Student Life

Fashion with an ethical passion: A McGill graduate on running her own slow-fashion startup

Finding a path after graduation isn’t easy. But Tessa Battistin has found hers. After graduating from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts in 2017, she founded the sustainable fashion brand Asset Designs, based in Montreal. She uses silk-screen printing to adorn T-shirts, bags, and pouches with her own art and poetry.

Battistin has been silk-screen printing since 2012, when her high school art teachers taught her the technique that she would come to love. She had always been a visual artist, but this method offered her a chance to experiment with textile practices. At the time, as a hobby, she printed her designs on standard Gildan t-shirts that she bought wholesale at just two dollars a piece.

She brought her silk-screens along with her to university and continued to print T-shirts in her RVC rez room for friends—and eventually friends of friends, once her talent spread by word of mouth. Once demand for her products began to grow, she created a website to display her creations. However, Battistin had never considered turning her leisurely interest in the art of T-shirt making into an environmentally-conscious brand until she researched the field out of personal motivation.

”I tried to redo my wardrobe sustainably back in 2015 and I realized I really couldn’t afford anything sustainably-sourced, because it’s super expensive,” Battistin said. “[It’s] really an issue that no one is saved from, this problem of where they buy their clothing [….] People care a lot about what they put into their bodies, but not necessarily what they put on their bodies.”

Following this realization, Battistin started paying more attention to the kinds of products her company was using. At that point, she made a conscious effort to try to print on ethically-sourced T-shirts made in working environments with fair wages and high quality working conditions. She entered the McGill Dobson Cup—an annual start-up contest organized by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurshipin her senior year, and ultimately reached the semi-final round. She credits one of the competition judges’ encouragement with her decision to commit to her business full-time. 

“It started off as an art project […and then] became a sustainable brand,” Battistin said. “[Now] it’s a lot more of a platform for activism [….I can] explore these issues and educate people about the clothing industry and sustainability.”

Although cotton cannot grow in Canadian soil, every other step in the manufacturing process of Asset Design’s products takes place in Canada. The facility that knits, cuts, and dyes all of the T-shirts Battistin uses is located in Scarborough, Ontario. Once they have finalized the T-shirts, they ship the blank canvases to her studio in Montreal’s Mile End, which reduces the entire process of making Battistin’s T-shirts to three physical stops. This model is more sustainable than the fast-fashion supply chain model that many large corporations use, which involves a myriad of different stops and a significantly higher amount of Carbon dioxide emissions as a consequence.

Beyond selling products that she sources and makes, keeping in mind their carbon footprint, Battistin sees Asset Designs as a medium for her to advocate for more sustainable practices in the fashion industry and our consumption of its products. These practices are part of a model referred to as ‘slow fashion.

“Slow fashion [encourages] a circular economy,” Battistin said. “[A product is] made, it’s used, it’s reused, and [then] repurposed and recycled [….In a linear economy] things seem disposable when they’re so cheap.”

Battistin believes that her voice and brand can contribute to the collaborative effort necessary to reform our current consumption model.

“The main problem with the fashion industry is that it needs […] an interdisciplinary approach to solving the social justice issues associated with it, the environmental issues associated with it,” Battistin said. “And we need people who are interested in technology and engineering to offer solutions for textile recycling that are more easily accessible and cheaper than what we have available right now.”

Battistin is conscious that such a large issue as encouraging equitable and sustainable practices in the fashion industry can be intimidating for students. She wants her brand and voice to foster an inclusive space for anyone seeking to learn about how to make the fashion industry more sustainable. She encourages students to pursue grassroots solutions like browsing second-hand shops, or organizing clothing exchanges with friends to give used clothing a second life. Above all, Battistin advocates for more consumer awareness: The key to a more sustainable fashion industry lies in educated and deliberate choices on the part of customers.

“It’s really up to the consumer to decide [what] they want their money to support,” Battistin said.  “[…There] are small ways that we can tackle [the issue of sustainability in fashion] to feel like we have more control over the situation.”

To learn more about Asset Designs and ethically-sourced clothing, check out Battistin’s own clothing swap and documentary screening at Maison Notman House on Feb. 22.


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