What were your biggest environmental challenges in 2012?
Our biggest environmental challenge as a rapidly growing business is, by far, how to manage our carbon emissions from customer deliveries. We now deliver over 12 million items per year. Two thirds of ASOS’ carbon footprint is attributable to overseas deliveries, most of it from air freight. We purchase over 3 million kg of packaging annually to help protect our products during transit, so we have a clear responsibility here to use lighter packaging that can also be completely recycled by our customers.
What solutions have you put in place for packaging?
All boxes are made of 100% recycled material and both our boxes and bags have been designed so that customers can reuse them for returns or recycle them. We have increased the recycled content of our plastic delivery bags to 25%. We recycle all bags and boxes returned by customers.
How can we reduce the impact of customer deliveries?
We are currently talking to our suppliers about how they can contribute. Many have programmes in place to reduce their carbon footprints. For example DPD, one of our UK and European carriers, offsets for free, as part of their standard service, all of the emissions generated from ASOS deliveries. Many others are also reducing their own carbon footprints, for example by building new logistic hubs to make better use of energy-saving technology such as solar and wind power.
What are your priorities for 2013?
We want to offer customers ‘drop’ locations such as shops or lockers. This would allow our carriers to drop a number of consignments at a single location instead of taking single parcels to individual home addresses every time. We estimate this could save at least 20,000 single parcel deliveries per year. We are also talking to our UK suppliers about using electric, multi-fuel and fuel saving technology.
What are the biggest sourcing and ethical trade challenges currently facing the fashion industry?
Near sourcing, a term used to describe products sourced from the UK, Eastern Europe and Turkey, is on the increase. As more retailers seek to buy from these countries their capabilities in terms of export capacity, raw material and worker availability will become stretched. This, in turn, may lead to an increase in outsourcing. Mapping these lower levels of manufacturing will be a difficult but necessary process to ensure that the most vulnerable supply chain workers are protected.
How do you see ethical trade at asos developing over the next 5 years?
ASOS launched a comprehensive three year ethical trade strategy in October 2013 with the aim of improving conditions for supply chain workers, reviewing and updating ASOS’s own internal practices and increasing supplier understanding of ethical trade principles. To support these objectives, following a period of supplier consolidation, we will look to expand our ethical trade team so that we are able to build closer, longer-term relationships with a smaller number of dedicated suppliers. We are confident that this approach will put us in a very strong position to enable us to continue to grow rapidly, whilst ensuring high ethical standards are maintained throughout our business and supply chain.
What are you looking for in a supplier of the future?
We aim to work with suppliers who strive for commercial and ethical excellence. Our preferred long-term partners will be those suppliers who are able to grow with us and support us to deliver our commercial, ethical and corporate responsibility commitments. As we continue to consolidate more of our orders with fewer key suppliers, they will need to be flexible and responsive in their sourcing approach, particularly in terms of being able to find new manufacturing partners from across different regions. Above all, we expect suppliers to commit to implementing responsible sourcing programmes to raise ethical, environmental and animal welfare standards throughout their own supply chains.
Why did you sign up to the programme?
I was unemployed at the time and had been trying to get into the fashion industry (and in particular ASOS) for over a year. I had no experience. I hoped the programme would give me a bit more insight into the industry.
What did you most enjoy about the programme?
It was really well rounded. We got to experience a bit of everything, which was massively helpful when we weren’t sure which direction we wanted to take. I found the afternoon with the HR team to be a fantastic opportunity. I was given one-to-one help to tailor my CV.
What did you find challenging?
I think there were some strong personalities in the group, but it helped build up my team skills. By the end of the week everybody had learnt how to work together.
How has the programme helped you progress your career in fashion?
It was massively beneficial. The HR team got to meet me in person rather than over my CV. This led to my first temporary position at ASOS. The programme helped me to rebuild my confidence and that has kept growing since. Everyone who took part in the programme was so encouraging and kind, they really made an effort to engage all of us.
Why did you decide to take part in the scheme?
I wanted to work with young people who needed help and direction in using their CV to get a job. I also thought the experience would improve my team working and presentation skills.
What did you do?
We facilitated a workshop for a group of about ten 16- to 19-year-olds to build their confidence to find work. We gave them exercises that looked at what should go in a CV and conducted mock interviews with them.
