The fashion industry has a reputation for being notoriously tough to break into. But thankfully, there are increasingly better and bigger opportunities for people with true talent and vision to find a platform for their ideas.
Which is where Jo Hunt, head of buying at ASOS, comes in. Having worked at the helm of this incredibly innovative digital business for the last 12 years, she’s part of the fabric of the company. She’s seen it transform from a workforce of 100 to 4,000 and had a remarkable insight into how the world has changed for young talent. But no matter how big it gets, she’s determined that the fashion brand keeps its finger on the pulse.
This is just one of the reasons Jo champions ASOS' Fashion Discovery competition. Now in its second year, it provides an incredible platform for new designers – the winners get their brand stocked on ASOS for at least two seasons.
We caught up with Jo, who oversees just under 500 womenswear brands on ASOS, to find out why she’s excited about this year’s competition, why she lives in black dresses, and why she’ll always love London’s attitude to creativity.
Hi Jo! First of all, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve worked in retail for 18 years, and the last 12 have been at ASOS. The business has changed so radically in that time but the startup feel still runs through a lot of what we do.
Tell us about the Fashion Discovery initiative – why did you decide to set it up?
As mentioned, the startup atmosphere still runs through a lot of what we do – so this is about supporting talent, being humble and remembering where we came from. We’ve always been a business who’s looked at new and fledgling brands, and across our whole business we’re always recognising talent in ourselves and in the businesses we work with. It’s about us being able to offer some real support and capital to brands that are up and coming. The idea itself is a bit like crowdfunding – people have a stronger connection to someone when they’ve had a real part to play in their future. And it’s given these brands an amazing amount of exposure. You only have one vote per person, so they go into the portal and actually read about every one of them. It’s been really well received, we’ve had lots of great interactions with customers about the initiative.
What's been great about the designers you've been working with this year? Have you seen any standout trends?
We’ve seen a real trend for brands and designers taking sustainable and ethical stances really seriously very early on in their journey. There were also lots of people talking about how they were supporting the local community. All the designers are really open to collaborating and working with other people which means there’s a real sense of camaraderie and that’s really exciting to see. It’s not as competitive as you would think it might have been in the past. Everyone wants these designers to succeed and be successful and we're all working towards that common goal.
Hundreds of budding designers must apply each year, how do you select the finalists?
All the participants are already designers who have their businesses up and trading, they’ve already exhibited real resourcefulness and shown a genuine passion for success. What we’re looking for in the winners is something that’s really innovative and creative – they’re all amazing in their own unique way – but brands we feel are at a place where they’re ready to seize this opportunity. Someone who can see the potential of their brand and where it’s going. One of the things we offer the winners is an intense mentoring programme from around the business, so they have to be at a point where they are ready for that. We’re looking for people who are hungry for that experience.
What is the industry like for upcoming designers at the moment?
I think it’s as good as it’s ever been. Buyers are looking for something new and unique and something better than everyone else more than ever. And I think that’s made them braver about taking a punt on people earlier on in their career. If you’re doing something that no one else is doing, there’s a real opportunity.
What do you love about the London fashion scene?
That it's always changing! There’s all of these amazing boutiques and there’s always been a really strong sense of independent fashion. When I was younger you’d go to Camden, and now Shoreditch and Hackney are the new Camden. There’s always been a sense here of reinventing products and finding white space in a really crowded market.
Where do you think the industry is heading?
I still think there’s going to be a strong sense of newness. As global expansion and logistics become ever easier for small businesses, we’ll see more small brands being able to rapidly expand. Everyone has the opportunity to see what’s going on in the rest of the world. There’s a global hunger for that trend, that means we’re constantly looking for the unique and the new. Also business models have become increasingly interesting: community and sharing models have become so ubiquitous in people’s lives, it's inevitable that we will start seeing clothes being sold in this way too.
Finally, tell us a bit about your own personal style and how it's evolved throughout your career.
I used to wear lots of vintage when I first started working in London – from Camden and shops in Brick Lane. But now I see so much coming and going and there’s so much to choose from, so I’m inevitably in a black dress with a red lip. Sometimes you can get caught up in a trend and all of a sudden you’re like, 'What am I doing?!' So I have a wardrobe of simple and stylish black dresses.
Check back in on 23rd May when we'll be interviewing the winners of ASOS' Fashion Discovery programme.