Summer, fall, winter and spring. Every season means a new set of clothes that you have to buy if you don’t want to feel hopelessly behind. Seasonal collections are the very essence of the fashion industry’s business model. They are designed to create an urge to constantly renew your wardrobe, but are ultimately a way for fashion companies to make more money. Behind the glossy surface, there are many fundamental issues with this industry. The promotion of excessive consumption, harmful body ideals, and poor production conditions are some of the most obvious ones. But Swedish menswear brand Asket has been created as a way to counteract all of this.
“Fashion is basically all about making people insecure so that they will buy more clothes next season. We want to change the way people view their clothes and ultimately change the industry. It must be possible to produce clothes in a way that’s better for everyone; both the people making them and those wearing them,” explains Asket co-founder August Bard Bringéus when we meet him in the company’s combined office and showroom in Stockholm.
Asket (meaning “Ascetic” in Swedish) was started in 2015 by August and his partner Jakob Dworsky.
“The name is a metaphor for everything we stand for. We’re opposing material excess and unnecessary consumption.”
The duo first met when they studied at the Stockholm School of Economics. August and Jakob shared a frustration with how the fashion industry worked, and how difficult it was to find basic but high-quality clothes with a good fit.
“Plain t-shirts, shirts, and pants – everyday wardrobe staples – were so hard to find because brands change their styles and fit every season. They generally don’t work with permanent collections. So we decided to do something about it,” says August.
The Asket vision is built on a couple of principles that make the brand stand out from the rest of the industry:
- They only work with permanent collections that stay the same over time.
- They offer all shirts in 15 sizes instead of the standard 5. This is done by adding short, regular and long versions to every XS-XL.
- They practice extreme transparency, both in how prices are set and where all the components of their garments are made.
The company launched with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to get money for producing their first t-shirt. It was also a test to see if they could get traction for their ideas. And the result was overwhelming. Asket asked for 10,000 euros. They got almost five times as much.
“The campaign exceeded all expectations and proved that we were on to something. It also gave us a base of 700 loyal customers right from the start,” says August.
It also gave you a great PR boost?
“Yes, it did. But one lesson is that a Kickstarter campaign doesn’t generate press in itself. A lot of preparation went on behind the scenes before we launched on Kickstarter. Once we went live we already had a big network of people who helped us create a buzz around our brand. That attracted the media’s interest, and in turn, made Kickstarter promote us in their channels.”
Asket’s t-shirts are made to fit most body shapes and sizes.
The feature that initially attracted the most attention was the brand’s innovative size model.
“Why cramp 3.5 billion men into just 5 sizes? Everyone knows it will be impossible for every guy to find a perfect fit with such a limited choice. But the system is designed that way in order to reduce costs for the big fashion brands. For us, it’s a different story. We can have more sizes because we don’t work with seasonal collections that must be sold during a specific period. We know that some sizes sell more than others, but that’s no problem.”
As an online merchant, it makes double sense for Asket to offer a bigger range of sizes. Since it’s easier for their customers to find the perfect fit, they get fewer returns which mean lower costs for the company.
“When you’ve found your size, it’ll be the same regardless of what model you buy. So the more repeat customers we get, the lower the return rate will be.”
Since their first t-shirt was launched, Asket has broadened their collection to cover most of the male wardrobe essentials. But their philosophy has stayed the same.
“One example is that we removed the coin pocket from our jeans. No one uses coins anymore, and it costs money to produce. We question every detail in the design in order to remove excess and invest in what really adds value, such as stronger stitches and better fabrics.”
When it comes to transparency, Asket is completely open about where things are made and how much they cost to produce. Since they don’t work with intermediaries, and don’t need to support an expensive network of stores, they can set a lower price than traditional retailers.
“We can focus purely on high quality at a reasonable price,” August Bard Bringéus points out.
Full transparency about where the garments are produced and where the materials come from.
For example, an Oxford shirt that would usually retail at 140 euros costs just 85 euros at Asket.
“As a consumer, it’s hard to know what you’re paying for. Why does a shirt of similar quality cost 30 euros in one shop and 130 in another? If you don’t know where stuff is made, how can you judge whether the working conditions are good or not? We’re open about this so people can understand the whole process behind our clothes. Then hopefully they’ll treat them more carefully and less like disposable products,” explains August.
But Asket doesn’t market itself primarily as a brand for the eco-minded. That part is just a bonus.
“People are not entirely ready to change their lives simply for the benefit of our environment. So we have to make it as easy as possible for them to do it. That’s why we mostly talk about our great products, rather than our sustainability work. It’s still all about creating a material desire.”
Three years on from launching, Asket is still a small business – albeit a growing one. In 2017 their gross revenue was a little over 1 million euros, an increase of almost 200 percent from 2016. The number of customers continues to grow, but the founders are very keen on keeping a close dialogue with them.
“We have adopted a ‘software model’ for product development, which means that we release a limited beta version of new clothes to existing customers. We then collect feedback and tweak them before launching to the public. This way we reduce the financial risk before scaling up production, and at the same time we get more engaged supporters.”
How much can you grow and still keep this relationship with your customers?
“It’ll be a challenge, but it’s all about structuring the company in the right way. I won’t be able to answer all the Instagram messages myself forever, but it can be done in the same personal spirit.”
When it comes to marketing, Asket sees their customers as their most important asset.
“Word of mouth has been our mantra from the start. The product is always number one. If we make the greatest products without compromises, we’ll theoretically have 100 percent satisfied customers. They’ll then tell their friends and create a snowball effect.”
Asket is constantly trying to improve the quality of their shirts.
What have been the most difficult issues so far during this journey?
“They’ve been related to the production of the clothes. There are so many people involved and so much that can go wrong. We’ve had to learn how to work with different suppliers to minimize errors, but also to be extremely honest with our customers. If there are defects we let them know what’s wrong and try to solve it in dialogue with them. If you handle it in a friendly and personal way, it will actually strengthen your bond,” August says.
How will you develop your collection in the future?
“We launch a new product every 3-4 months at the moment. But there are limits to how big a permanent collection can be. So eventually we’ll stop developing new garments, and instead focus on improving the quality even further.”
For now, Asket is only selling clothes for men. If and when they start producing garments for the other half of the population is still a bit unclear.
“If we want to make a real impact on the industry, we’ll have to make clothes for women too. But that’s, of course, a challenge for us, since we started out making the products we were missing ourselves. I’m not sure which the iconic wardrobe staples are for women, to be honest. So we’ll have to think hard on that,” the co-founder says.
What would you say to someone who’s also dreaming of starting their own brand and selling online?
“Be naive! Just throw yourself out there. Otherwise, nothing will happen. But be prepared to roll with the punches and surprises that you can’t be prepared for. And be patient, because things can take time.
Want to know how Klarna can help you grow? Read more here.
August Bard Bringéus
Place of birth: Lund, Sweden
Now lives in: Stockholm, Sweden
Education: BSc in Business and Administration, MSc in International Business
Role at Asket: CEO and co-founder
Number of employees: 6 full-time, 4 part-time
Passions in life: Food, design
August’s 5 best tips for people wanting to become a merchant:
- Understand your core business and what it is you compete on – is it brand, assortment, price, service? What kind of e-commerce business you build and where you invest will follow that.
- Know your customers and how to find them – opening an online store is like opening a shop in the woods.
- Keep it simple – you don’t need to be best in class, textbook e-commerce to get started; get your concept off the ground and see if it works.
- Test your ideas, ask for help and opinions – from colleagues, friends, customers.
- Mobile first!