Why did you choose to volunteer for The Prince’s Trust?
It’s a well known organisation, and one which I have always thought would be good to get involved with.
What was the highlight of your day?
Making the young people on the course excited about finding work.
Has the experience had any lasting impact?
Yes, and I would definitely do it again.
Why did you decide to take part in the scheme?
It’s nice to be able to take a day to help out with something a little different that also helps the local community.
What did your volunteering day involve?
We took a year 4 class from a local middle school to the London Aquarium.
What charity did you choose to volunteer with?
Kids Co, a charity that provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner city children.
What made you choose this charity?
Kids Co has strong ties with ASOS, and I’ve previously worked with them on some of their fashion projects. It was a nice opportunity to volunteer with them for a different part of the charity.
What was the highlight of your day?
The whole day was a blast, but I think the penguin enclosure got the best response from the class. Everybody was very excited!
What lasting impact has the experience had?
It’s just nice to be supported by your company in taking a day to go and help out a school that couldn’t otherwise take such a fun day trip. I’m always impressed by Kids Co, and this was an ace way to get involved again.
What can the fashion industry do to portray a healthy body image?
Stop showing images of perfect, overly-airbrushed, unattainable bodies. Show bodies that are beautiful, aspirational, diverse and real all at once.
Has any progress been made?
The elements of the fashion industry that are really in touch with their customers are beginning to change their approach. But there’s a long way to go before everyone is on board.
What is your advice for ASOS?
You can help people achieve a positive, healthy body image but it takes a long-term commitment. So stay with it!
Why did you decide to come and work for ASOS?
I had shopped on asos.com many times when I saw that there was a reception position available. I was really excited as I loved the site and thought it would be brilliant to work at HQ. As a fun, creative and a growing company I thought it would be a great place to start a long-term career.
How has your career progressed?
I applied for the receptionist role in 2006, when the company was still quite small (about 65 people in HQ). The reception team did a lot of admin, IT, deliveries and generally anything that needed doing or fixing! It was hard work and very fast paced but I loved it as no two days were the same and I learnt a lot of new skills.
As the company grew it became more apparent that we need a dedicated Facilities Team to help run the office. As I was already doing a lot of the facilities work anyway I decided to take on the newly created role of Facilities Co-ordinator - another fast-paced role as we were constantly growing! I was in charge of desk planning, finding new office space etc. It was a great role where I learnt a lot and got to work with lots of different people from right across the business.
In 2010 I moved into another newly created role – Corporate Responsibility Co-ordinator. I had been working on quite a few CR projects while on the Facilities team and had really enjoyed them, so when this role came up I was really excited to about all the new projects we¹d be working on.
What have been your ASOS career highlights?
I was in my early twenties when I started here and I feel like I’ve grown up with ASOS! I’m particularly proud to have been promoted to CR Manager and to have started studying for a degree in International Studies, which is something I would never have had the confidence to do if it wasn’t for the support of ASOS and particularly my manager.
The work we do with the Prince’s Trust is something that I feel very passionate about so I was delighted when one of the participants from our 2011 Get Started with Fashion programme was nominated for the regional Celebrate Success awards and even more thrilled when she won!
How do you see your career developing over the next five years?
I see the CR team expanding which will allow us to take on more exciting projects internationally through the ASOS Foundation. It will be wonderful to have my own team working on our Community programmes.
ASOS Africa launched in 2009 in partnership with SOKO. Three years later in November 2012, amid growing demand for the ASOS Africa label, SOKO opened a new factory, doubling its previous capacity. ASOS' contribution, which met half the cost of the new factory, came from sales of the ASOS Africa collection which were then matched by the ASOS Foundation.
The new factory will not only boost production and provide more employment but will allow SOKO to extend its customer base, providing more opportunities to support development of the local community.
In 2013, we plan to invest in new machinery at the factory, to increase efficiency and manufacturing capacity. This will enable SOKO to grow their business with other clients as well as hasten the time it takes for ASOS collections to reach the market.
I get to work just before 9am, turn on my PC and first thing’s first – tea! Once I’ve got my brew I can focus on the influx of emails in my inbox. I spend the first hour making my way through these while listening to the last hour of Chris Moyles on Radio One, a must.
