ASKET's August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky on the ethical impact of timeless fashion and the future of sustainability

ASKET's August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky on the ethical impact of timeless fashion and the future of sustainability

Luxury essentials...

The clothing industry’s tremendous carbon footprint and climate impact has become an undeniable fact, one that relies heavily upon seasonal collections and trends with the disposability of cheap, fast fashion.

In the five short years since its conception, contemporary Swedish menswear label ASKET has become one of the most exciting voices in the move towards sustainability and transparent ethical practices. Leading with an unconventional, continuous ‘permanent collection’ that challenges fashion’s quarterly life-cycle, ASKET delivers timeless, covetable classics that are built to last.

The brainchild of two business school graduates with a penchant for modern clean aesthetics and design, founders August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky are looking for real, impactful changes to be made with revolutionary industry practices like their Impact Receipt and Revival Program.

The latest collection from ASKET sees the pair delving into womenswear for the first time, expanding the brand’s signature capsule wardrobe as they continue to transcend the seasonal collection and develop pieces to last a lifetime. We chatted to August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky about the challenges in designing a women’s collection, breaking the sizing barrier and why quality, not quantity builds a coherent wardrobe.

SS: Neither of you come from a fashion background, how did you get into the industry?

ABB: Neither of us had worked in fashion before but then again ASKET isn’t your conventional fashion label either. While studying at university we soon realized that the usual career path from business school into a bank or a consultancy wasn’t for us. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to create something of my own, something with a lasting impact. Turns out Jakob shared that same dream. We’ve both also had a long interest in aesthetic fields like design, architecture, style and the desire to work on a physical product, especially having worked with management consulting and tech companies before. Looking back now, not having any prior experience probably worked to our advantage. It gave us a healthy dose of naiveté and an outside perspective that allowed us to see the standard industry rules and processes very differently – that comes in handy when you’re trying to create something fundamentally different.

SS: Tell me about the inspiration behind ASKET?

JD: 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 changed 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, quality and timeless garments - designed to last. But what started out as an idea to create the best men’s basic wardrobe, turned into something more than that - we realized we had a bigger role to play in adding value and care back into the apparel system.

SS: What have you learned about yourselves as the brand has grown?

ABB: While neither Jakob nor myself had particularly excessive lifestyles before we started ASKET, both of us have continued to adjust our lens on how many belongings we truly need - and what it is that we derive true satisfaction from. We continue to meet such interesting personalities every day, from Merino Wool Farmers that have a singular passion for the land and their flock, to minimalist advocates that have uncoupled themselves from the material, instead of finding satisfaction in living simply, with fewer but more meaningful belongings. In seeing their lifestyles our perspective on how many belongings we truly need has changed too. We hope that we can spark some of that thinking too and nudge a few more people to adopt lives free from fast consumption.

SS: What is your brand ethos?

ABB: It might sound paradoxical, after all, we are in the business of selling clothes, but our definition of progress is reduced wardrobes - and ultimately to end an era of fast consumption. We want more people to buy better and fewer pieces of clothing, appreciating their journey and caring for them longer, we call it the Pursuit of Less. The problem is that fashion has become too fast, constantly chasing trends and pushing multiple collections each season. Garments, products of delicate labour and precious resources, have lost their value, all at the expense of our society and planet. ASKET exists to end this and our garments are our vehicle to achieving it. Every piece we create is designed to outlast the current standards, both in terms of enduring fluctuation in trends and frequent wear and tear.

SS: Why do you value brick and mortar stores?

ABB: At ASKET we work hard to convey the inherent value of a garment and our biggest challenge is to translate that quality online - with our transparent pricing, supply chain transparency, factory insights as well as The Impact Receipt. But 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 we see retail playing a very important role in our customer journey and understanding. As with everything we’ll take it slow, it’s our first venture into physical retail, so we’ll take our time to grow into this space and from there consider how we can offer a better service to our customers in other markets.

