by Chelsea McPartlon
Two ingenious entrepreneurs, who’ve seemed to figure out that, for a long time, there’s been a need for a true and real sustainable clothing brand. That also takes it to the most serious, utter devotion down to every detail. Thankfully, these two young men, August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky, have successfully done just that, founding ASKET! Read on to learn more all about this special brand.
First things first, how did you both team up and decide that you wanted to build a sustainable clothing brand together? Was there a ‘aha’ epiphany moment that you guys experienced and decided right then and there to really go for it?
We actually met at university, studying business at Stockholm School of Economics, and neither of us had entertained the idea of working in fashion before. So, it might sound like an unlikely foundation for an apparel brand, but then again ASKET isn’t your conventional label either. Timeless basics are the essentials of every man’s wardrobe, yet we found it so hard to find something as simple as a plain white T-shirt or a blue oxford shirt, because brands change their style and fit every season. Instead, we found unnecessary details, tasteless colours, overpaying for quality or paying too little for garments of dubious origin. We saw an opportunity to move away from fashion’s seasonal churn and introduce a permanent collection of mindfully produced, high quality and timeless garments – designed to last. Ultimately, what started out as an idea to create the best men’s basic wardrobe turned into something more than that. As we started to learn more about the fashion system, we saw what an inherently exploitative industry it is. Fashion requires a huge amount of resources, it leaves behind a lot of pollution and relies on a lot of skilled labourers, who more often than not work in unsafe and unfair work environments. That’s when our mission shifted to transforming the way this entire industry operates.
I appreciate the company’s full devotion to creating garments that come from factories following sustainable practices. Since the company has factories all over the world, from China, Portugal, Italy to Germany, how did you come to find these factories? And do you visit them frequently?
We’re stoked to hear you admire our devotion. The fashion industry relies on a complex web of expertises from all around the world, so uncovering our supply chain and getting visibility has been a labour of love, to say the least. To answer your question, quite simply we started out as two guys with no contacts, googling factories and gradually building-up a network, as well as our understanding. We took the time to find and invest in extremely skilled and seasoned consultants, even for a single specific product. They helped us find quality suppliers. Now, our dedicated product team plays an integral part in visiting all the facilities we partner with, down to the farms where the cotton grows. It means that we’ve been able to build a pretty good network of trusted partners. You can read more about our partners, suppliers, mills and factories on the traceability page of our website.
Now more than ever, people are becoming more aware and conscious of the things they buy and spend their money on. With the Coronavirus pandemic at hand, people’s mindsets have shifted and there has been a rise and shift towards more ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly businesses. That said, how has ASKET been affected during this time? Has there been a high increase in sales and newfound customers?
Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a groundswell. With customers finding their voice through initiatives like Fashion Revolution and School Strike for Climate. Now, the pandemic has further laid bare the serious failings of the global fashion system, with entire seasonal collections going to waste and cancelled orders leaving an already vulnerable supply chain workforce in dire straits. With the fashion industry being under the spotlight more than ever, we hope that after the pandemic these changes will only accelerate and that we won’t fall back to our old consumption habit. However, no company is immune to the effects of the pandemic, in fact many of the brands that are pioneering new practices in the industry are smaller players and simply may not have the capital to pull themselves through the crisis. After an initial dip in demand, mainly related to our hierarchy of needs being turned on its head in the midst of a crisis affecting everyone, and honestly providing a necessary breather and time for reflection. 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 and solid relationships within our supply chain, we’re in a good position to ride this out.
August and Jakob, where do you each find inspiration?
Inspiration comes and goes quickly and can turn up in unexpected places: over a morning coffee, in a moment of clarity during a run or from news articles, books, podcasts, even simply while scrolling through instagram on the couch. Although, if you’re really trying to tap into the ASKET psyche, maybe a look at the mini-library in our office can definitely help you, here’s a few of our favourite books: ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari, ‘The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy’ by Pietra Rivoli, ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ by Yvon Chouinard, ‘The Thank You Economy’ by Gary Vaynerchuk, and ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh.
What advice would you give to anyone who has an idea fora sustainable company, but doesn’t know where to start to make this dream a reality?
There’s a danger of the word ‘sustainable’ becoming muddied. Despite good intentions and efforts, all the sustainable collections hitting shop shelves are ill defined and can lead to more confusion than good. There’s so much that can be done to set the world to rights, and our advice would be to focus on one specific thing and do that really well. If you think you’re onto something, then expand your idea, study it, pick it apart, question the current practices and offer a solution. Once you’re convinced that you’ve found a better way of doing things, then focus all your attention on that. Also, be transparent about the reason why your way of doing is better, as well as sharing your successes and failures along the way. Right now, people are looking for authenticity more than ever. Take it from us, don’t label it sustainable (you won’t find the word anywhere on our website), you’ll only be adding to the greenwashing lexicon.
What does fashion mean to you both and is it the same as style?
For us, style is timeless, whereas fashion is fickle. This notion influences every aspect of our design process: when we introduce something to our permanent collection, it’s meant to last a lifetime and even be good enough to be passed onto the next. That guides us in selecting the most durable and high quality materials, as well as creating timeless designs that won’t fall out of fashion. Think of the Steve McQueens and Alain Delons of the world: their casual sensibilities would look as comfortable on the cover of a magazine now as they did 60 years ago.
How has social media, specifically Instagram, affected ASKET? Has it been beneficial, or do you find it more negative than positive?
As digital natives, Instagram has been key in generating word of mouth. If someone genuinely likes our products and shares them on social media, others will listen. We’ve connected with many new customers this way. At the same time, the combination of fast fashion and social media has fed an insatiable appetite for newness, which has been toxic for the planet and consumer’s behaviour, and the last thing we want to do is to feed into this. So, we work hard to establish relationships, on social media, with individuals who share our values, creating meaningful content with them.
Let’s end looking towards the future, what would you like to see happen for ASKET in 2021?
The fashion industry is facing an existential crisis, with the industry grappling as to how it can operate in a better way without imploding. We’re still young, but by 2021 we hope to be profitable and show the fashion incumbents that the industry can slow down, while creating more value and less waste along the entire value chain. Our permanent collection is built on a simple concept, But it’s proven to be able to unlock…a radical new way of working: no overproduction or waste at the end of seasons, time to trace and become accountable for our supply chain and no need for discounting that only encourages snap shopping decisions. Once put into practice, the fashion industry could be half as big in terms of volume, but the same size in terms of revenue.
Credits: Photo by Sara Bille