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Claire Hamer

Asos’s sustainable fashion manager on creating a range straight out of Africa and making ethical fashionable.

Asos Africa’s eighth collection has just launched for autumn 13 - tell us about the range.

We launched our Asos Africa brand in spring 10 with a burst of East African kangas and kitenges (colourful printed wraparound garments) which we sourced from markets in Kenya. Throughout the seasons we’ve stayed close to African heritage, be that working with local artisans in Kenya or Nigeria or taking inspiration from our frequent visits to see our manufacturing partners. The brand was created in 2009 during a visit to Soko, a newly created clothing production social enterprise in Kenya. The collection is designed by our in-house design team, then cut and manufactured by Soko.

What does your role as sustainable fashion manager at Asos entail?

I was a conventional fashion buyer for 10 years before specialising in product sustainability three years ago. I manage our product sustainability programme. My role supports the buying and design teams to source more sustainably.

Why do you think sustainable fashion often had derogatory ‘hippy’ connotations?

I feel this may have been true a few years ago but as an industry we’ve really moved on. This means it is being built into core business objectives of the industry’s biggest players. In the past, sustainable fashion products often put sustainability before design as they had no choice. There wasn’t the variety of materials on the market and those that were sourcing them came up against crippling minimums and costs.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The variety. One day I might be meeting with marketing to brainstorm how we can engage the customer, another I’ll be at a roundtable meeting with other retailers discussing product sustainability initiatives and how to collaborate.
I may then be in Kenya visiting Soko to go through the latest collection.

And the worst?

Definitely the slow pace of change in the industry in terms of sustainability. As a buyer I’m used to a fast-paced environment.

What companies do you admire in terms of sustainability?

Both Marks & Spencer and H&M for their approach to embedding product sustainability into their retail teams. Both also do a decent job of communicating sustainability to their customers, even better at a corporate level.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Michelle Obama wearing Asos Africa on a number of occasions is certainly top of the list, followed by the opportunity to specialise in product sustainability in a fast-fashion company - there aren’t many product sustainability or sustainable fashion managers.

As you’re pregnant with twins, what are your thoughts on maternitywear?

There is a huge opportunity in maternity fashion, a specialist area I feel will develop further. The greatest opportunity is selling products that have a life after pregnancy, which isn’t being done at mass-market level as yet.

And how about babywear?

Fruji and Toby Tigers’ organic selection are on my wish list and I’ll be looking to wrap my twins in Cocobaci’s Crafted in the UK blankets. For everything else I’ll be reusing my two-year-old daughter’s wardrobe.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’ve just moved house, so if I’m not walking in Epping Forest then I’m on the iPad searching for homeware and furniture for the house.

If you weren’t working in fashion what would you be doing?

At university I was considering a career in hotel management. Had this happened I’m sure I would have found my way into the interiors side sharpish. I can’t be far from products - their aesthetic, function and background stories - for very long.

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