Tessa Battistin is the founder and creator of Asset designs, a Montréal based ethical and environmentally conscious brand who offers a selection of handprinted apparel and accessories made with care and thoughtfulness. Each of their silkscreen printed products are handmade in Canada on ethically sourced cotton. Read my interview with Tessa to discover the meaning behind her "Pocket Poems" t-shirts (find the complete collection on www.assetdesignsapparel.com) and how Asset Designs came to be.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and background?
I graduated from McGill University in June 2017, where I happily studied English Literature and History of Art. While at McGill, I spent a semester on exchange, studying at the beautiful University of Bristol in the U.K. I'm an eager traveler, which began when I was born in Montréal but grew up in a suburb of New York City. I've lived my life with a foot in both cities, and thrive on international experiences. In the past, I worked for a 'Series B' startup called Manicube, which was bought by Elizabeth Arden in 2016. Additionally, I have experience in the investment community, as I worked for two venture capitol firms, 37 Angels (which focuses on teaching women how to become investors) and VentureOut NY (which brings international startups to the tech resources in NYC). In September 2017, The McGill office of Innovation accepted me to be part of their 4th cohort of startups based at the Notman House, an innovative co-working collective located in Montreal. While I have the relevant experience to run my own company, I've always been a visual artist at heart. I began transferring my favorite designs and poems in to silkscreen prints in 2012, and slowly perfected my process, offering pilot products to friends and family. I currently sell my popular 'pocket poem tees' at artists markets and in independent boutiques. I launched Asset Designs company in 2014, and have been working to offer sustainably sourced products at an affordable cost ever since.
What gave you the motivation or inspiration to start your own ethical brand?
My brand communications seek to re-calibrate consumer expectations by normalizing human production schedules, supporting fair wages for factory workers, and offering transparency about the carbon footprint of each product I offer. As a consumer, I am frustrated with the poor quality of ‘fast fashion’ clothing. I was upset to discover that my personal values were incongruous to those of my favorite brands, which used questionable environmental and ethical practices in order to make larger margins. Why shouldn’t my environmentally conscious values translate to my wardrobe? I went looking for sustainable alternatives to my favorite t-shirts, and found none that were affordable for a student budget. I already had the technological understanding and artistic passion for silkscreen printing, so I began to apply my designs to ethically sourced tote bags and t-shirts, which I sold at an accessible price throughout university. Now, Asset Designs is expanding to offer a range of beautiful products (produce grocery bags, for example) to encourage consumers to tread lightly upon our earth. Asset Designs’ social media messaging seeks to educate consumers about wielding their purchasing power on trustworthy businesses.
Why the name Asset Designs?
Asset Designs was a name that my mom helped me come up with when I was about 6 years old. When you spell “Asset” backwards, it is an anagram of my name Tessa. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and teens I made greeting cards for friends and family, and wrote my little ‘brand’, called Asset Designs, on the back of every card I made. When I started silkscreen printing, the name stuck.
What is Pocket Poems?
This video explains better my ideas behind the concept:
What makes your clothing and accessories ethical and sustainable?
My clothing and accessories all come from factories that offer fair wages and good working conditions for workers. 80% of our fabric is knit, dyed, and cut on Canadian soil. It is a work in progress right now, most of our cotton production meets the Fair Labor Association (FLA) Workplace Code of Conduct, but I want 100% of the cotton I sell to meet this standard in the future. The factories that produce our raw goods are certified as Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) factories.
You're using the method of silkscreen printing on t-shirts and tote bags. Can you explain to us the process of it all? What are the eco-friendly advantages of silkscreen printing?
Silkscreen printing is a printmaking technique in which a mesh cloth is stretched over a heavy wooden frame. The handmade design is ‘burned’ on to the screen using a light-sensitive chemical. A squeegee is used to force color through the pores of the material in areas not blocked out on the screen. I print everything that a consumer orders by hand, in my home studio. Small-batch production wastes less, and I’ve been able to cut all of the unnecessary plastics and wastes out of my printing process. I am in the middle of transitioning to chemical-free inks, so that will soon be completely eco-friendly, too.
Asset Designs t-shirts are Canadian made, socially conscious and formed from the softest cotton. Is it organic cotton? If not, why?