SS: Tell me about the processes behind your eco-practices, your impact receipts and fair trade.

ABB: We have created a framework that outlines our responsibility and the principles to which we hold ourselves accountable. Ensuring we keep our promise: To only create meaningful essentials, garments free of compromise, that allow us to pursue a life with less and end the era of fast consumption. With three core pillars in how we look to approach this; Zero-compromise garments, radically transparency and total life-cycle responsibility. Zero-compromise garments that last and are mindfully produced - and most importantly sold at a price that reflects the resource and labour involved. In an industry that is inherently opaque, we work to map and communicate the whole picture (through the traceability label and the impact receipt) helping both us at ASKET, and you as individuals understand the impact of our decisions and begin to make better ones. Finally, with total lifecycle responsibility we encourage proper use and care of our garments as well as ensuring a viable end of life scenario, that doesn’t involve landfill or burning garments for energy.

SS: How do you hope to inspire change in the fashion industry?

JD: The overproduction-overconsumption cycle is fashion’s overarching sustainability challenge. Traditional brands rely purely on a high volume - high-frequency product output. This puts pressure on the entire system; the planet, people working in the supply chain as well as consumer psychology. The entire industry simply needs to produce less and restore the value in the apparel industry. We’re firm in the belief that the slow fashion pie can be as big as the fast fashion pie. Above anything we want to show the industry that it is possible to slow down. We’re showing early signs of success and hope to offer lessons on how to achieve smaller volumes and economic growth at the same time. Put into practice, the fashion industry could be half as big in terms of volume, but the same size in terms of value if brands followed our model and doubled the average lifetime of a garment while charging an honest price for clothing. It may take some risk-taking, but to truly make a dent, mass-market brands will need to make the switch. It might sound revolutionary, but it really comes down to operating the way the industry did 60 years ago.

SS: ​​One of the biggest issues with fast fashion is the disposability of clothes into landfills. Can you tell me a bit about your revival program - and do you think other brands will start to follow suit?

For too long fashion has operated on a linear model; make, use, dispose. In fact, globally 75% of discarded textiles are doomed for landfill or incinerators - it’s a shocking statistic that we wanted to change. Since launching in 2015 our philosophy has been simple; to create clothes that stand the test of time ensuring they are worn and used more, but after 6 years we learnt that some of our customers are done with their pieces, so we needed to take steps to support total lifecycle responsibility and play our part in ensuring they stay in use and out of the landfill.

The ASKET Revival Program will help customers do their part in being responsible with their garments, by asking them to send back their unwanted ASKET garment in return for a gift card. No matter the condition of the garment, ASKET will work with a partner; to make sure it’s put to the best possible use and retained at the highest value. Garments in pristine condition will be cleaned and resold by ASKET through pop-up events. Likewise, lightly damaged pieces will be repaired or up-cycled into new pieces or entirely different products also to be resold - patchwork overshirt anyone? The next step is to figure out how to take care of older or damaged pieces, ideally recycling them into new yarn to be used for making new clothes. We’re still firm proponents of buying less but better garments and treasuring the pieces you own - then only once you’ve exhausted those options can you rest assured that we’ll take care of your garment properly. We are seeing a groundswell with the likes of Patagonia, Eileen Fischer and Noah Ltd having a takeback program but we need more. Customers demand more. Brands to take responsibility. And the technology that can actually recycle the fabrics into new yarn.

SS: You’ve just released your first womenswear collection, what made you decide to branch out into womenswear?

ABB: ASKET womenswear is an idea we’ve talked about for many years and a decision that didn’t come lightly, as we didn’t just want to add a womenswear collection for the sake of it. We’ve already established that the world doesn’t need more clothes, so we would only launch womenswear if we felt we could genuinely solve women’s wardrobe frustrations and at the same time support women by offering better options that would allow them to step out of fashion’s trend-driven churn. Despite an almost infinite number of brands and plenty of promises of so-called sustainability, it is still near impossible for women to find a brand that delivers quality, timeless clothes - made under full transparency and accountability - and all at a fair price. After 6 years of experience within menswear, we felt we could bring our learning together to introduce zero-compromise garments that women can rely on, not just for the season but the months and years that follow.

