Faced with the success of its men’s collections, the Asphalte brand has just launched its first women’s line. Women’s wardrobe basics designed and sold hand in hand with its customers on a pre-order system to reduce overproduction, waste and wastage. William Hauvette, founder of Asphalte, tells us more about this model of slow fashion that could be one of the answers to the environmental problems facing the fashion industry.
How did the Asphalt brand come about?
She was born 5 years after I launched my very first menswear brand ‘Six et Sept’. It was a ‘traditional’ operating brand with several collections per year, a distribution network, showroom presentations, etc. It was very difficult to get it out there. It didn’t go the way I wanted. Based on this ‘traditional’ model, it was very difficult to be profitable while offering good value for money for the end customer. With Asphalte I wanted to find an alternative to give meaning and quality to all stakeholders in the equation. The idea was to find a way to make clothing ethical, of high quality and accessible to as many people as possible. The ultimate goal of Asphalt is to solve this almost impossible equation!
One of the specific features of Asphalte is to work on the principle of pre-order, a concept that is developing but is still far from the norm today. Why this choice?
It is precisely related to the desire to find another economic model and to focus more on quality than quantity… Thanks to pre-ordering, we reduce the costs associated with the famous “traditional” model: there are fewer middlemen and less storage costs because there are fewer unsold items. The aim is to reduce unnecessary costs as much as possible so that the end product is accessible to as many people as possible. Pre-ordering is the ‘purest’ economic model that allows us to sell a product that is expensive to produce at a low price.
Fast fashion, the public is used to regularly renewing their wardrobes. Aren’t your customers frustrated that they have to wait two months to receive pre-ordered products?
Strangely enough, the answer is no. We already have 128,000 men’s customers since the launch in 2016, 8,000 customers since the launch of the women’s range in October 2021, and we have nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram for women. Prove that model, brand and communication appeal! To give you a few more numbers, we sold 25,000 pieces in the women’s range. This is 8% of our turnover. These are indicators that show that waiting is not perceived negatively, on the contrary! Those who take the pre-order step don’t feel frustration but rather the satisfaction of consuming in a different way.
What are your obligations in the field of ecology and labor law?
In the field of ecology, we have three main pillars: traceability, labeled materials and resistance testing. We have been measuring the environmental impact of each of our garments for 18 months. Something made possible because we have access to precise information such as water and energy consumption and possibly the phosphate rejection rate. For example, the production of one of our Ultimate T-shirts releases 5.9 kg of CO2 compared to 10 kg on average for a t-shirt of the same weight from Asia. We try to reduce this impact every year by, for example, using more organic cotton or wool to ensure that the animals are not mistreated while shearing. Another important point is that our clothes last a long time. We do resistance tests and they can be worn thousands of times and machine washed.
In the area of labor law, all products are made in the European Union because labor law is strict there, and we conduct audits and visit the factories we work with.
The clothing is produced by European manufacturers, of which 82% in Portugal, 14% in Romania and 2% in France. Do you expect 100% French production in the long term?
Unfortunately not in the short term because our challenge is to make quality accessible, and with made in France we would have to increase our price by 30 to 50%. If we can have it produced in France without increasing the price of the final product too much, we’ll do it. This is especially the case for the sailor’s men’s sweater made in Marcoux Lafay between Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand. On the other hand, if you have the same quality for a lower price, have it produced elsewhere, especially in Portugal.
On the e-shop, Asphalte indicates that customers ‘participate in the creation of clothing’. What does that mean?
Co-creation is our tool to respond to a need and improve our products. Since the beginning of Asphalte we have sent out almost 600 questionnaires, all types combined. Customers inform us of the products they need prior to developing the final collection plan. This allows us to determine the product specifications and prepare the launch letter. The second step is to send out a second questionnaire, this time with the technical details and colors once we have made enough progress to have materials in mind and a first prototype. At the same time, we conduct ‘focus groups’ to engage customers on site and show our first prototypes to have an opinion on the mounting on the material, cut, etc.
We also use social networks to post stories, as soon as a question arises in the development process to decide together with customers. After receiving the product, we send them a satisfaction survey. This improves the product year after year, reducing returns and improving customer satisfaction. This questionnaire is also sent two years later to check the shelf life of the product.
The brand was born in 2016, almost four years before the pandemic… Have you noticed a before/after in terms of consumer behaviour?
Yes ! Before Covid-19, we mainly received messages thanking us for the quality of the products. Today, these are more congratulations to the brand’s overall approach, whether it’s our dedication, offering a different consumption model or making ethical clothing accessible.
You also agree to offer very few references, about 200, unlike fast fashion. Are the youngest, the Z’s, targeted by Asphalt?
Our dream is for everyone to be targeted by Asphalte, from 7 to 77 years old! We have a ‘mainstream’ vision of our customers and especially thanks to our clothing that is timeless: the good basics that everyone needs. The average age of asphalt customers is 35 years. There is another reality to take into account and that is economic: young people have fewer financial resources. Our clients have a fairly wide range of ages, between 25 and 65, and that’s interesting.
Could pre-ordering be the answer, or one of the answers, to the climate emergency?
That’s one of the answers, I’m sure! Imagine a world where we only consume what is pre-ordered by the end customer! Pre-ordering is good for the environment. It limits waste, overproduction and at the end of the chain it limits waste production… It is a great alternative to the existing model.
What are the next steps to develop the brand?
There are two main stages. The first is the women’s line. It only launched 6 months ago, so we’re still at the beginning of the story. The second is international development. We just launched our site in English and German and have over 9,000 foreign customers who have ordered from us. Especially in Germany, the brand is very well received!
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