Kate Bostock: How the woman who dressed the nation failed to click with Asos

  • @Thompj

She has dressed a generation of British women at Marks & Spencer, Next and Asda’s George brand.

And when Kate Bostock was poached by Asos to start as head of product and trading earlier this year, it was hailed as a huge coup for the fast-growing online fashion retailer.

But the 56-year-old was left red-faced yesterday as it emerged that she was abruptly quitting her new post after a mere seven months in the role.  In a frank admission, Ms Bostock said: “Sadly, I’ve concluded that Asos isn’t the right place for me.”

Her exit is also embarrassing for Asos, which ships clothing to 241 countries, as it had long courted Ms Bostock. As part of its masterplan to hit sales of £1bn by 2015, Asos recruited the executive – seen as one of the most powerful women in UK retail – to further improve its profit margins via more efficient buying and sourcing, while also developing its own-brand fashion lines. 

At the time of her appointment, Ms Bostock said: “Asos is a phenomenon and I’m in awe of the story. With its unique mix of own-label and fashion-forward brands delivered online and increasingly through mobile, the potential for Asos globally is huge.”

But she and Asos chief executive Nick Robertson struck a different tone yesterday after she resigned and stepped down from the board with immediate effect. Mr Robertson said: “Kate and I have agreed that Asos is not the right platform for her talent. Of course we are disappointed that things haven’t worked out.”

Asos had high hopes for Ms Bostock, who rose to become M&S’s executive director of general merchandise. At the time of her departure for Asos, she was on a total package of nearly £1m. Prior to joining M&S in 2004, she had been the product director for Asda’s George brand, and before that had run the childrenswear division of Next.

Honor Westnedge, a senior retail analyst at Verdict, said: “Asos was hoping to utilise Bostock’s strong background in sourcing; however, having come from much more traditional businesses these skills may not have been suitable for such a fast-moving, dynamic retailer such as Asos.”

She added: “While it requires expertise in clothing supply-chain management, the retailer needs someone who can think innovatively and creatively to suit the demands of such a fast-paced business and it seems that Kate did not match or complement the needs of Asos.”

Sources also pointed out that M&S and Asos are “very different” businesses in terms of their scale, culture and customer. For instance, Asos largely targets fashion-conscious women in their twenties on the web, while M&S serves a much broader demographic, with its core customer being women in their fifties.

The exit of Ms Bostock dragged shares in Asos down by 67p to 4413p yesterday. But Mr Robertson said that Asos “continues to fire on all cylinders”. Indeed, global retail sales at Asos rocketed by 45 per cent to £193.6m in the quarter to the end of May.