SS: What challenges did you face designing womenswear as opposed to menswear?

JD: One of the core tenets of ASKET menswear is fit. For too long the world’s 3.5bn men have been squeezed into 5 sizes XS-XL. So when we launched the t-shirt in 2015, we introduced a 15-tier sizing system, offering short, regular and long on top of the conventional XS-XL. And it worked, we see an even distribution across the sizes and receive countless emails from satisfied customers. When it comes to womenswear, fit poses a different challenge. Unlike men, whose main frustration tends to be around length, our research found that women’s fit frustrations are rooted in body shape. So our product team has conducted countless hours of research and worked with fitting models across body types, to better understand these frustrations. We started with a survey with 300 women to identify common challenges, beliefs and attitudes towards clothing. Then fitted our garments on 30 different body types. With it, we hope to develop silhouettes and a sizing system to help more women find better fitting clothing. We’re happy with what we have but we’re currently obtaining feedback from our first customers to see where we can make further improvements.

SS: What builds a capsule wardrobe?

ABB: Trends wax and wane. So any capsule wardrobe should consist of those pieces that you will turn to again day after day, season after season. And most importantly, it should be easy to combine all those pieces. Everyone’s staple pieces will vary slightly but when you are looking for individual pieces be sure to keep the following in mind: durability, cut and craftsmanship. A garment is only as good as the fibre it’s built on, for me, a quality natural fibre is still the gold standard, they look sharp and last longer. Then nail the cut, a timeless silhouette the likes of which you see Marlon Brando in - it’s a classic. Nothing too tight or baggy for that matter and forgot any v-necks, scoop necks, unnecessary pockets. And finally, realise that there are no shortcuts in creating great garments. While something like a t-shirt shouldn’t cost a fortune, craftsmanship and care for the environment does come at a slightly higher price – it will however outlast your budget alternative.

SS: How do you determine a timeless piece of clothing?

JD: The permanence of our collection remains 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. When it comes to deciding which products to include, we look back in time rather than trying to predict the next trend. Taking inspiration from the Alain Delons and Jane Burkins of the world, whose casual sensibilities would look as comfortable on the cover of magazines now as they did 60 years ago. We then analyze these pieces, stitch by stitch, seam by seam, to create the perfect version of them. I envisage at some point we will complete the permanent collection and we’ll have nothing to add – trends come and go but I hope our garments will stand the test of time. At that point, we’ll be left perfecting what’s already made.

SS: Who is the ASKET man and woman?

ABB: I think people love that we deliver the kind of pieces they wear every day; in a quality, they can feel and a cut that flatters. So we see guys and girls of all ages coming to us, from the skinny teenager who wants a good quality t-shirt and raw denim to go skating in, to their 55-year-old mom that is still searching for the perfect classic white shirt. We hope that when people own something that they can wear over and over, they’ll really start to bond with that piece, appreciate it, wear it for longer and not feel the need to replace their wardrobe all the time - it's all about restoring a good old fashioned appreciation for clothes.

SS: What can we expect from you for the rest of the year?

ABB: The beauty of being a start-up is that we’re not beholden to fashion’s outdated business model. Rather than trying to change bad practices, we can instead focus on driving entirely new ways of working. We’ll continue to strive for 100% traceability in our supply chain, we’re also set to finalise the research for our life cycle assessment with which we’ll share the full environmental impact of our garments and we’re also exploring what to do with the garments that have been returned to our takeback scheme the ASKET Revival Program – but I don’t want to give too much away. Above all, we want to show people that there is economy in slowing down, that you can run a successful business that doesn’t rely on exploiting natural and human resources.

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