Review how Stockholm-based ASKET is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a loyal global customer base, why it’s not chasing the athleisure trend, and what your first purchase should be in this interview with co-founder August Bard-Bringeus.
This article is part of an ongoing series examining how startups, small businesses and retailers are managing uncertainty in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
ASKET has been providing men with meaningful and timeless wardrobe essentials since 2015.
Co-founders August Bard-Bringeus and Jakob Dworsky began the company with a mission to find the perfect t-shirt. The two grew the brand deliberately, rolling out a handful of new wardrobe pieces every year.
“When we launched, we set out to tackle the fickle nature of the fashion industry,” August told me. “We decided to road test an entirely new business model; stepping out of seasonal cycles and instead introducing a permanent collection,” he added.
August notes that was a simple concept, but the goal ultimately was to “unlock an entirely new way of working within the apparel industry; one with no overproduction, no need for discounting that only encourages snap shopping decisions, and time to trace and to become accountable for supply chains.”
“Our theory goes that the fashion industry can be just the same in terms of value but at a fraction of the production output, if garments were made under full transparency and accountability,” he said.
Today ASKET’s collection includes merino sweaters, washed denim, oxford shirts, sweatshirts, and boxer briefs as well as t-shirts and polos made of soft, long staple Egyptian cotton.
Engaging a global community of customers from Stockholm
While ASKET is based in Stockholm, Sweden, the company provides worldwide delivery.
ASKET’s clothing is available exclusively via its website asket.com. The company has served customers in 98 countries. August notes that ASKET’s top 3 markets are Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
“E-commerce has enabled us to go direct-to-consumer on scale from the get-go,” noted August.
Most importantly, e-commerce gave us the opportunity to cut out the middleman. Since we don’t have to rely on an expansive network of stores, our garments have a lower mark-up, so our customers are paying prices that are reflective of what goes into making their clothes, rather than selling them.August Bard-Bringeus, Co-Founder, ASKET
August added that, “what appealed to us, was the opportunity to build direct relationships with all our customers, keep a close dialogue with them and set up a feedback loop with them when it comes to our clothing.
ASKET collects customer feedback and continues tweaking every garment in their collection, “essentially adopting a ‘software model’ to our design process,” according to August. “It means our collection only gets better and at the same time engages our supporters more,” he observed.
The first item you should buy from ASKET
“As for ASKET we don’t want to thrive by growing the size of the industry or growing the number of items that people purchase, rather if we grow, it should be because someone chooses us as a better alternative to something else,” August said.
“With that in mind, we’re naturally a little hesitant to encourage people to go out and buy but no wardrobe is complete without a quality white T-shirt, one that lasts 5 years, not 5 washes,” said August.
“Our classic T is my personal favourite,” August told me adding, “I wear them every single day, it’s a uniform.”
His shirts are going on 5 years now, but he promises they won’t go out of his rotation any time soon.
ASKET’s unique 15-tier size system
August notes that the t-shirt is a great way to test out ASKET’s 15-tier size system.
On top of the usual spectrum of sizes from XS – XL, Asket offers short, regular and long lengths.
“One of the biggest frustrations guys have is being between sizes,” suggests August. “If you find something in the perfect fit, you’ll go back to it time and time again.”
How ASKET is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic
I asked August to describe the impact of COVID-19 on ASKET and where he sees the future of retail and fashion on the other side.
Here’s what he had to say in his own words, lightly-edited for grammar and length:
Better for the planet and for weathering uncertain times
“No company is immune to the effects of the pandemic.
“For ASKET, we saw an initial dip in demand in March, but since then we’ve seen our customers become even more loyal and we hope this is because they want to back the brands they believe in.
“Our business model also exists to challenge the fickle nature of the fashion industry, so with no seasonal collections to write off, solid relationships within our supply chain, and no retail stores, we’re in a good position to ride this out – if not come out stronger than some others. With it we hope to show the incumbents that the fashion industry can operate in wholly different ways.
“We want to call for designed and intentional efforts that restore the balance between what our planet can offer us and what we use.
“At ASKET, we challenged the fashion industries business model by moving away from seasonal collections – and are firm in the belief that the industry can be just the same in terms of value but at a fraction of the product output if we step out of the seasonal churn, produce mindfully and redistribute value across the whole value chain.
“If anything the pandemic has proven that companies that run efficiently, are not only better for the planet but better at weathering uncertain times.
Not chasing the athleisure trend
Editor’s note: I asked August to project where guy’s wardrobes settle going forward given work from home and athleisure trends.
“Trends wax and wane – and we sincerely hope that we won’t be confined to our sofas wearing sweatpants in the long term – but true style prevails.
“That’s how we continue to approach our collection; it’s permanence is our guiding principle.
“It influences every aspect of the design process; from deciding what qualifies as a wardrobe essential, to selecting the most durable and quality materials as well as creating timeless designs that won’t fall out of fashion.
“In terms of style icons, we look to the Steve McQueens and Alain Delons of the world; their casual sensibilities would look as comfortable on the cover of GQ now as they did 60 years ago.
“Over the last 20 years the simplicity of these garments has been corrupted, with useless pockets or unnecessarily deep neck lines being added in the pursuit of creating new trends.
“We want to restore that simplicity, stripping garments back to their very essence and instead focusing on perfecting the quality, fit and design. So for now, we don’t have plans to add sweatpants but only time will tell if they do become a wardrobe staple.
e-Commerce is booming, but room for retail remains
“E-commerce is booming and lock downs have accelerated the trend.
“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.
“So brands that have a strong e-commerce offering are certainly fairing better in light of the covid pandemic.
“That said, there is still room for physical retail, with many digital first brands opening physical locations. 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.”
Other e-commerce brands built for the long term
Editor’s note: I asked August to identify Direct-to-Consumer brands that he admires.
“Patagonia is the real OG, they are truly inspiring in all that they do. The book Let My People Go Surfing [by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard] is a must read for anyone starting a clothing brand and wants to challenge how the entire industry operates.”
He also commended “Allbirds for not settling for industry standard, evident in how they are redefining how shoes and sneakers are made, going entirely plastic free and introducing their carbon footprint label, rather than hiding behind vague sustainability language.
“When it comes to communications, Oatly set the bar. Not only do they have a great product (dairy-alternative) but their communications and marketing is bold, they dare to challenge both the customer and their competitors.
“I’m also a big fan of Sunspel for staying true to heritage and quality and Tesla for challenging every industry rule.”
Photo credits: All photos are courtesy of ASKET.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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