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ESG Outlook: Pat Tabassi of Design Knit on Sustainable Fabrics for Brands of All Sizes

ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Pat Tabassi, product development and marketing manager of Design Knit, Inc., explains the urgency to create sustainable fabric options for brands of all sizes.

Pat Tabassi Design Knit ESG Outlook
Pat Tabassi, product development and marketing manager, Design Knit Courtesy

Name: Pat Tabassi

Title: Product development and marketing manager

Company: Design Knit, Inc.

What is your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?

Developing sustainable fabrics has long been a priority for Design Knit. We realized, however, that it wasn’t enough to simply offer sustainable fabric options, but rather to make sure that these goods were accessible to brands of all sizes. We launched our Studio DK collection a few years back in response to a clearly expressed void in the market. New designers were having a hard time finding a consistent local source for quality knit fabrics that didn’t come with high minimum quantity restrictions. They were also looking for shorter lead times to help meet customer demand. Our goal for Studio DK was to offer a curated selection of fabrics that would provide designers with much-needed range and flexibility so that they could launch their collections and get out into the market. It has definitely increased our customer reach and allowed us the opportunity to watch brands flourish and grow before our very eyes.

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What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes? How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the clothes you buy?

With time, I have become more of a selective shopper and lean toward having a capsule wardrobe. I prefer to invest in classic versus trendy pieces that can be mixed, matched and layered. This level of versatility allows me to wear garments that are interchangeable and can be used across seasons. As a result, I don’t really need to buy a large selection of clothing. It’s more about purchasing quality goods that will stand the test of time.

How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?

Due to the nature of my work, quality, fabric content and origin are innately a big part of my selection process. I tend to shy away from synthetic fabrics and prefer to buy garments made with natural fibers. I particularly like TENCEL™ Lyocell and TENCEL™ Modal fibers. I love the way that they feel and value the circularity that is fundamental to the fiber brand’s philosophy. I also feel that reducing textile waste goes beyond choosing eco-conscious brands. I believe in investing in quality staple pieces. The longer you use a garment, and the more times you wear it, the lower the impact.

Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?

There are so many little things that we can do to be more mindful. At home, I installed energy efficient lighting, low-flow bath fixtures and high-performance windows. As far as décor goes, I really love antiques. I prefer purchasing “previously loved” items to decorate my house. I’m drawn to the fact that each piece tells a story and adds a layer of character and warmth that I find hard to find in a brand-new piece. I am also trying my hand at an edible home garden. I really enjoy growing some of my own veggies and herbs. It takes quite a bit of patience, but I find it to be therapeutic and rewarding.

What is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?

I think that the biggest misconception is that a consumer’s individual impact is very small. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We can all play a part in improving our purchasing habits and understanding how our decisions can play an active role in minimizing waste. Becoming more informed about a company’s manufacturing processes and supporting companies that use environmentally conscious steps is an empowering tool and an important step towards implementing change. As each consumer and supplier starts to value this change, then sustainability in fashion becomes a more collective goal.

What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?

Early on, as the pandemic spread and cases started to spike, we knew that there was a desperate need for protective supplies. As with most of our community, it became a passion and priority to offer solutions for the creation and production of PPE products. Our industry truly came together. We combined forces with several industry associations and partners, and shared information regarding all of our capabilities so we could collectively serve this public health and safety need. It became very clear that having the local infrastructure in place to meet this demand was paramount. Being a domestic fabric partner not only allowed us to play an active role in this process, but it also proved crucial in allowing us to continue to service and support our fashion clients at a time when it became increasingly challenging to source goods and keep businesses afloat.

What is Design Knit’s latest sustainability-related initiative?

We always strive and look for innovative fabric solutions. If we continue to create high-quality fabrics with renewable raw materials, then fashion can move away from a linear product cycle to one that is hopefully, more circular. Achieving this goal requires strong relationships and collaborations with our partners (such as Lenzing™) as well as a deep desire to truly understand the importance of circularity. This is why REFIBRA™ Technology was of particular interest to us. Upcycling cotton scraps from the garment manufacturing process and mixing them with wood pulp to produce new TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers is a great solution for reducing waste. It offers us the opportunity to create eco-responsible fabric options, while continuing to offer high quality, design-driven products.

What is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?

When I first started out in this business, I quickly realized how fast-paced and ever-changing our industry was. It was, and still is, really important to keep up with new trends, technologies, products, etc. My colleagues were very generous with their time and knowledge and it sparked my desire to know my supply chain partners on a deeper level and understand their products, services and company values. This allowed me to make informed decisions and helped fuel my commitment to continuously expand and improve our product range. This connection and desire to learn more and do better is what I hope we can continue to strive for as an industry. It’s not quite a missed opportunity, but rather an intentional way to move forward.