Some of our products are made from organic cotton, while others are not. I try to weigh the carbon footprint of each material that I choose. If I want to use organic cotton, but I’m shipping it directly from India, does that really make sense when you consider all of the shipping co2 emissions from that product? Ordering cotton (even if it isn’t organic) from a company that knits, dyes, and sews their cotton products in Manitoba is a better choice because the product travels less, and therefore creates less wastes. Plus, Canadian factories are forced to abide by the environmental and ethical standards that are absent in common production countries like China, India, and Bangladesh. So my real answer is, that it depends. I do my best to pick the best available option to me, and I know that my consumers trust my judgment.
How important it is to provide environmental friendly products to your customers?
It is extremely important for me, this is a major tenant of my business. I find it baffling that better environmentally friendly textile products are not made more available in our present day, where nearly everything is possible. These products need to be affordable and widespread, not boutique and inaccessible as they previously have been.
I know your brand carries sizes from small to large but will you carry designs for the curvy fashionistas who have very limited choices when it comes to ethical plus-size fashion?
This is certainly something that I will aim to do as my company grows. I want all women to feel confident and comfortable in the clothing I produce. I hate using the word plus-size, but I hope to offer something that meets these needs in the future.
As an ethical fashion business owner, what do you think needs to be done to close the gap between what society deems "normal" clothing sizes and what the average women are actually, sizes 12 and up?
I think that ‘slow fashion’ offers a great opportunity to tackle this issue. If we normalize slower production schedules and acknowledge the human element of production behind each of our garments, it allows for greater flexibility for the producer to add on different sizing and cut options for my t-shirts. A close relationship with the factory and factory workers allows for easier collaboration and communication about the needs of my consumers. I hope to one day set up my own production channel and establish these personal relationships with my manufacturers.
In your opinion, why should we care about "slow" fashion?
Asset Designs champions ‘slow fashion’, which encourages consumers to buy garments for quality and longevity. It is important to remember that the products we get in big chain stores didn’t just appear there overnight like we think. I really try to gear my social media and brand messaging to encourage consumers to think about the human element associated with the production of our clothes.
What's been a specific challenge since you've started your business? How did you overcome it?
Since I began using sustainably sourced products, I’ve struggled to find reliable suppliers that are truly transparent about their practices. This has truly been the biggest challenge, as many companies are happy to write ‘eco-friendly’ on a product, but won’t back it up with information that you can trust. I’ve overcome this challenge by educating myself on the garment industry, and by spending lots of time finding companies that meet my standards.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am lucky enough to currently be working out of a co working office space awarded to me by McGill University. This really helps my work/life balance, because when I’m not printing orders, I have a quiet place to work and focus. It is difficult, though to maintain a work/life balance when your company is your baby, and you think about it 24/7. I often fall asleep thinking about Asset Designs, and wake up looking at my ‘to do’ list. I think that the best advice that I have for other entrepreneurs is to remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m doing the best that I can each and every day, and I try to compartmentalize my long ‘to do’ list by priority and theme.
What you think is the most significant barrier to women’s leadership in 2017?
I think that now, women have the chance to become great leaders from an early age, and I’m grateful to be living and working in 2017 where so much is possible for women. I think the biggest barrier that women face now is to recruit more male allies in the workplace. Many men think that equality has been reached, and it’s important that we as a society work together to solve the widespread gender imbalances that exist explicitly and implicitly in our daily lives. Women can’t do it alone. Every time I second guess or doubt my capabilities, I remind myself that men apply for jobs that they are only 60% qualified for, while women wait to apply to jobs that they are 100% qualified for (According to Sheryl Sandberg). This so-called ‘confidence gap’ is something that I use to force myself to step out of my comfort zone, and apply for as many grants and opportunities as possible.
What's your plan for the future of Asset Designs? Will you have more fashion pieces in your collection?
I want Asset Designs to become an all-encompassing brand that will offer simple and sustainable products for a beautiful life. I’m expanding now to offer a zero-waste grocery shopping kit. This kit includes two different size produce bags and a roomy grocery tote to hold them both. This zero-waste kit is designed to enhance your shopping experience while avoiding the use of plastic bags, every step of the way.
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