The end of "Made in"
We talk with Swedish brand ASKET about how they're pursuing full traceability in their garments and promoting openness in an industry not known for its candour.
Transparency isn't yet in vogue in the fashion industry. Rather than demonstrating openness about their manufacturing processes most brands choose to shield the origins of their garments. In part this is due to the sizeable disconnect between retail price and the cost of making, with corners cut and mark ups hidden. And in part because it is an industry that has historically held little regard for factory workers and their conditions; abuses and subcontracting are common in the quest for a healthy bottom line.
But there is a shift in this trend and leading the pack are Stockholm based menswear brand ASKET who place a premium on the full traceability of their pieces.
The Swedish brand, founded in 2015, disclose every single step of their garments' journey all the way from cotton seed to the finished article. Their co-founder August Bringéus explains, "technically garments are always ‘Made in’ one single country. Practically that’s never the full story. So we’re replacing the conventional ‘Made in' labels in our garments with an entirely new label, putting the full answer to the question #WhoMadeMyClothes right where it needs to be: in our garments.”
As well as openly documenting their garments' origins in their labelling, ASKET go one step further and profile the multiple factories and makers involved in the process. Through their in depth online content you can visit Knitting Factories in Magioni, Italy or discover the intricate machinery used at the Specialty Cotton Factories in Reguenga, Portugal. You can even appreciate the process involved in getting their clothes to your front door with their Distribution Centre in Tallinn, Estonia also profiled.
Here at Ditto we love seeing manufacturing processes uncovered and understanding the work that goes into making the products we enjoy, but with ASKET's full traceability there's a bigger purpose. As well as featuring beautiful photography and insight into every factory they use, they document the average salary and work hours of employees at that factory – guaranteeing you know exactly how your new shirt came to be.
ASKET are pioneering a new approach to how we understand the clothes we wear and we wanted to find out more about why they chose to go down this path, and how they practically manage to trace the origins of every last thread:
What was the hope for the brand when you started ASKET?
What started out as a mission to make the perfect t-shirt and help more men find the right fit has since evolved into a journey towards slowing down the fashion industry and changing the way we produce, market and consume clothing by way of honest production, transparent pricing and revolutionary sizing. Focusing entirely on a single, permanent collection of timeless essentials, we’re restoring meaningfulness in the garments we actually need.
Why is full traceability something that's important to you?
The fashion industry is one of the most opaque and unsustainable industries in the world, still today successfully disguising the exploitation of human labour and the resources of our planet. Thankfully, in the age of transparency consumers are increasingly demanding real knowledge about the garments they wear but the industry as we know it isn't delivering. Even with the increasing presence of more sustainable brands it’s hard for consumers to make informed choices and understand what is actually good compared to what is perhaps just a bit less bad. ASKET has been unconventionally transparent about the production and pricing of our garments from the start, but this past spring we introduced a revolutionary new standard to replace the ubiquitous "Made in" with labels that disclose every single step of a garment's journey. We started with The Oxford and now our plan is to achieve 100% traceability for all existing and future garments in our collection. We hope to shed light on the complexities of the value chain in the fashion industry, inspire more players to follow, and encourage consumers to ask more questions. To truly change the industry to a point where all parties in the value chain are better off we need both the demand and supply sides to start changing habits. Setting a higher standard for transparency forces us all to consider the true cost of the garments we make and buy.
How easy has it been to trace all elements of the manufacturing process? Did you uncover any surprises?
Honestly, though we knew what we were getting ourselves into, it has come with its challenges. The stages for actual garment production (cutting, sewing, and finishing) are easier to trace because we keep a close relationship with our factories and visit the facilities prior to producing. The most challenging part has been tracking the raw materials and this is due to the fact that some information is out of our hands. Suppliers often source raw materials at auction which at times is mixed and becomes the product of materials from different locations within one country (or even from several countries). This alone can make it difficult to identify the true source (farm), and actually impossible depending on the material. Then there are challenges that occur when we don't source product materials ourselves but work with agents who are responsible for developing the fabric, because we then depend on them for the information. On some occasions, we have experienced it to not always possible to be accurate, they can sometimes be resistant to share the information.
So far the biggest surprise has been how far behind a lot of suppliers still are with tracking their own raw materials and their reluctance to adapt to new market demands. However, there are suppliers working hard to improve traceability and initiate programs which allow them to provide more accurate sources and more control over the process. We are very much looking forward to seeing this take off across the entire industry.
What benefits of full traceability can your customers see in the final product?
By disclosing every step of a garment's journey and then making that information available to everyone on the labels our hope is to shed light on the complex and globalised value chains in this industry and help people see the true cost and value of garments. In a way, it's similar to the food industry. If people know all the steps and a product is fully traceable, then they can make a more informed decision about what they consume because they have all the information available to them. We are ensuring people get the product with the materials and the production process we promise.
The brand's commitment to openness extends from traceability all the way through their pricing which they outline front-and-centre, "we believe people should pay for the craft of a garment, not its logo. By removing what doesn't add value and investing in what does, we offer luxury essentials way below their traditional retail price". For each garment ASKET itemise the cost of labour, fabric and transport – demonstrating the true cost of making each piece and openly sharing their mark up.
It's almost an aside to say that their designs and products are beautiful, but they really are. They are a brand that make essentials that won't go out of style as fashions wax and wane and who actively want to counter the wastefulness that transitory fashions encourage. Another way in which they buck the trend is in their sizing – with 15 sizing options per piece, rather than the regular 5, meaning you can find just the right fit.
All in all ASKET are a brand that are approaching clothing manufacturing in an atypical way; prioritising openness, educating their consumers and demonstrating that ethical manufacturing isn't anathema to profit.
All images used with special thanks to the team at ASKET, visit the ASKET website to find out more