Twice a week, ASOS fills two jumbo jets with between 50 and 60 pallets of clothing on its way to Australia. This weighs between 15,000 and 20,000 kilograms and takes up between 95 and 115 cubic metres. It’s hard to quantify visually, but it’s a huge amount.
ASOS is fast becoming a massive empire (if it isn’t already), albeit obscured behind the face of the computer screen. Despite starting 10 years ago, a large proportion of ASOS’s customers are new and their numbers are growing rapidly by the day. On average, someone places an order at ASOS every 30 seconds and that’s just from Australia (most of these are dresses). People are spending their Friday nights, weekends and lunch breaks shopping for next weekend’s outfit. But the customer base isn’t the only aspect of this empire growing at a brisk rate. The company employs nearly 800 people in their London head office, and this doesn’t even account for the outgoing warehouse from which garments are distributed globally.
One of these employees is John Mooney, Head of Menswear Design at ASOS. Previously working for Alexander McQueen and TopMan, Mooney joined the ASOS team last year to oversee all facets of menswear, which began four years ago and already accounts for 30 per cent of online sales.
“People aren’t shopping like they used to,” he says. “They want to be able to buy things from the comfort of their own home and not have to go out to go shopping.” The bonus for ASOS shoppers is there is free shipping from the UK and no charge on returns. “So what people are doing now is ‘over-purchasing’, buying a few garments in different sizes, trying them on at home, then sending back the things they don’t want. Returns are a massive part of the business.” This is why the brand have set up a depot in Australia. Though the head dispatch will still be in the UK, you will be able to return your garments locally and get your money back within days, which, as Mooney points out, is a “massive incentive” for buyers.
It seems worlds away from ASOS’s original incarnation as site As Seen On Screen, “where you could buy items that were seen on TV shows and movies…like Brad Pitt’s leather jacket from Fight Club or an item from Monica’s apartment in Friends.”
Nonetheless, ASOS has grown exponentially and it is back at the London headquarters that all the action takes place, with six full studios shooting models in new garments for the site and hundreds of designers busily working on the next new looks. They also produce two magazines – a men’s and a women’s publication – and commission work from artists and designers to collaborate on new lines, which Mooney plays a large role in facilitating. Their product range is now so huge that they couldn’t fit the online offering in UK department store Selfridges.
The connotations of the fast fashion industry and the ever-hungry beast that is the consumer market still make the ASOS phenomenon a little hard to swallow, and this includes the brand’s claims of carbon neutrality.
All that said, it’s impossible not to admire the online empire as it changes the retail landscape in front of our eyes, making it possible for so many to access fashion on-screen at their own leisure. Put simply, Australian online shoppers are lapping it up.