Eco-Equitable trains new immigrant, underemployed women

An Ottawa ecological boutique, which hires and trains new immigrants and underemployed women, have moved online as it tries to reach a worldwide market for its products.

Vanier boutique store moves online thanks to University of Ottawa volunteers

Anouk Bertner, the director of business operations at Eco-Equitable, at left and third-year university student Shevaun Ensor-Harrison, at right, worked together to get the products on its online store. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

A charitable boutique that trains and employs women who recently immigrated to Canada launched its online store this past week, just in time for the holidays.

Eco-Equitable, first opened in 2002, is a registered Canadian charity that provides temporary work and training through small-scale textile recycling. The business, including a boutique, aims to provide a bridge for immigrant and underemployed women to transition to fiscal independence, while reducing harmful waste.

Scarves, handbags and fabric are made at the boutique site on MacArthur Avenue in Vanier, then sold in the store and now, online.

"We're manufacturing in an ethical way, people are well-paid," said Anouk Bertner, the charity’s director of business operations.

"I think the public, they want to buy in to that, but it's hard to do that when we’re so small."

Seamstress Alamz Beyen came to Ottawa from Ethiopia three years ago and works at Eco-Equitable. (Julie Ireton/CBC)
Bertner said an online store became a logical step to gain access to a larger market.

The boutique moved online thanks in part to volunteers from the University of Ottawa. The work at Eco-Equitable has also helped students develop their business skills.

"We're basically running a social enterprise here," said Shevaun Ensor-Harrison, a third-year student at uOttawa.

Bertner said Eco-Equitable has made its first online sale — a scarf. Now, it is looking for contracts to make tote bags for conferences and the charity is producing customized medical marijuana bags from the Smiths Falls, Ont., company, Tweed.