MK - What led the founders - August and Jakob - to start Asket?
SA - August and Jakob were struck by how hard it was to find something as simple as a well-fitting, quality white T-shirt or a simple Oxford Shirt, because brands changed their style and fit every season. Instead they found; unnecessary details, tasteless colours, overpaying for “quality” or paying too little for garments of dubious origin. They realized that fashion is built on a model of constant renewal. In order to continue turning a profit, brands are telling shoppers that they need new styles and to change their wardrobes at an increasing pace.
As students at Stockholm School of Economics it just seemed like bad business, and unsustainable to say the least. So they decide to challenge the conventional business model by stepping out of seasons, instead introducing a single permanent collection of quality and timeless garments - designed to last (the ones that would look as good on a cover of GQ now, as they did 50 years ago). Launching only 5 - 7 garments a year and manufacturing each piece under full transparency and total accountability.
MK - What teams do you now have, and how did this grow?
SA - When ASKET launched in 2015, it was just August and Jakob doing everything from; working with our supplier and manufacturers, to the marketing, pick and pack in the basement and customer service. In the past 6 years, we’ve grown to 14 full timers, with teams looking after Product Development, Marketing, Logistics, Customer Care and Finance. It’s a lean team but full of fight and we get a lot done.
MK - What functions are in house vs outsourced?
SA - We like to keep things in-house as much as possible, we have a smart team and are able to move quickly - that said we do collaborate with some very talented Stockholm based agencies for some of our content production as well as website development. In general our focus is on building the expertise and knowledge we need in-house.
MK - You are very open about your principles of transparency, value chain and internal operations. How does a brand hold themselves accountable to these principles on a day to day basis?
SA - We have created a framework that outlines our responsibility and the principles to which we hold ourselves accountable, called The ASKET Principles, it’s on our website for everyone to see. The Principles ensure we keep our promise: To only create meaningful essentials, garments free of compromise, that allow us to pursue a life with less and end the era of fast consumption. The Principles are designed to encompass the totality of our impact and influence. Our goal is to have everything covered from where we source the smallest of buttons to how we communicate with our customers. We report back on our progress yearly, and time the release of the report with fashion revolution week, which feels quite apt.
MK - Do you have a dedicated 'Responsibility' team who own this value, or is it ingrained into the culture of the business, and therefore everyone's business?
SA - Responsibility is holistic. It is both collective and individual, it indicates that we are all responsible for our decisions, actions and the sum of their impact. With that in mind, ask everyone in our team to approach every single aspect of our business with responsibility, making decisions that we know can transform the way the industry operates - whether you’re in the product team, finance or marketing we all have our part to play.
MK - Do you see this radical transparency as being a brave step to take, given it might not always be completely successful at first?
SA - For us full transparency (cost, origin and impact) is a tool for driving positive change in the industry. If we fully understand the resources and the craftsmanship that goes into every garment we’re better able to appreciate that piece. Beyond that, only by tracing the journey of our clothes can we better understand the process and recognize the impact it has on people, planet as well as animal welfare. Once there is a broad scale realisation that the way, and the rate at which we produce clothing, is incompatible with a thriving planet will we start to see change. It’s a labour of love to say the least - the fashion industry has been allowed to grow an immensely complex and fragmented supply chain and marketing is riddled with greenwashing, making it all too easy for brands to shrug off any responsibility, so we’re having to unravel a lot of old practises. But we’re firm in the belief that, if we enforce transparency as a standard, not only do we raise awareness of the value and impact of clothing among consumers, we also push the industry towards accountability.
MK - As well as being a changemaker in how to run a business, you also use your brand to educate, enable and motivate your customers to be part of changing the industry. How do you find ways of doing this?
SA - As you mentioned in your intro, today we buy 60% more clothing than we did 15 years ago, and only keep those garments for half as long. This behaviour is symptomatic of the fashion industry which has fostered a lifestyle where we treat clothes as disposable, rather than the investment they should be. Our responsibility must therefore stretch beyond the considered creation of longer lasting garments, to also encompass how we communicate and market these garments to our customers. If we disregard our responsibility in honest marketing and communication, we can not effectively shift towards a world of considered decision making and slower consumption. We respect everyone’s ability to think critically and with that in mind work to provide factual information about our garments, everything we know (and don’t), so that our customers can make informed decisions. Full Transparency is the foundation to help us make educated choices and ultimately consume less
MK - The challenges of 2020 impacted us all, and had a stratospheric impact on eCommerce. Do you think this recent shift in consumer behaviour will stick around?
