A Cause for Collaboration
One of my favourite parts of my job, aside from the continuous creation, design, and management of a brand in a completely new and unchartered industry, is collaborating with people that have vastly different skill sets than I do.
Whether it’s working with the R&D team to visually represent lab data or helping the Customer Care Team produce a tool for a customer request, I always walk away from each collaboration feeling a little bit smarter. One of the stand-out collaborations for me is with the fine people of EcoEquitable – a small boutique in Ottawa that provides employment and skills training to immigrant and underemployed women through small-scale textile recycling.
In the early days of Tweed we had the idea to design a stylish travel case for customers to keep their medication, client card and accoutrements – a sort of Norfolk jacket for your medicine. As soon as the idea left my brain, the realization that I know absolutely nothing about producing textiles entered it.
The Tweed Carry-All – The most stylish way to keep your medicine, customer card and accoutrements.
I enlisted the help of my good friend and local small business owner, Dom Coballe from N-Product, to help navigate these waters and a few short weeks later we had a prototype of the Tweed Carry-All (affectionately known around here as the “Rapsey Roll”). With this in hand, I was introduced to the wonderful people of EcoEquitable to discuss taking this cobbled together concept and putting it into production.
Right away I knew that I was in capable hands, but what impressed me most was the story and concept behind this amazing organization. I sat down with Anouk Bertner, EcoEquitable’s Interim Executive Director, to get a little more detail about who they are, how they started, and where they’re heading. It’s my pleasure to share their story here in the Tweed Vault.
How did ecoequitable come to be/what was the inspiration behind it?
EcoEquitable started spontaneously in 2001 when a woman was reflecting on her life story and realized how she was blessed with plenty of work all of her life. As a Catholic nun, teacher, and therapist, she felt a calling to invest in women’s worth. She saw so many women entering Ottawa from countries at war and other difficult situations. She had worked on many projects to support newcomers to Canada but never around sewing. During a move, a sewing machine was donated and added into the mover’s truck to a new location. Two volunteer seamstresses checked and installed the sewing machine in a small room; donated fabric came in no time and one day, a passerby asked what the group would be: “A co-operative!” the group spontaneously replied! All present looked at each other, gladly supporting the clear answer. The woman at the center of this story is Lucile Champagne, now a retired Catholic nun: a true visionary led by her compassion, “Let’s do it” attitude, and genuine warm and loving generosity.
"Our vision was to build a world in which the dignity and unique gifts of each person are valued and promoted, a community whose members stand with one another in justice and hope"- Lucile Champagne
You've been in operation since 2002, how has the organization grown since then?
Since 2002, we have gone from being an informal group of like-minded women to a professional charity that provides 5-month sewing courses for immigrant and marginalized women; provides high quality sewing services to the Ottawa area; hires approximately 20 contract seamstresses annually, running a thriving textile boutique (which recycled 7,000 lbs of fabric in 2014) and are building a sewing and textile hub in Ottawa. Our growth, both in programs and in revenue have been steep and we continue that trajectory. We recently moved to a new building in Vanier and continue to expand our programs and reach.
How have you seen this organization change the life of the women who work there?
EcoEquitable evaluates program effectiveness in part by conducting an evaluation of social return on investment (SROI) for our Sowing for Jobs program. This evaluation measures how participating in the Sowing for Jobs program changes reliance on public services such as Ontario Works, food banks, medical services, etc. and applies a dollar figure to that change.
In 2012/2013, the SROI ratio for the Sowing for Jobs program was $5.12:$1.00; for every dollar invested, we return $5.12 to the community. In 2011, the first time the Sowing for Jobs program was offered, the SROI ratio was $1.53:$1.00.
Some of the fine folks of EcoEquitable – a small boutique in Ottawa that provides employment and skills training to immigrant and underemployed women through small-scale textile recycling.
Photo by Andrew Szeto.
Is there a success story you are particularly proud of?
We are so proud of our seamstresses. Here are a couple of seamstresses that we have worked with that have significantly overcome adversity and created meaningful, dignified employment in Ottawa:
Naima was in our 2012 class; she was born in Ethiopia and had to flee violence in her youth. She travelled to Djibouti and then onwards to Mogadishu. From there, she was able to travel to Italy to undergo treatments for polio. She eventually came to Canada to live with her sister. Naima has four beautiful children and has found a creative outlet in singing and in 2012, in sewing. She joined EcoEquitable and brought her joy and personality to the classes. Since graduating, Naima has been a teaching assistant, a boutique volunteer, and sits on the EE board.
Marie-Louise, a recent immigrant from the Congo and an amazing entrepreneur, graduated from the Sowing for Jobs program in June 2012. Since that time, she has established a successful "traveling seamstress" business for which she employees EE's graduates and other seamstresses to go to people's homes to provide alterations. She also has designed and delivered numerous Couture Africanie training courses for those interested in learning how to sew African clothing. She was also the mastermind behind the “Miss Mama Africa” fashion show and fundraiser in 2013, with over 100 people in attendance. We are proud to have her as part of the team!
What does it mean for the success of your program to partner with corporations like Tweed?
Working with Tweed in 2014 and 2015 is crucial to our growth. We are a small, dynamic organization that is looking to decrease our reliance on grants and donations and move towards more self-generated revenue. Having Tweed as a partner has allowed us to scale up our industrial production, hire a dedicated seamstress to work on this contract, and hire several contract seamstresses to work on projects. It is helping to keep manufacturing local, thereby creating jobs in Ottawa and decreasing CO2 emissions by eliminating the need to transport materials from overseas. It is also a great story to share with the community. We are so proud to be doing high quality, beautiful, functional items for Tweed!
So there you go… an amazing organization and cause, and a partnership that we’re very proud of. The next time you need any contract sewing, logo merchandise or just want to meet some very inspirational people, I whole-heartedly suggest you use EcoEquitable.
If you would like to support EcoEquitable, you can make a donation at their Canada Helps Page, or better yet you can head on over to the Tweed Merchandise Shop and pick up one of the Tweed Carry-Alls.
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