We receive lots of boutique applications a day and we look through any new ones that have come through. We have to check that the imagery is suitable for the site and follows the guidelines.We also need to make sure boutique owners are making the most of the features they have access to and what they need to do to be featured on the homepages.
We are currently spending a large chunk of the day scouting for new boutiques both on and off line. We visit markets and shows, keep a beady eye on ASOS Fashion finder, scour blogs and find some really exciting prospective sellers. We went international in September (bonjour, hola, ciao and all that) so we are finding some really amazing international bloggers with beautiful clothes to sell.
We use social media quite a bit to keep in contact with our boutiques, following them on Facebook and chatting via Twitter helps us to feel connected to them and them to us and reminds them that there are actual real people on the other end.
We aren’t just about boutiques; we have thousands of basic sellers so we are working on ways to increase awareness that ASOS Marketplace is also a platform for wardrobe recyclers in a pure fashion format.
We love meeting our sellers so will always do our best to make it to any events they are running or attending. It’s fair to say that this isn’t necessarily a Monday – Friday, 9 – 5, but that’s what we love. You have to be flexible as the days are so different and sometimes there will be a launch in the evening or a fair on the weekend. But, you know what, when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work!
The only downside to my role is that somehow, don’t ask me how, at least 5 new items get added to my basket a day!
What were your main highlights of 2014?
I’m really proud of getting the ASOS Foundation established as an independent charity and defining a really clear Foundation mission that the whole company has embraced. I love Project Pipeline in Kenya, and have had the privilege of visiting our colleagues in the Kasigau corridor and working directly with the community schools and the Stitching Academy that we are supporting there. I particularly enjoyed standing on the water catchment and hearing first hand from local people what a difference it has made to them.
I’m also proud of ASOS' work on animal welfare. We’ve been quietly improving our standards for a number of years which enabled us to respond quickly and take a decisive stance to ban angora when PETA’s angora investigation broke. Since then we’ve revised our animal welfare policy, eliminating feathers and down from ASOS own label ranges from AW14, and providing further guidelines to help buyers and suppliers comply with our policies.
Having the Ethical Trade management team firmly embedded in our new Sourcing department is a real step forward. It now sits in the heart of the retail business and can be more influential in delivering our long term Ethical Trade strategy.
What about some of the challenges?
In a fast growing company it can be challenging to make the kind of fast improvements on product sustainability that we would like. This year we’ve completed an impact assessment on our product materials, and now have the tools in place to measure these. We have just joined the Better Cotton Initiative and I’m looking forward to seeing us bringing more sustainable cotton fabrics into our ranges next year.
What is asos doing to help customers source more sustainable fashion and beauty products?
In 2009 ASOS created a Sustainable Fashion Manager post to kick start its sustainable sourcing strategy. My role from the beginning has been to support the buying and design teams to create more sustainable fashion, and the press and marketing teams to engage customers with our product stories. The Green Room, within the asos.com site, features all our collections and products that carry one or more of our sustainability themes. ASOS Africa is our flagship brand in the Green Room, which we set up to create employment opportunities in Kenya where the collection is manufactured.
What are your asos sustainable fashion highlights from 2013?
ASOS Africa goes from strength to strength every year, which is fantastic because it means our manufacturing partner SOKO is able to create employment opportunities for an increasing number of people, which in turn benefits the wider local community around the factory in Kenya. It was a career highlight for everyone involved with ASOS Africa and SOKO when Michelle Obama wore items from our collection in a high profile interview, just before Obama won his second term in office.
We also trialed our sustainable fashion Signposts and will be rolling these out across all Green Room products during 2014. I’m really excited that we’ve found a really visual and simple way for our customers to locate and buy products with social or environmental benefits.
What is your vision for sustainable fashion in the next five years at asos?
We will continue to grow and market The Green Room so that our male, as well as female customers, have access to an ever-increasing choice of sustainable fashion and beauty products. I would love to be able to say by 2020 over half the items ASOS sells carries one or more of our sustainable fashion signposts.
Sustainable sourcing will become more embedded within our design, buying and sourcing teams, to the point where the sustainability credentials of a product will carry as much weight as commercial factors such as design, quality, price and lead time.
WHAT HAS THE FULFILMENT CENTRE BEEN DOING TO REDUCE ITS CARBON, WASTE AND WATER FOOTPRINTS OVER THE LAST 18 MONTHS?
