Launched in 2015, apparel brand ASKET—founded by August Bard Bringeus and Jakob Dworsky—was built on the belief that transparency, longevity and responsibility need to be essential across the fashion industry. The name itself translates to a disciplined individual or, as the brand puts it, “a person who does without extravagance and abundance.” They attempt this by rebuffing seasonal collections, working with responsible mills and manufacturers, tracing garments every step of the process (and offering the public a full view of the supply chain and costs) and then selling directly to customers. Each item is handmade from high-quality fabrics, and has been crafted to last.
While ASKET doesn’t call themselves a “sustainable fashion” label (an oxymoron; as every new garment makes an impact), they do want to be a more responsible company in an industry riddled with exploitation, consumption and waste. We spoke with Bringeus about their ethos, process, and a new collection intended for women.
Knowing that the fashion industry is saturated, what made you decide founding ASKET was a good idea?
We felt that clothing and the fashion industry hasn’t really become better. Things have become worse. With technological advancements, most industries, services and products get better over time, whereas clothing has just become cheaper—and more of it. So, the underlying reason we ventured out was that we were frustrated with the fact that we all have so much stuff in our wardrobes, yet we use so little of it. What we figured out was the reason that we have so much, but use little of it and use it for a short time, is that the fashion industry is geared toward constant renewal. With fast fashion and globalized supply chains, a lot of competition has made clothing so cheap that it’s cheaper to replace something than to repair it. With that speed of replacement, the clothing that is put out is compromised, either in fit, design or quality.
The basic idea was to deal with this frustration, to reduce our wardrobes and to create a permanent collection, one single garment at a time. And with that, endless perspective and eternal relevance of the product. We call the “pursuit of less”—helping people make fewer items and to feel emotional gratification over a material gratification.
Making high-quality, long-lasting staples is one thing, but your supply chain is very transparent too—how important was that?
Transparency—in order to showcase the quality and the story behind the product—was really a segue into responsibility, because in order to be that transparent, obviously we needed to visit factories. We needed to learn about the whole fashion supply chain, and we had no experience within that. The first time we set foot in a factory in Portugal in March of 2015, and saw just the amount of hard work that goes into cutting and sewing a T-shirt, not to mention of all the work behind creating the fabric, spinning yarns, dyeing, all that. We were flabbergasted by the negligence or ignorance with which we, as consumers, buy clothing.
It’s immensely important to restore the appreciation for the clothing that we buy and to instill a sense of meaningfulness, so that an item—that T-shirt—means something more to you.
It was a gradual transition from showing prices transparently to showing a factory where one step is made, to showing as much as possible and introducing full traceability down to the farms. Then most recently, not just showing what it costs and where it comes from, but also the impact that each garment has had on people and the planet. Essentially, all of that aims at educating the consumer into appreciating garments more so that we make more considered choices.
How do you approach the business of this so that you’re able to a keep it going, meet your goals and be able to continue to offer this product?
The root cause of overproduction and overconsumption is absolutely geared by capitalism and the way that financing, VC funding and stock markets work today. It’s the insatiable hunger for growth, basically. In the long term, that’s just not possible. There’s just one planet, and population is going to stop somewhere around 11 billion people; you can’t just continue selling and consuming more.
When it comes to how we actually make this work. It is a pretty intricate and neat system. All the pillars in our business model tie into each other. And again, it starts with the permanent collection. Because we create garments that are meant to be around forever, we basically eliminate the inherent risk that the fashion industry has; what we saw cause bankruptcies everywhere throughout last year. Because all of a sudden, people just stopped buying, then that spring collection came in too late, stores were closed and companies just couldn’t redistribute all that stock and inventory—which was meant to be sold at a specific time to suit the trend calendar. That’s risky inventory, and that’s what the fashion industry is built on.
Right now, we have 36 unique products that we’ve developed over the course of six years, so about six products per year. We haven’t removed a single style in those six years. We haven’t even removed a color or style variation. So, with that reliability in our product, we’ve removed the inventory risk and and that allows us to operate much more longterm.
Roughly six new products a year and a commitment to each of those new products being permanent—how do you decide what to add to the collection? What is the creative process behind product development?
It’s really a restructuring process as opposed to creative process. We will look back in time and see whether or not a garment has ticked a few boxes. Oftentimes what we consider essential today started as functional—were military, utility, worker uniforms and whatnot. Then they were propelled into some kind of rebel state. Take the T-shirt on Marlon Brando or Rebel Without a Cause; a very basic sort of military garment becomes a popular garment, and then the pieces transition to a wardrobe staple. Some of these pieces will see very even, stable demand and others will be a little bit more fluctuating but still a staple. So we look backward in time and see if a garment feels those criteria.
There is also an end to how much we can add to the permanent collection. We’re probably the only clothing company in the world that says, “At some point, we’re going to stop developing new styles, new garments.” We know that. Maybe we have two or three years left in menswear before we feel that we’ve come to an end.
While men’s has been the focus, you just launched your women’s line—was that planned from the beginning or something that came about organically?
When we launched ASKET, we set out to tackle our own wardrobe frustrations, so we didn’t have a set intention to add womenswear. Over the course of six years, we’ve received increasing requests for womenswear. That, coupled with us continuously expanding our understanding and notion of responsibility as an apparel brand, made us realize that there was an opportunity to offer a permanent collection of zero-compromise garments, made under full transparency and accountability, for women too. It wasn’t a decision that came lightly, we’re all too aware that the apparel industry has an overproduction and overconsumption problem but we’re confident given our learning and the practices we’ve introduced with menswear that we’ll be able to build a thoughtful collection.
Your apparel is classic and covers the staples; people of all genders can wear the previous collections, what’s the main difference with this one?
It’s true, the beauty of wardrobe essentials is that they can be universally appreciated—we see women wearing our T-shirts, shirts and over-shirts in particular. And we’ve seen guys really take to the women’s heavier knitwear. But there’s no denying that genders have different body types as well as their own unique fit frustrations. So while I’m confident we’ll continue to see people picking wardrobe essentials regardless of the gender we originally had in mind, we’ll continue to create better fitting clothing based on women’s and men’s unique needs too.
What did you want to achieve with this new collection?
Our sole purpose is to help people better value clothing, having us not just make do, but be happier with less. It’s all about restoring a good old-fashioned appreciation for clothes. That means creating for longevity; 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 lose relevance over time. No easy feat.
Fit was also an important consideration. For tops, we’ve created silhouettes and used fabrics that will flatter many body types and will be available in seven sizes—XXS to XXL. Meanwhile for the jeans we needed a different approach, no amount of clever tailoring could accommodate everyone. So, in addition to 11 waist sizes and three lengths, we’ve also created two builds ensuring the same shape, no matter how the customer themselves is shaped. This was all developed based on hours of research and work with fitting models across body types, to better understand these frustrations. With it, we hope to develop silhouettes and a sizing system to make sure more women can find better-fitting clothing.
When it comes to ASKET’s future, does the mission remain the same?
There’s enough clothing out there already and we wouldn’t want to start and run a clothing brand if we were just putting out more clothing. It needs to be better. It needs to be a vehicle for change. And, as a small company, we can’t do it alone so these pushes for advancements and standards in the industry are also about inspiring others to follow.
Images courtesy of ASKET