SA - eCommerce is having a moment. It’s a trend started to emerge 5 - 10 years ago but with lock downs in place it’s accelerated the trend, in fact a recent report by Bernstein trends projected that the growth rate of online fashion will triple this year and account for more than 20% of total sales - the equivalent of five years growth in just 6 months. That said, each channel has a part to play and if done one right the two can platforms can be harmonizing. At ASKET we work hard to convey the inherent value of a garment as and our biggest challenge is translation that quality online - nothing quite conveys the value of a garment better than getting tactile with it; feeling the quality of the material, appreciating the detail of the design and trying it for size. So retail has a role in the consumer journey and understanding.
MK - Your recent packaging overhaul tackled one of eCommerces less talked about challenges - the packaging problem. There was a great deal of smart thinking in your initiative which led to both cost savings and a reduced environmental impact. Who was behind it?
SA - The packaging overhaul was a 12 month project conducted in-house and spearheaded by our Operations Manager Estelle Nordin. It was a multifaceted project with much research, comparative scenario studies and plenty of learning, so we went on to pen a white paper (you can find it on our website), which we hope will provide a neat framework for others to follow suit, regardless of their current packaging set-up.
MK - There's an element of open source in how you shared this process and how to follow it. Should brands be sharing more of their learnings (and sometimes, failures) to raise the collective whole?
SA - Fashion has driven an entire system failure - it’s an industry that has built a profit at the expense of people and planet. To counter this, we need to start introducing new business models and new ways of working - by sharing our learning and more importantly failures, we can make sure this happens sooner rather than later. The tipping point will come when an increase in general consumer awareness and better business practises coincides with harsher legislation on responsibility in the fashion supply chain — at that point the old ways of doing business will no longer be viable and responsible business will become financially sound for the industry as a whole.
MK - Your website has a great mix of stories about the brands principles, along with a raft of user-friendly tools such as the excellent fit finder. There's clearly been a lot of investment into creating the user experience. Do you take a similar continuous improvement approach to the website, as you do the production and logistics?
SA - Our website is a reflection of our philosophy. As I mentioned above we see our responsibility stretch well beyond the creation of garments, from setting new standards for transparency to life cycle responsibility. This extends to the way we communicate with our customers and the tools we develop to help them make informed choices. So our website faces the same scrutiny and approach of constant improvement as all other areas of our business.
SA - You're an online DTC pureplay. Does physical retail play any part in Asket's vision?
SA - Nothing quite conveys the value of a garment better than getting tactile with it; feeling the quality of the material, appreciating the detail of the design and trying it for size. So we see retail playing a very important role in our customer's journey and understanding. That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’re opening the first ASKET store in Stockholm, this summer.
Just as with our online environment, there will be an unambiguous focus on sharing the inherent value of every garment. Beyond that we want to encourage people to get tactile with our pieces, with a lounge area that encourages long dwell times and considered purchasing decisions - or not purchasing at all. And there won’t be any obvious sales registers, a subtle reminder that this isn’t a place for overconsumption. Working with architects Specific Generic we’re creating a space that will be fresh, uncomplicated and concise - just like us and our garments.
MK - It's often quoted that one of the benefits of DTC is having a direct connection to your customers. In Asket's case, I noticed several times where you've enrolled actual customers to help develop and test new initiatives. Do you often engage directly with your community of customers?
SA - As you say there’s a raft of benefits to going DTC, from being able to offer lower by cutting out the middleman, to offering better customer care experience. What’s been most important for us is that it’s allowed us to build direct relationships with all our customers, keep a close dialogue with them and setting up a feedback loop with them when it comes to our clothing. We collect their feedback and continue tweaking every garment in our collection – essentially adopting a ‘software model’ to our design process. It means our permanent collection only gets better and at the same time engages our supporters more.
Let’s end with some lighthearted questions. Shoot from the hip!
MK - If we could visit 1 place that inspires Asket (ideally by train!), where would it be?
SA - Porto, the north of Portugal is the home of quality cotton jersey fabrication - it’s where we make our t-shirts to this day.
MK - If you could only use 1 marketing channel to build community for Asket from now on, which one would you choose?
SA - Instagram
MK - If you could only subscribe to 1 other brand's newsletter, which one would you read?
SA - Noah Clothing
MK - If you could only listen to 1 podcast, which would it be?
SA - Polymathic Audio
MK - If we should check out 1 brand following this interview, what brand should it be?
SA - Doconomy
MK - If you were starting a new brand today, what would be the first thing you would do?
SA - Introduce full transparency from the start. Covering; price, origin and impact.