Interview with Louise McCabe,
ASOS Foundation Director

Why was the ASOS Foundation set up?

We set up the ASOS Foundation because we wanted to provide a vehicle for our charitable work with young people. ASOS customers are young adults in their twenties and as ASOS is a successful business, we wanted to create a separate organisation that would enable us to give something back in a structured way. We also wanted to provide a focus to our colleagues’ commitment to fundraising and volunteering.

We’ve developed the ASOS Foundation along the way since we first started our charitable bank account with the Charities Aid Foundation in 2009. As we grew we migrated to a charitable trust under the umbrella of Charities Aid Foundation and then finally in 2013 we became a registered charity in our own right.

Why did you choose to work with Udayan Care, Project Pipeline and the Prince’s Trust?

We chose to work with a small number of long-term partners and projects rather than selecting the ‘Charity of the Year’ or short-term partners. For us, this enables us to get a deeper understanding and allows for a more productive relationship with the organisations we work with.

Our first partner was Udayan Care in 2009. We wanted to offer support to disadvantaged young people, especially young women, and we were keen to explore partnerships in regions where ASOS sources products. Udayan Care was first introduced to us by one of our suppliers in India, and we added them to a shortlist that was prepared and reviewed by the Charities Aid Foundation. We then chose Udayan Care as our first partner and began to support a family home and education for abandoned and orphaned girls in Delhi. Later we added a boys’ home. We still support these homes, and colleagues at ASOS volunteer for a week each year and spend time with the children. Currently we have a campaign within the Company to build a brand new house for the charity to provide a secure family home for 14 more children.

Many young people in the UK are unemployed or unable to achieve their life goals and fulfil their potential because of social or educational barriers. This is an issue we really want to engage with at ASOS. In 2010 I read an inspiring newspaper interview with a young man who had overcome some very difficult challenges and transformed his life by working with the Prince’s Trust. At this time I was looking for the next partner for the ASOS Foundation and felt that that the Prince’s Trust was just what we were looking for. We are now in our 5th year as patrons, and we are proud that our ‘Get Started’ courses in fashion, technology and customer care have had positive impacts for the young people we have worked with.

Project Pipeline in Kenya grew out of our relationship with social enterprise SOKO, who are our manufacturer for the ASOS Africa range. By developing ASOS Africa and releasing two new collections each year, ASOS has supported SOKO’s business growth from a tiny company of 4 tailors in 2009 to well over 40 people, with the capacity for more employees if locally skilled people are available. The ASOS Foundation first got involved as SOKO grew too big for their first premises and so the ASOS Foundation raised money to help SOKO build a new eco-factory in Voi, a rural area north of Mombasa. The factory is part of an international conservation project called REDD where reforestation, sustainable livelihoods and wildlife protection is funded by carbon credits. The project is run by an organisation called Wildlife Works. When we visited the new factory and the region, we realised there were lots of opportunities to collaborate and work together to help local people overcome some fundamental barriers, and help them access education and skills training leading to jobs and the start-up of small businesses. We then began working on grass roots projects with SOKO and Wildlife Works. We called it Project Pipeline because we are creating a pipeline of water, talent and trade to support the community. Water comes first in order to save people’s time from walking long distances to fetch it on a daily basis.

What were your main highlights of 2014?

I’m really proud of getting the ASOS Foundation established as an independent charity and defining a really clear Foundation mission that the whole company has embraced. I love Project Pipeline in Kenya, and have had the privilege of visiting our colleagues in the Kasigau corridor and working directly with the community schools and the Stitching Academy that we are supporting there. I particularly enjoyed standing on the water catchment and hearing first hand from local people what a difference it has made to them.

What is your vision for the future of the ASOS Foundation?

We’ve got our structure and our priorities in place, and we’ve got some great partners with big potential.  We can do so much more now that we have a solid base. I’m looking forward to fully engaging our colleagues at ASOS, and continuing to build our funds so that our three programmes can have a much stronger impact and make a significant difference to the young people in our key focus areas