The fashion industry has been in flux for some time. The past year has only exacerbated the non-sensical wholesale calendar, where winter collections hit stores in the summer and surplus stock can easily mount up for both designers and retailers. Nobody knows this better than a fashion buyer, and Milun Kumar's been mulling it all over for quite some time. It was while working in a department store in London that he was left in disbelief when faced with the reality of end of season stock. And so, finally, this past September, Kumar launched Aspect Online, a multi-brand online retail platform where customers can shop past, present and future collections in one luxury space.
Aspect takes on a trans-seasonal approach, intended to reflect the way customers are choosing to shop these days - mixing Depop finds with new season drops - whilst also allowing independent brands to produce and sell at their own pace and to monetise their archive stock. Kumar explains:
'I never really cared what season things came from, and I don't think many of my peers thought about that either. When you're shopping for certain brands, you know if it looks good, it looks good. If you want it, you want it. [Today's consumer] understands the cycle of clothes, and they understand things like the circular economy, so they know where they're spending their money and they want to spend it in places that make a bit of a difference and are fun and exciting to shop at.'
Whilst many fast fashion retailers selling online exacerbate the problem of surplus stock, Kumar believes that creative solutions can also be found in e-commerce.
'As tech has advanced, it's really helped fashion to progress online, which has otherwise been quite a slow burner. I've always been passionate about responsibility and "sustainability". I've also always been really passionate about championing emerging brands.'
The retail landscape has been shifting and changing for some time, with e-commerce quickly overtaking brick and mortar. Kumar had been cooking up the idea for a new online space for about two years - then lockdown happened. Against all the odds, Kumar felt this might actually be the perfect time to launch a business due to the conversations around supply chains which were ramped up by the pandemic. Increased unsold inventories and unpaid orders have been a direct result of the pandemic, that's why online retailers with an inventory-free approach have survived the best. However, Aspect recognises that the problem pre-dates the pandemic. By working outside of the wholesale system, Aspect allows for brands to retain full ownership of their stock and maximise their profit margins, and can also avoid being left with a room full of stock fit only for a sample sale. Aspect take a commission and then photograph and sell the stock for the brands, which will eventually turn up on the customer's door in luxury Aspect packaging.
'I looked to apply my understanding of the luxury fashion industry to a new idea that I felt reinstated value to older collections. Many people tried to create places where you can shop old stock, but they tend to be not luxury experiences; TK Maxx, Secret Sales, things like that. From the the beginning, I wanted the foundation to be that you can shop past, present or future, with the future being made to order stuff. You can have this neo-luxury experience of shopping all different seasons ' Kumar explains.
Blurring the lines between archival and new stock, Aspect gives brands the opportunity to showcase and sell their stock in a more affordable and responsible way. A designer's previous collections and latest designs are aligned in one luxury shopping experience. The website itself is a beautiful thing - Kumar worked closely with the creative agency 11.12 on the website build and the two teams have garnered a close relationship which is promising for Aspect's future. Photographer and creative strategist Ryan Collett worked with Kumar on honing Aspect's visual identity - it might sound simple but even the product shots are really rather beautiful.
Kumar knows there's more work to be done, industry-wide that is. 'I don't think for a second that Aspect is here to solve all the problems of supply chains, seasonality and all that stuff. When you have such fundamental systems in place, for example the wholesale calendar and the buying season in Paris dictating so many people's businesses lives, you can't just suddenly throw that all away and start again. I think the change probably needs to come from top to bottom.'
For now, they're working with new and emerging designers, who are profiled on the website and in the Aspect 'Community' space with interviews which sit alongside curated playlists and opinion pieces. Aspect offers both a retail space and a platform where independent brands and designers can have their own voice whilst building a viable business. 'My affinity with emerging brands is not only the product, but also the story behind it. It completes that 360 degree idea of the designer and that kind of supportive element of these emerging brands also speaks to our audience' Kumar tells me. Aspect is bridging the gap between the young names who graduate as the word on the fashion crowd's lips, to the lesser known brands who've got something just as special to offer. Take for example Eleanor Butler-Jones, who graduated in June and is now making a business out of her crinkled sling bags, which Kumar assures me are selling like hot cakes.
'Something I'm most passionate about is the business model side of Aspect. It's allowing brands to take the profit money and actually reinvest it. I'd love to keep brands on Aspect for years to help them become really reputable brands that are big businesses as well. That to me is truly supporting brands - growing their business. There's so many other things you can do to support them, but to me, that's the key thing. If you're not supporting them as a business, then they're just going to die.'
Kumar tells me he is constantly talking to Aspect customers and brands, taking on their feedback which has been overwhelmingly positive. Taking things month by month, Kumar's aim is to build up the team into something more permanent beyond freelancers, especially as Aspect brings on more brands. Kumar isn't trying to take over from the MACHINE-A's or the Essences, in fact they're the online stores he's long admired, in part for the relationships they make between consumers and emerging brands. Aspect instead is bringing a new proposition into the game, and Kumar hopes that one day Aspect will be associated with the boutiques and online stores he admires so much. 'What you're purchasing [from Aspect] isn't what you standardly would purchase at all those places in terms of season and the time was when it was produced' he explains. On the future of fashion seasons, Kumar thinks these will always be relevant, whether they're labelled so or not. Instead, Kumar sees a future where designers create core collections and smaller drops, but it's how retailers approach them that really has to change.