EcoEquitable is a nonprofit social enterprise whose dual purpose of textile waste reduction and women’s empowerment intersect through the art of sewing.
Our flagship charitable program, Sewing for Jobs, welcomes self-identifying newcomer women or women experiencing barriers to employment into an immersive educational experience where they learn how to sew professionally and develop soft skills, all while building their network in the community. We also have two social enterprises including the Eco Fabric Boutique, where we receive and redistribute over 10,000 pounds of fabric and sewing materials per year; and our Public Sewing Classes, where we offer educational sewing opportunities to the general public.
Our vision is equitable and sustainable communities where women thrive!
As EcoEquitable has developed over the last 21 years, so has our organization’s name, changing from our original namesake “Cooperative 360” to what we’re known as today: “EcoEquitable”.
We feel “EcoEquitable” reflects our organization’s ethos very well, but you may be asking, “Why put “Eco” and “Equitable” together?
Let’s start with the “Eco”:
In Canada, textile waste is the third largest pollutant going to our landfills, with Canadians sending nearly 1 billion pounds of fabric-based items to landfill every year.
Most of this textile waste is made of plastic-based fabrics such as polyester, rayon, and nylon. Each of these types of fabric, when sent to landfill, will remain for hundreds of years before it biodegrades and breaks down into particles that return to the earth. Even though it will eventually biodegrade, these types of fabrics let off chemicals and harmful dyes into the soil upon decomposition, and continue to add to the pollution of our lands.
To help alleviate the impact of textiles on our environment, part of our organization’s ethos is to divert textile waste and ensure that it remains in circulation rather than landfill.We do this through our Eco Fabric Boutique, one of our social enterprise programs, where we collect donations of fabric and notions from community, reuse the materials in our sewing skills training programs for women and public classes, and resell them to the general public. In this way we are able to close the loop on textile waste.
All proceeds from the Eco Fabric Boutique help to support our work and programs in the community and our financial sustainability as an organization. We have always tracked how many pounds of fabric we save each year, are dedicated to being more diligent about posting regular impact reports, and being transparent about our environmental impact.
Photo by: Kathleen Reichelt, United Way East Ontario
“Equitable” refers to the second part of our ethos as an organization, which is to promote job and gender equity for those who experience barriers to employment, especially women and newcomers. We do this through our flagship charitable program: Sewing For Jobs. In this program, we not only train our students with the necessary skills for sewing professionally, but we also provide job coaching and business referrals to set them up for their own unique definition of success, financial autonomy, and their next chapter.
At EcoEquitable, we advocate for fair and living wages through our work with our Sewing For Jobs program, and with our Job Referral Program, where students are matched with paid projects and internships requested by community members and organizations in Ottawa. At the same time, we recognize that it’s an uphill battle to work in an industry that has historically been underpaid. As the demand for fast fashion rises, consumer expectations of the marketplace make it more difficult to stay competitive as a local sewist or creative. We are committed to providing safe and equitable work opportunities for our graduates and will continue to advocate for the triple bottom line.
Being Equitable - Inclusion to All
EcoEquitable is a safe space for all women including cis- and transgender women, as well as anyone who identifies as Two-Spirit, non-binary and gender-nonconforming and who is comfortable in a space which focuses on women’s empowerment. We strive to uplift all who are underserved within the current societal systems, and to challenge the status quo through innovative practices embedded with equity and inclusive values. This work is very important to us, however we recognize we are not perfect and would enthusiastically welcome any recommendations that can help us improve or be better leaders in our community.