and marketed.

What ethical product is currently missing from the scene?

I’m into road cycling, and it’s really difficult to find cycling kits that are both stylish and ethically produced.

Do you have any personal stories from working in the trenches with ethical fashion that keep you motivated? 

It’s more the small things, happy customers or a good atmosphere in the office that keep me motivated.

Our thanks to Matthias and the entire Zündstoff team for their incredible work towards a more ethical fashion world for everyone!

Back to homepage