Have you ever wondered why we are buying? And how many of our possessions attribute to the real needs? Young and passionate, German artist Simon Freund is reinforcing the way you see consumption today. Acne, Zadig&Voltaire, Dior, Kenzo – those are just labels, and in no way should they define your personality. We asked Simon about his thoughts on consumer behavior and minimalism, pop art and the environmental movement. Join the conversation. 
Simon, as far as I know, you’ve gone the long way till this time. Could you please tell us about your previous experiences?
I have never really had a proper design background, it was always about self-motivation and self-development. At the age of 18 I decided to launch a fashion company that would promote sustainable clothing. At that point I was all into winter sports like snowboarding, so I became conscious about preserving mountains and the whole environmental issue. My small company supported the global anti-warming movement. Back then, I didn’t really know anything about design, so now I can see how amateur the product seemed to be. Later I did a course in Fashion&Branding, which I quit after a year, finding it uninteresting and irrelevant for my personal growth. I was all focused on my company, and eventually we opened a store, Simon&Me, in Berlin.
What was the philosophy of Simon&Me?
We embraced really minimal and simple design. After we’d opened a concept store, it allowed us to sell directly to the customer, which was important 'cause I could see the feedback from our clients. This project really started because I had an opinion on certain issues and I wanted to share it. Once that happened, my work was done, in a way.
You wanted to focus on fair trade. How did you approach the environmental production at you own label? Was it a complicated thing to do?
At the very beginning, we tried to maintain a production process as eco-friendly as possible. And yes, everything was certified, but seriously, if the T-shirt label says Made in India, how friendly it actually is? You don’t know. It suddenly fall into place for me that I simply wanted to know where and how my products were being produced. Next thought was to move all production to Germany: accessories, apparel, interior products. Everyone warned me and thought that was stupid. So obviously I did it. And so far, this was one of my most successful decisions in the fashion career.
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What was the key moment in your career so far?
At that time my brand was comparatively successful. Nonetheless, I constantly felt pressured to sell more, to expand. I think I just looked back and asked myself: “Is this what I really wanted?” I started because I had something to say, and ended up pushing the sales of my label in order to gain profit. It became clear that no product I was going to sell, even marked as eco-friendly, would ever make me happy. That was the moment I felt I had to change something. 
How would you define the aim of your work nowadays?
If someone hears my message, that is enough. I don’t want to make money of that. I am not interested in selling that message again and again. I needed to make profit to sustain my company, but basically from the very beginning it was all about expressing my opinion. That is what brought me where I am now: I quit everything that was anyhow commercial to solely concentrate on creating work as an artist, with voice and opinion.
As an artist, you are most interested in the topic of consumption and consumer behavior. What brought you here?
To a certain extent, that is what I have been doing for the last seven years – trying to persuade people to buy more stuff, producing it and selling it to them. I’m not saying it’s generally bad to consume physical things, since we all live in a materialistic world. But the amount of stuff we have been consuming within the last decades is just enormous – how much of that do we really need? My main interest became the wish to understand people’s drivers, to explore what the true value is. It’s funny to notice that, from the moment I started my brand to the moment I stopped, the prices for products grew from 100 to 10.000 €. What makes items valuable? How many functional aspects matter? I have been asking myself these questions on a daily basis.
"What makes items valuable? How many functional aspects matter? I have been asking myself these questions on a daily basis."
Would you say your art has a “call to action” effect? I mean, do you want people to start consuming less, purchasing consciously or switch to a minimalistic lifestyle?
The most important aspect of my work is to make people think. As Socrates once said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” (470/467 - 399 BC). In my ideal world, of course, everyone would consume less, and if buying, would go for better products. But that is not up to me – my work is to simply give people tools and opportunities to think beyond. If one starts buying slightly better items that last, it’s already a change. You cannot reprogram people’s minds completely; just one step at a time.
You are referring to the idea of needs and desires. Do you believe the world is overfilled with marketing corporations and campaigns, pushing the products onto consumers?
Let’s put it simply. What is art? It makes you question the very existence, it gives you joy, it makes you laugh or cry – that is the value of it. Value is such a weak and uncertain concept: I explore it in my work Silver Button, in a picture frame that costs 20.000 €. I came to understand that an object doesn't necessarily need to be functional to have intellectual or aesthetic value. Design doesn't need to be functional. I don’t believe in fake value, such as a leather bag you bought to impress friends or followers. Value is definitely beyond needs and social opinion, and that is between an object and a person.
Let’s talk about your references and inspirations. Who inspires you? And also, as the whole anti-consumerism movement in art started within Pop Art, do you feel related to it somehow?
When I first started looking at myself as an artist, I found inspiration in other artists whose ideas or believes I shared. Marcel Duchamp was one of the most powerful and important influences, and what I admire most is his attitude: he laughs about people, about himself, about his daily life. He made me believe that I could take myself seriously as an artist without being too serious. I also appreciate the work of contemporary artists such as Alicja Kwade, Erwin Wurm, or Kim De Ruysscher. Then there is this furniture project of artists Muller Van Severen, and their emphasis is not completely concentrated on the function of the objects – the duo suggest different ways of living and using space. Sometimes with a touch of absurd, turning to irrational.
About Pop Art, I used to like the aesthetics more when I was younger, now my taste has changed. But I like the simplicity of the techniques artists used back then; and I still believe what Warhol did is great. Isn’t it funny to just paint a Campbell Soup and sell it for thousands of dollars?
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I have always been curious about money and art.
I think the best thing is that you don’t pay the artist for his art. If you like it, you can finance me so that I will be able to continue creating. But you won’t be able to purchase my works. This is why my biggest dream and goal at the same time would be exhibiting in the world’s biggest museums, free for anyone to visit.
Another concept I believe is helpful for the artist (or at least, that is what I am currently doing) is having a regular job and earning money from that. You would produce genuine art only when it’s free from money, when you don’t need to live out of it.
What are you currently working on?
I am now moving to London to start working at a furniture company, which has been known for its long-lasting furniture and sustainable approach and whose honesty I highly appreciate. This will give me the chance to finance myself and be completely free with my own work as an artist. Talking about my art, I hope that the more recognition I get the more extreme I am able to go. I will never be finished with pushing the boundaries of my possibilities and creativity.
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