INTERVIEWFewer collections, longer lasting creations - rarely before did the future of slow fashion look so realistic. Swedish slow fashion label Asket focuses on an ascetic lifestyle; less is more. This is why the Stockholm-based brand has been concentrating on timeless basics and only one permanent collection since its founding days in 2015. FashionUnited spoke with Asket co-founder August Bard-Bringéus about managing a transparent supply chain, the effects of the corona crisis and possibly offering clothes for women soon.
German fans of the brand were recently happy to hear that Asket is stepping up its efforts in the country. Are you planning to customise your approach for different markets?
Asket started with one website, one language and one payment method to keep everything as simple as possible for a unified concept. We then grew organically and wherever a small group of Asket fans emerged, we increased our attention. Together with Sweden and the UK, Germany is one of our focus markets. Our warehouse is located in Germany and therefore, most items can be delivered within 24 hours - not only in Germany. But otherwise there will be no adjustment, because this is quite costly and does not correspond to our basic idea. So if for example the website would be translated, then a German customer service has to follow and we don't have the capacity for that at the moment.
But the German customer is very interested, very progressive, travels a lot and perhaps expects our website to be international. Therefore it can be positive that everything is in English. If we were a traditional company where growth is all that matters, we would have done it long ago, but as a niche company, we rather focus on a better, sharper product.
You almost answered my next question - what does the typical Asket customer look like - if he exists?
He is about 30 to 32 years old, urban, progressive, does not follow fashion trends, but wants to know what the future has to offer, what is the latest, the smartest. Asket is almost anti-fashion, so the label appeals to many people, from 16-year-old football kids to 70-year-old pensioners. Some want minimalism, some want our special sizing system, some love us because we are provocative, some like our circular business model.
In times of Corona, have you noticed more demand for your label? How has the pandemic affected your business?
It has been quite a rollercoaster ride; everything here was turned upside down, the whole hierarchy of needs. Since mid-March, it has been more about ‘how are my parents doing, how is my grandma, how are my friends’ instead of a general buying mood. For us, sales plummeted by 70 percent during this period and we set up a contingency plan because we did not know how long this would last.
We had to actively intervene, cut our budget by 50 percent and reduce working hours; one employee even had to be let go, but the situation recovered relatively well by April/May. We work on a better cost basis and as an online-only company, we are very well equipped, with slow fashion especially as we are not dependent on seasons and we made it so far without sales and discounts. How the situation will affect demand in the long term remains to be seen.
How has the crisis affected your supply chain?
We pay many orders in advance and were able to communicate well with our suppliers. We were able to agree with larger suppliers that we would accept all the goods, but that we would need better payment terms. We were then able to pass these on to smaller suppliers and thus reallocate resources as needed. We visit every single supplier at least once a year, so we know them personally. It also depends on how many new projects we have, then more frequent visits may be necessary.
Two years ago, Asket introduced traceability labels for all products that make tracing the origin of each part possible. How has this been received?
Much has happened since launching the labels. By now, other brands have followed suit - even large companies such as H&M, which, however, only specifies the first factory. In the meantime, many progressive companies have joined the trend towards more transparency. This helps to raise the standard among customers. We have subconsciously tightened up the customers' criteria. For many, traceability labels are just a bonus.
Let me add that traceability is not synonymous with sustainability, that is nonsense. What we want to do is to calculate and indicate the footprint etc. based on transparency and traceability. After all, no product is sustainable per se, all products have a footprint. But you can also use products longer and thus increase their sustainability.
Last but not least, we would like to know where August buys his clothes when he is not wearing Asket?
(laughs) Meanwhile we offer 32 products, so like many people in the office, I wear only Asket. But we do not make bags, belts and accessories. When it comes to shoes, I prefer Allbirds, they are great in terms of communication and product. Otherwise I also buy second-hand or for bags, for example, from Swedish brand Sandqvist.
Even though many of your garments are unisex, at the moment you are focusing on men - is something planned for women as well?
We have many female fans, about 15 to 20 percent of our followers on Instagram are women. We have about 60 percent female employees on the team and they all wear Asket. Given these facts and our goal to end the era of fast fashion, we plan to offer products for women in the not too distant future too.
Photos: courtesy of Asket