Learning to Love the Cow: Swiss Buy Into National Symbols

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Cows are cropping up everywhere. Or so it seems.

Lately the Swiss have taken to boasting about the beauty of their bovine friends and ethereal edelweiss (the national flower) on everything from cotton T-shirts to gold-tipped fountain pens.

Why the sudden craving for things Swiss? The national symbols help unite a 705-year-old country that feels a bit insecure about its move toward greater international integration, say businesses that have been successful selling this new-found Swiss solidarity.

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Unlike in America, wearing national pride is somewhat new here.

When Michel Jordi started a line of Swiss "ethno" watches and fountain pens eight years ago, he found it hard to sell Switzerland to the Swiss.

"No one accepted the idea of cows and edelweiss on watches. They didn't want to know about it," says Ki-Young Jordi, Mr. Jordi's wife and vice president of the business that bears his name. Today more than 200 stores here sell the products.

Another watchmaker, Folkwatch, sells products depicting William Tell and other national symbols, such as the Swiss cross, on the faces. Tho Ingold, the company's marketing director, says the brand is "for customers who need national symbols."

Lausanne-based Vaca Lechera, actually began as a political statement. "The Swiss had said 'No' " to joining the European Union, explains Anne Willommet, the company's creative mind. "We wanted to think of a way to motivate the Swiss. We took a product that is typical and reassuring to people - the cow."

Vaca Lechera sells candle-holders, knapsacks, belts, socks, and shirts all with its signature black-and-white cow. The business name comes from the Spanish translation for milk cow, a further way to show the Swiss not to be afraid of Europe, Ms. Willommet says.

Aside from selling security, these companies are selling the idea of enterprise in a country where starting a new business can be more difficult than scaling the Matterhorn.

Referring to a shortage of venture capital, Luc Macherel, Vaca Lechera's business manager, says, "The climate here doesn't support enterprise, and that's not good."

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