Today, any brand from the large spectrum of high-street retailers –Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and the like– up to progressive, contemporary and streetwear fashion players, are putting together a range of basic clothing for its clientele. As fierce and unbearable as competition might seem, August Bard and Jakob Dworsky didn’t feel intimidated by it when starting their online-only label Asket back in mid-2015. The starting point was a classic crew neck t-shirt, manufactured in Portugal with combed Egyptian cotton, retailing for 30€. Besides, the product is offered in fifteen different sizes –from XS to XL, each available in three different lengths–. So the two Swedish entrepreneurs indulged the worries of many consumers concerned about sweatshops in developing countries and pissed off by the constraints of mainstream brands’ sizing parameters. According to Bard, since their launch in summer last year and up until last month, Asket has sold around 5,000 t-shirts.

Asket has just introduced polo shirts to its range of men's basics.
© Asket
Asket has just introduced polo shirts to its range of men's basics.

In the meanwhile, the Asket portfolio has grown to embrace Oxford shirts, sweatshirts and, more recently, polo-shirts. “The decision to add products was not financial. There are plenty of businesses doing well focusing just on t-shirts, but that was never our mission. In fact, increasing our collection is also a tradeoff. While adding more products doesn’t hurt from an economical perspective, it also requires much more investment in stock,” says Bard. A direct-to-consumer approach is also essential for the brand in order to get rid of middlemen, paid marketing, grand events, expensive store space and wholesale. “We would be forced to let the wholesaler double our price to cover his own costs and make a profit. We don’t see the point in that, it just doesn’t add any value to the product,” he argues.

But regardless of the quality matter, it is important to persuade people to bet on a product that they have discovered on the internet –lack of touch and feel– and for which references are limited. For Thomas Escher, co-founder of Whytes, it’s all about building trust. “When your product is good and you have the right influencers ruling for you, you are already building trust within your main target group. Today, a snapshot shared by the right people on Instagram may give you more coverage and credibility than any kind of old-school advertising ever could,” he says. The brand launched earlier this year and sold already around 2,000 units of its made-in-Germany white t-shirts manufactured with a blend of combed cotton and micromodal. Escher believes that the one-product-only formula is the right way to start as a young brand, while recalling fashion institutions such as Burberry and Chanel are still being recognized for their break-through product. “Once you gained trust for your first product, you just paved yourself the way for any kind of brand extension that might make sense in your market,” he assures.

Whytes' t-shirt retails for €32.
© Whytes
Whytes' t-shirt retails for €32.

Whytes box
© Whytes
Whytes box

In the long term, these brands’ unique selling proposition –quality basics– might turn into their very burden. Asket only launches 3-4 garments per year that add to a single, permanent collection and thus consumers have fewer product alternatives to choose from and less reason to revisit. At the same time, the brand’s twelve-month development process on a single piece doesn’t allow mistakes. “We see it as a self-control mechanism, it naturally puts more pressure on us to do things right,” Bard says. In addition, organic growth is the (only) way to go. “If you’re cynical, it sounds like a terrible business model. But only if your ambition is to sell more and grow faster, regardless of what people actually need and at the expense of the environment. So in that sense, we’re anti-commercial.”