We have added Eco Dome water saving technology to all our toilets. We are in the process of replacing all of our lighting with automatic sensor LED technology. We also improving our building management system (Trend) to ensure the heaters and air conditioning run as efficiently as possible.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES OVER THIS PERIOD?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced so far happened during the fire we had at the fulfilment centre in June 2014. We had to ensure none of contaminated water from the fire discharged into the river Dearn. Our water management system called an interceptor prevented this from happening.
WHAT ARE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITIES FOR 2014/2015?
We will aim to try and further reduce our power consumption by installing more energy efficiency technology. We also want to increase the biodiversity around the site and regenerate the land that was disturbed during the building of the new extension. We are located in the middle of the countryside!
HOW IS THE ASOS FOUNDATION IMPROVING THE OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE TO DISADVANTAGED YOUNG KENYANS?
The ASOS Foundation is working closely with Seed of Hope’s business incubation hub, Dhamira, and Business Development Manager to create virtual or face-to-face training and mentoring opportunities, to support young graduates to develop business plans and attain the necessary skills to make their businesses successful.
The ASOS Foundation has also assisted some of Seed of Hope’s top students to apply for scholarships to further their studies. Higher level, nationally recognised qualifications not only help to build young people’s confidence but also open doors to more employment or self-employment opportunities.
Monday is the busiest day for the buying teams. I spend the day looking through the previous week’s sales, highlighting the best and worst sellers and discussing any actions to take with my team at the department trade meeting. As a Buyers Administrative Assistant (BAA), you quickly learn to identify key style stories from analysing sales, for example any colours, shapes or trends that might be selling well or turning off this season.
Throughout the rest of the week, I am kept busy maintaining the department’s critical paths which involves managing product from when it is raised as a style to when it is gold sealed by ASOS in our weekly fit sessions. Building up relationships with suppliers helps to ensure critical paths are kept up to date and that product is managed onto the website in a timely manner.
The weekly fit sessions bring together buyers, technologists and designers to review the fit of each product sample. This is when I’m able to get involved in product development as the team shares opinions on aesthetic and technical fit. The BAA is responsible for collecting product for these sessions and since there is often a lot, it is important to organise them efficiently to avoid delays in the product process.
We also regularly keep an eye on the competition. I carry out weekly online competitor reviews, and follow this up with visits to competitors’ shops throughout the season with the Merchandising Assistant. We report back to our team about the biggest trends, any new directions our competitors are taking and highlight any areas for us to work on.
As a BAA, I provide admin support to my team but also build up relationships with other departments at ASOS, including production and PR. Now that I’m familiar with my department’s product and have seen the process of building a range for each season from the beginning, I feel confident in handing over product to the editorial teams to give it the final push that will help boost sales.
What do ASOS Customers contact you about?
Our customers contact us about a wide range of queries, from ordering and returns to specific product information and complaints. We also receive questions about body image and ethical trade, as well as enquiries about what we’re doing to protect animal welfare and the environment. We’re always keen to showcase our award winning, out-the-box thinking, and to demonstrate how efficient, friendly and responsible ASOS is.
Have Customers become more interested in ASOS’s approach to Corporate Responsibility?
Yes, definitely – and we like that! We’re proud of our Fashion with Integrity programme. Our customer care advisors are kept up to date with ASOS’s latest corporate responsibility endeavours. Whether it’s achieving another ‘green’ credential, like being carbon neutral, or questions about model welfare, we’re always eager to keep our customers informed about ASOS’s approach to being a more responsible and ethical company.
What do you enjoy about working in Customer Care?
Being customer obsessed is part of the ASOS DNA. I love being right at the heart of all customer interactions, ensuring their best interests are always met. We’re passionate about making sure our customers have a fantastic shopping experience with us so we work closely with other areas of the business to continually improve and enhance our high standards of customer care.
I love the variety in my workload and the fast-paced environment. No two days are the same, and playing a part in such a friendly and fast-growing company really makes a difference to how satisfied I feel when the working day ends.
How do you see ASOS’s approach to Customer Care developing over The next 5 years
We’ve always been pioneers, and we’ll continue to be front-runners when it comes to customer care. Our customers are savvy and quick to pick up on new trends - not just in fashion, but also in technology, corporate responsibility and regarding exceptional service. With that in mind, we’ve challenged ourselves to be one step ahead, always anticipating our customers’ needs so that we can continue to give them exceptional service.
