Fashion designer Sam Hickey, co-founder of Asuwere, talks about how a retail shop complements his monthly subscription service, how the shift to a mainstream work from home culture has grown subscription and his lofty plans for a global footprint.
What does your business do?
Asuwere is a men's wear clothing subscription. We launched in December 2018 and create a collection of seasonal staples designed to build our members' perfect wardrobes. Every month we send out a new item and each item is designed to work with that month's weather - it's all high-quality pieces such as shirts, trousers, sweatshirts and shorts. You sign up with your size and see what pieces are coming in the four months' ahead.
We've got a retail store in Commercial Bay in Auckland and people can try on the pieces and make sure they are getting the right fit as we have future samples hanging there. Prior to this, we had a pop-up that ended up going for a year.
We find that having a store is a great place for people to come in and experience the brand and touch the clothes. You can walk in and buy a one-off piece as well, but with the subscription, our members help us forecast on what we order and in exchange we give them a better price as it helps us forecast on our cashflow. It's almost like a wholesale direct-to-consumer model.
What was the motivation for starting it?
My brother Noah Hickey and myself started the business together. I've always been in fashion in men's wear and Noah's dabbled in it, and we've always had conversation about not being able to find things we like or designed the way we like them. When I moved back to New Zealand from London we decided to start with one product, and launched a brand with the perfect linen shirt - something we struggling to find at the time a year before Asuwere and that went really well and we got a great customer base of guys that wanted clean-cut quality staples with no branding and they wanted more staples.
A lot of the customers we had were busy people, beyond that age of going out and shopping, so that's when we decided to look at the subscription concept of delivering clothes men need to their door. It spawned from doing one item really well.
How big is the team?
We've got two full-timers who work in the store and the warehouse, myself who is fulltime and Noah, who works fulltime in another business, but is very much my hands-on adviser and business partner. We also have another advisor, Sam, who is also involved, so altogether we are a team of five.
How has the business been performed in the past six months?
Our customer base has almost doubled since the first Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. With the first lockdown in April retailers couldn't really ship out orders, but since May onwards the local support has been amazing. I think the change in trends as well with a lot of people working from home has helped us. A lot of our apparel is smart casual so it suits a lot of people's lifestyles right now as people move away from suits.
What are your long term plans for the business?
In 10 years' time we would definitely like to see us take the model overseas. New Zealand is a great testing ground for something like this with its much smaller population so once we figure out how to solve lots of problems for men over here then we can take the same model and drop it into different cities. That would take a fair bit of market analysis before making a decision but we have just been focusing on NZ so Australia is an obvious next step as they have the same seasons.
What's been the biggest challenge you've faced running the business?
The fact that it is a new model that no one has done before. People don't necessarily get it straight away - there's a little bit more explaining to do, but that's why we have the retail space. The store is more about people coming in and learning about us after coming across us online. It's more of an education piece than a hard sell, letting them know how the business works. Membership is $1099 for the year or $99.99 per month for 14-16 items.
How has the business been funded?
It started from Samuel Joseph with the linen shirt business - that got us off the ground two years ago. We haven't raised any funds at this stage, but it is on the cards at some stage soon. We haven't yet decided what we will raise, it's dependent on what we prioritise next to grow. Our digital platform is something that could really be changed so that is one area we would use anything raised on, to make it more of a hub for members.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Solving a problem is a great place to start and it enables you to constantly challenge your idea and make it better. One thing that definitely helps me is having people you can call and bounce ideas off. Doing it alone is not easy so having people that you can trust, get feedback from and work with is something I'd advise.