The Business Of Subscriptions: Sam Hickey Of Asuwere
The Business Of Subscriptions: Sam Hickey Of Asuwere
Interview & Photos by Zayyar Win Thein
Zayyar: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview Sam. For those who may not know your background, could you give us a brief introduction into what you do?
Sam: Thank you for having me! I am the creative director and co-founder at Asuwere (as-you-were). Asuwere is a clothing brand which runs on a subscription model, every month our members receive a new wardrobe essential. Pretty much work on a bit of everything but my main focuses are designing / developing our products and working on creative.
Zayyar: Can you tell us what were you doing before Asuwere?
Sam: It’s always been something on the back of my mind, my graduate collection was pretty much the start of this under the name ‘Samuel Joseph’ which is what I started under when I moved back from the UK. I wanted to see different ways the industry worked and at different scales before jumping straight in.
Zayyar: So just to give us a bit of a timeline how did the idea of Asuwere come about? Then how did the idea grow from there into executing it? Talk us through that.
Sam: Asuwere has really been in the works for a long time albiet we didn’t know it as that until last year. My brother and Asuwere co-founder Noah and I have forever been going back on fourth on what we’d change on garments we’d own, this only continued over the years. The subscription concept of a high quality essentials brand came about before I left the UK but we parked it to really push on just perfecting one item at a time. Both ideas really inspired by seeing how the industry works and what a customers true needs are.
At that stage neither of could find a good linen shirt so I hit our parents sewing studio and started making us samples. We had some good interest and we went on a journey to launch the perfect linen shirt which lead me to Portugal where we had our linen shirts made in this beautiful shirting factory. When we launched they went down a treat, we sold out of a few hundred in a couple of weeks just through direct to consumer approach of online and pop ups.
We continued the shirts over that summer and got an amazing customer base who we then started to try and learn more about, what products they needed etc. Turns out they wanted a bit of everything and for the most part were all too busy to actually go out and shop.
We kept asking our customer questions, jumped on calls with them and realised the problem we were trying to solve for these guys is they don’t have time or want to shop and we could build a new model to help with this delivering only the items they need, to their door, when they need them.
Zayyar: What an awesome story and cool how you guys just “did” it and built that small customer base. So how did you come up with the name for Asuwere?
Sam: Well the linen shirt business was called Samuel Joseph and we knew once we’d developed this subscription model and how it would work that it wasn’t quite the right fit, so were looking for something that summed up what we were trying to do. We’d been firing around a whole bunch of names and Asuwere came to me while I was filling a skip bin whilst labouring on a building site, funny the places ideas can come to you.
Zayyar Why did you want to choose fashion as a career path?
Sam: I've always been around clothing. Both my parents were sewers, dad made his own shirts and my mum made bikinis, so there has always been this mentality to make things yourself.
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Then having older brothers who were wearing skateboarding brand like Bones Brigade, Alien Workshop etc in the 90's sparked this interest further and I'd think about how I could make them better or more inline with want I wanted. This ultimately being what I got into the industry for, make clothes the way I wanted them.
Zayyar: Entrepreneurship and fashion are a windy road for sure - what were some of the highs and the lows?
Sam: It’s a grind! I was always told that it’s a hard industry and although whilst working for others I’d give it my all, at the end of the day I’d always get to go home and can sleep easier than the boss. We had such good success with Samuel Joseph to kick things off but you really need to keep pushing things to maintain that momentum and that shit can be tiring, trying to motivate yourself and stay inspired when sales slow down, these things keep you up at night.
But I love clothing and in the end making nice threads and seeing people stoked to wear them is what it’s all about for me and with Asuwere I feel like I am helping more people than I’ve ever been able to through clothing.
Zayyar: Can you tell us more about why you chose to go with a subscription model and how it exactly works?
Sam: The fundamentals of how it’s set up came from asking guys questions and solving the problem of shopping for busy people and giving them quality staples when they need them along with ways they can wear them.
