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Close-Up Preview: Q&A with James Hart, director at Asos

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak-peek of our Close-Up interview James Hart, director at fashion etail giant Asos, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition.

What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion’s not just about buying a dress for Saturday night; it’s a way of life. And that’s not just for the fashion forward trendsetters but for everybody. In terms of product that means servicing the best edit of the world’s best fashion. Most of it we stock in the warehouse but there is a whole world out there of product that we don’t stock but can sell, that’s where marketplace comes in.  Twenty-somethings are trying to find out who they are, get that confidence to become an individual – not necessarily stand out from the crowd but just know who they are – and fashion plays an important part in that.

What were some of the first products Asos sold when it launched in 2000?
We found iconic pieces like a version of the jacket Brad Pitt wore in fight club and the Bad Mother Fucker wallet as seen on Pulp Fiction. We weren’t really fashion back then, it was much more homewares and things like the peephole photo frame from Friends.

How has the structure of the business changed?
At first we were in start-up mode – running really fast to build a business; in the process defining our personality without even knowing it. Two key things helped us to begin to become what we are today - hiring our 1st buyer who led us into fashion and bringing our tech team in-house to enable us to control our destiny.

We then moved on to the growth stage when we recognised that we are a fashion business and had to grow that through hiring experienced fashion people, expanding the product offer and enhancing our core systems.

The current phase is that we now have a with a robust retail operation underpinning us (albeit with lots of room to improve), we are able to focus on why we are all here (our purpose), who we are doing it for (the customer) and what we believe in (our values); both of these enable us to innovate like the early days, focus clearly on the customer, and hire the right people. It’s a very exciting time.

Where do you find your inspiration?
To be honest, it’s very rarely in fashion and is mainly from the US. One site that has caught my attention is [lifestyle website] Fab. They have a similar proposition to us, they thought through what they wanted to build and who for, so had a clear purpose and vision as well as a fresh canvas. I’m kind of jealous in a way. Our canvas is not fresh – it’s a concoction of different sites and we’re now unpicking all of that. It’s all about evolution and continuing to deploy new experiences, you have to keep moving.

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