WHAT HAS ASOS DONE OVER THE LAST 12 MONTHS TO FURTHER EMBED ETHICAL TRADE WITHIN THE BUSINESS?
The ethical trade team joined ASOS' new sourcing department towards the end of 2013. This puts us in an even stronger position to raise awareness among, and better influence, our buying and technical teams, which is helping to further embed ethical trading principles into their buying practices. To develop our new ethical trade strategy we also consulted with the directors of several departments who participate in the CR Leadership Group to find ways to work collaboratively with them to not only support suppliers to advance working conditions, but also to look at ways to improve our own internal buying practices.
HOW DOES ASOS' NEW ETHICAL TRADE STRATEGY SUPPORT WORKERS?
Our new strategy will take our ethical trade programme beyond auditing, as we recognise that audit reports, in many instances, do not create long-term change. Over the next three years we will launch a number of worker initiatives designed to improve worker management dialogue, increase wages and wage transparency and advance understanding of health and safety practices. Suppliers will be central to the success of these initiatives, so we will also be working closely with them to increase their knowledge and commitment to improving working conditions for their employees.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES YOU FACE OVER THE NEXT THREE YEARS?
We aim to create long-term relationships both with our suppliers and the manufacturers they use. We already have many suppliers and manufacturers who have been working with ASOS for four or more years. Fast, reactive fashion can create unstable supply chains. Recognising this and finding ways to maintain a stable, ethical supply base will be fundamental to us achieving our long-term business goals.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO COME AND WORK FOR ASOS?
I came to work for ASOS after seven years experience working in fashion retail, specifically for bricks and mortar brands. The opportunity was very exciting as I’d never worked for a company with such a phenomenal growth rate; in my previous roles I’d been used to more established brands with growth rates of just a few percent year on year. It has been a great career move for me in terms of the amount of change and investment for growth I’ve been part of over the last four years.
HOW HAS YOUR CAREER PROGRESSED?
It has progressed beyond my expectations. I was employee number eight in ASOS Commercial Finance and started three weeks after the Commercial Finance Director. In four years, I’ve been promoted and now have a team of fifteen people working for me, spanning across four distinct areas of commercial business support and planning. The Commercial Finance team has increased from eight to 30 people and our business has grown from 400 to 1,200 people in the time I’ve been here. Four years experience at ASOS feels like ten to fifteen years somewhere else.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR ASOS CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
I’ve been lucky enough to have lived through some of the ASOS ‘firsts’, such as our first international website and setting up our country offices. On a personal level seeing how much my team and Commercial Finance has grown and contributed to the business is something I’m really proud of.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CAREER DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
Just two years would be a significant amount of time in ASOS given the business continues to change at pace. We are still growing and taking on things that are increasingly complex. A lot of the challenges that ASOS will face are ones that I can help with; being more sophisticated around our decision-making and where we decide to invest our money for the long term, for example. When I think about how much we know now compared to two years ago the progress is huge, but the continuing pace means that we will need to keep growing our insight and intelligence to support the business and positively impact the bottom line - the demand just keeps on coming!
WHAT MADE YOU SIGN UP TO GET STARTED WITH FASHION?
I was unemployed and was not in education. I knew I wanted to get into fashion but wasn't sure how to go about it. When I found out about the programme "Get Started with Fashion" I knew it was a good starting point.
DID GET STARTED HELP YOU TO ACCESS FURTHER OPPORTUNITIES?
Yes, it helped me connect with people whereas before I was quite shy. It also led me to the ASOS Stitching Academy which was amazing!
WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT THE ASOS STITCHING ACADEMY?
I learnt how to use different types of sewing machines, I had no idea there was so many! We made basic garments for ourselves it was such a good experience.
HOW HAS THE SUPPORT FROM THE GET STARTED AND STITCHING ACADEMY PROGRAMMES HELPED YOU TO PROGRESS YOUR CAREER?
Get Started and Stitching Academy have been great I have kept in contact with people from both associations. I think knowing the people from ASOS is an advantage if I was to apply to work there! Also the Stitching Academy helped me try get work after the course, they were very encouraging! Both programmes helped me to get a place on a HND course in fashion And more importantly I gained confidence in myself.