Each month is a new item and each item is designed to work seamlessly with your existing wardrobe but as a collection, it builds a bit of uniform which always looks good for a broad range of guys. Essentially it’s all about making our members lives easier and so they don’t have to think about it for $99 a month. Members can always buy more options at better pricing.
You also have full visibility of what’s coming and so guys pick their size and colour preference, making our ordering much more accurate on what people are after, leaving us with less stock issues or waste. And of course subscription works well with forecasting cash flow.
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Zayyar: For you what’s more important when you’re bringing out a garment is it the quality, the fit, the price point? I know with Asuwere you’re trying to meet all three in the middle but does one ever outweigh the other?
Sam: First we will always look at fit and quality and then look at the price point. Price is obviously important as we can’t bring an item into the collection which would blow out the $99 a month fee. But we would never release something that we thought wasn’t great and have a good spread of higher value items mixed in with tees.
As our membership grows, all three of these things will only improve, with more buying power you can use fabrics better fabrics which run at higher minimums that we can’t currently achieve, it also improves on our fit, we are constantly looking to tweak and improve so the more members means a more custom size offering. We currently order 4 leg lengths in some sizes based on member preferences.
Zayyar: What’s personally been your favourite piece you’ve made so far and why?
Sam: Currently I can’t take off our Lounger pants which release in August, a nice hybrid between chino and jogger but I’m most excited to introduce some outerwear, we’ve got an overshirts/chore coat in the works I am looking forward too, I own so many of them and love a good pocket and collar combo!
Zayyar: Can confirm that they are super comfy. Fast forward a few months and you’re seeing success with the brand quite quickly. Why do you think guys are resonating with the brand? What do you think is your unique point of view in the industry?
Sam: I think it’s a combination of things, we saw a problem that needed solving for a large group of guys and the solution is something these dudes aren’t used to. Guys that didn’t like the idea of shopping are now getting hyped to receive a new parcel every month. We are also pushing to build a brand around these guys, not so much about ourselves but more enabling their confidence. We have this amazing group of members who are doing great things and we want to share those stories rather than models and give them the tools to keep crushing what they do.
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Zayyar: You recently launched a new project with Give To Get, can you give us a bit more insight into that?
Sam: I’d given Noah’s wardrobe a massive overhaul and we had so many clothes to donate and we recognised that as our members receive their new product each month, it's likely they'll also all have some perfectly good items of clothing they no longer need too.
We’d come across the charity Fix Up Look Sharp who help dress guys for job interviews and new it was something we wanted to get involved with. We pitched her the idea of encouraging our members to donate their clothes they no longer need and it’s been a huge success. So far which had over 300 donations, suits, shirts, shoes, chinos.
Zayyar: If you wanted to encourage someone who maybe is stuck at their desk job with a dream, or a kid aspiring to start something what are some key pointers that you’ve learnt along the way that you’d like to share?
Sam: I’d suggest getting out there and learning. If there’s a path you want to take start talking to people in the industry, a conversation is so much better than a message or email so go visit people and meet face to face. There is so much you can take away from others experiences that will inspire an idea or help you in the right direction. I’m also a big fan of working with people and not working in isolation which can be hard when starting your own gig, so make sure you surround yourself with people who can help you out.
Zayyar: What’s next for Asuwere and where do you see it in 5 years time?
Sam: We’re expanding the collection slowly and bringing out some capsules which will sit alongside the collection which I am pumped about. And to be honest I hope that can just continue, I’d love to see us take the model overseas and grow our membership so we can keep improving the quality and sustainability of our products and help more guys get excited about clothing and dressing well. As you were.
Zayyar: Finally to finish the article off what have you been reading, listening to and/or watching lately that our readers might enjoy?
Sam: I don't read as much as I would like but I did recently finished Shoe Dog which was an incredibly inspiring story, especially if you are looking to start something new.
I enjoy listening to podcasts when I find time, How I Built This with Guy Raz, Business of Fashion has some goodies and local a favourite Business is Boring with Simon Pound.
Zayyar: Awesome! Thanks so much for your time Sam.
37 Mackelvie St,
Interview & Photos: Zayyar Win Thein