A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a t-shirt and accessory brand at the McGill Farmer’s market. I immediately fell in love with all of the printed t-shirts and and totes, which bore poems written by the owner. Tessa Battistin is the owner of Asset Designs, a startup that emphasizes small-scale, sustainable production and the slow fashion movement. She kindly allowed me to custom order a print on a t-shirt that would be picked up for next week. When I came back to claim my new tee, I again fell for a new print that Tess had made of a Vogue cover on the front of a white t-shirt. I couldn’t just leave with one shirt, and wanted to learn more about Asset Designs and what it stood for. This is my first interview with a brand of (hopefully) many more to come, and make sure you use the code ASSETXSASHA to get $5 off your order!
Sasha: Hi Tess! Thank you so much for letting obsess over all of your t-shirts and prints and poems and talent and overall beautiful company, Asset Designs. Also, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for me! Where are you/Asset Designs based?
Tessa: Asset Designs is based right here, in Montreal! I’ve been working out of the Notman House, a community space for startups, since September. I do all of my printing and shipping from my studio in the Mile End.
S: As with all typical start-up interviews, what inspired and motivated you to create your clothing line?
T: Asset Designs champions ‘slow fashion’, which encourages consumers to buy garments for quality and longevity. 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.
S: Fast fashion removes people from the design and manufacturing process of clothing. Asset Designs stresses the importance of sustainable sourcing and small-scale production. Can you tell me how you go about making pieces for the line?
T: I usually start with a relaxing day. I know, that sounds very anti-startup culture, but I am able to access the creative muscles in my brain only if I’m feeling de-stressed. Usually, an experience I’ve had or an image I’ve seen has caught my eye & I begin to draw. After many iterations of the same drawing or poem, I usually walk away from the design for a bit. Let it marinate. Next, I re-visit my progress and make final edits. Finally, the design or poem is ready to be brought to life!
S: What is your favourite piece made by Asset Designs?
T: My favourite piece that I’ve made has been my “Pastel Houses” print from my poem series. The poem reads, “Inhabitants of pastel houses are surely happier people (a side effect of rose-tinted vision)”. The pocket poem concept fits my minimalist aesthetic, and it gives a tiny nod to my English Literature degree. I studied at the University of Bristol in the U.K. for six months, and wrote the poem about the charming city and it’s pastel row houses.
S: And lastly, for small business owners or designers looking to kickstart their own company, do you have any tips on how to fund projects? Sounds super financial and un-fashion-y, but I feel as though not knowing where to begin is what prevents a lot of people from actualizing their creative visions!
T: I was lucky because the resources and teachers at my high school taught me how to screenprint, which requires some start up capital for the supplies. After creating a design that I loved, the Koi Fish print, I offered a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is a wonderful, low-risk way to test out a creative idea. Before I was able to afford to offer my customers sustainably sourced cotton, I tested out my Koi Fish print on the market with cheaply sourced tee shirts. I offered one style, with one print, in only one color combination. I put images of the tee shirt on Facebook, and waited to gauge interest. If you have an idea, try to figure out the cheapest and simplest way to communicate your concept to a customer. Share this MVP with friends and family. Get feedback. Sell the simplest iteration of your idea, and use the profits to invest in a better version. This is an accessible way to financially fund the development of a creative idea.
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