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’s 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.
Why is ethical trade important for ASOS?
To supply customers with high quality fashion we need a supply chain that is responsive and reliable and which will work collaboratively with ASOS to achieve long-term, sustainable change. At ASOS, ethical trade is a key ingredient of a well-managed supplier or factory. We believe that for suppliers to become more efficient they need to invest in the safety and welfare of their workforce, and we help them to identify ways to do this.
How does the ASOS ethical trade programme benefit workers?
Through our ethical trade programme we hope to make factory owners and managers more aware of the untapped potential of their workers. Our Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards set out the key principles for improving basic rights for workers. Training sessions, site visits and workshops then provide suppliers with more practical advice on how to embed these principles. In particular, the workshops provide a forum for our suppliers and manufacturers to get together to share best practice and learn from each other about the benefits of trading ethically and supporting their workers. We are confident that this approach will help to ensure safer, fairer and more secure employment conditions for people working in manufacturing sites supplying ASOS.
What are the main challenges you face?
Many problems we see in manufacturing sites are relatively easy to fix, for example by providing better health and safety training. The more challenging issues often require collaboration between other retailers, governments, non-governmental organisations and the communities around our manufacturers. These complicated issues vary from country to country but typically include working hours, trade union membership or the payment of living wages.
What about the future?
I am very optimistic about the ability of our internal teams and suppliers to work together to improve working conditions. We have an on-going internal programme to raise awareness among our buying and technical teams, which is helping to embed ethical trading principles into their buying practices. We have a very dedicated supply chain which is now working closely with our regional teams and improvements are already visible. My hope for the future is that we are successful in motivating factories towards exemplary labour standards as part of their own manufacturing excellence and sustainable business programmes and that these principles become second nature.
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's 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 2012?
Of our many success stories, I am particularly proud that we’ve been able to help fund a new SOKO factory in Kenya to keep pace with the demand for our sell out ASOS Africa range.
Our employees have helped ASOS become one of the first companies to be awarded a platinum quality mark for our Payroll Giving programme, and we were recognised at the RSPCA Good Business Awards for the launch of our animal welfare programme and membership of the Fur Free Alliance earlier in the year.
As part of a business-wide focus on responsible sourcing last year, we expanded our Ethical Trade team in the UK and overseas, enabling us to really embed our ethical trade programme. As a result, the Ethical Trading Initiative gave our second annual report submission to them an ‘Achiever’ rating.
And I’d just like to mention two of my personal favourites – hearing that young unemployed people who attended our Prince’s Trust ‘Get Started with Fashion’ courses went on to secure themselves jobs and apprenticeships, and about our partnership with the local community in Grimethorpe, the home of our new fulfilment centre in Yorkshire, where we upgraded sports facilities and ran a summer football school for local children.
What were some of the biggest challenges ASOS faced last year?
I would like to have seen a bigger reduction in our carbon emissions overall.
The huge increase in overseas orders, whilst great for the business, means we are constantly being challenged to find new and more effective ways to minimise the impacts of customer deliveries.
We’re also beginning to make inroads into improving the sustainability of materials used in our main ranges – changing from one type of fabric to another is actually an extremely complex process, particularly in the context of a fast-moving business where up to around 2,000 products go live on the site each week.
What are your priorities for 2013?
We have many! Tackling emissions from customer deliveries is one of the most important. To this end, we’ll be working closely with our delivery partners to be as carbon efficient as possible and discussing how to produce our own renewable energy supplies.
We want to expand our Ethical Trade team further, so we can give more support to our suppliers to achieve and maintain our responsible sourcing standards. And helping our internal teams produce more sustainable ranges is another high priority. We hope to provide them with educational resources and roll out an awareness-raising programme this year.
I am also very keen that we use our influence in the fashion industry in 2013 to promote more responsible and healthy body images, following the work we did in 2012. We also have big plans in the area of community development in Kenya and India, supported by the ASOS Foundation.
Finally, we’re ready to start communicating our progress on Fashion with Integrity more widely, with our first submission to the UN Global Compact later in the year.