A true menswear designer, Hickey has spent his entire career fine-tuning his expertise. In 2018, he launched Asuwere, an incredibly innovative business model based on clothing subscriptions. For men. Genius.
Photographed & Interviewed by Adam Bryce
Tell us what you do and why you do it.
I’m the creative director and co-founder of Asuwere (as you were). Titles are funny in a small business, though, as we all get stuck into a bit of everything. I specifically work on our operations, design, production and marketing. Asuwere runs primarily as a subscription model, delivering good-quality wardrobe staples to your door each month, as well as the ability to purchase one-off items. Menswear has always been my chosen profession and perfecting garments the way I feel they should be. With Asuwere, this has even more meaning than ever, as I get to help dress hundreds of legends every day in kit they can be proud to look good in.
Tell us about the unique subscription model behind Asuwere?
The subscription is intended to build your base wardrobe with staples made for daily use which, from experience, can be hard to find. We simplify life by delivering a new item to our members each month. The items work with the weather of that month versus the traditional fashion seasons. February is still Summer, not Autumn and each of the items work together seamlessly and complement your existing wardrobe.
Asuwere also follows a direct-to-consumer model. How does this benefit the customer?
As our members receive items from us each month, we have all their sizing, colour preferences etc on file, which allows us to forecast much more accurately on what we are ordering, resulting in less waste. So, as we have this commitment from them, our subscription pricing works out at a cheaper rate than the traditional wholesale model. It also brings a real personalised service to the customer experience which means we’re able to form good relationships with our customers.
How does the new Commercial Bay retail store space fit in with this model?
It’s a great opportunity for us to take that personalised service to the next level and for people to touch the quality of clothes in real life. It’s set up as the dream wardrobe, which is really an insight to the future for prospective members and a great hangout for many of our existing members who work downtown.
What are your thoughts on sustainability, ethical fashion and the current concerns around the fashion schedule and discounting?
A big part of our model is around creating less waste, hence why we don’t follow trends and only offer clothing we know our members will get extensive use out of. You could make something totally sustainable but, if it doesn’t have purpose or isn’t timeless, it’s not sustainable. By having a model the way we do, there’s no need to go on sale as our collection is made of core products that are relevant for seasons to come.
From the start, we’ve documented our factories which we are incredibly proud of and privileged to work with. This is something we will continue to share — check out our saved Instagram stories to get a detailed run through of our knitwear and cut n sew factories from a trip I went on last year.
We’re looking to introduce some organic cotton styles (remarkably hard as a small brand) and the goal, as we grow, is to make our own fabrics which is the only real way to control and fully trace back to the source. At this stage, we don’t meet the required minimums to make that viable, so are selecting the best quality we have available to us.
We know this is just the beginning and is something we need to continue to be intentional about as we continue grow.
What inspires the Asuwere aesthetic?
Very clean. The idea is that all products you can wear every day, no matter what you have on and look good without having to worry about it.
Do you have views on how men should dress? With the Asuwere aesthetic based around a very classic style, do you see this as being something men should follow in general?
Not really, it’s certainly a good way to have no regrets if you’re looking back on photos 10 years from now. Personally, I’m inspired by all sorts of aesthetics and will mix it up but, when it comes to Asuwere, we want to keep it simple. It’s not that I think people have to dress this way, it’s just a bit of a foolproof formula to looking well put together, which busy guys often need. If you have confidence in what you wear and can own it, that will always shine through (although it might not always date well retrospectively).
What are your thoughts on the formation of a New Zealand fashion council? And how do you see the future of New Zealand fashion withstanding the current economic issues?
I think anything that pulls our industry together is a great idea. Being in a small country, we could all collectively rise together and become better by sharing our knowledge. Fashion can often feel exclusive especially to newcomers.
Economically, it’s hard for me to predict but, I think, even pre-Covid-19, the brands that were able to adapt and evolve quickly with the changing landscape will be the ones that survive. That said… we’re living in the extreme case of change right now and seeing some of my favourite brands closing down in the US and New Zealand makes it hard to see what they could have done to withstand this wild storm.
We can only hope, in New Zealand, that the local fashion industry can pull through this but I don’t think the tough times are over. For us, we’re hopeful that, by staying close to our customers and being hyper-focused on customer experience, our model will continue to grow.
What are your future goals for the brand and how do you see these being accomplished?
Being a digital-first brand, our decision to go into a physical store in Commercial Bay felt like a step into the future of where we are headed, which is in building on the community feel we have going with so many like-minded legends. I would love to see us replicate this in more cities. We’ve developed a model which is completely unique in the way it works and we’re continuing to evolve and learn. Ultimately, our goal is to be the go-to brand for our members offering a seamless service that they can rely on to have them sorted beyond just clothing.