The idea for Twoque actually came out of a classroom project. Eric is a high school teacher and Twoque was created in 2018 as an exemplar for a final project in his Grade 12 class Challenge and Change in Society. For the project, the students were tasked with writing a business plan for a new company that was either a not for profit, sustainability-focused, or a social enterprise (a for-profit company with a socially conscious mission).
We live and work in downtown Toronto. Sadly, we only need to walk around the corner from our office to find folks living rough on the streets for most of the year. It would be fair to say that, regardless of socioeconomic status, when the temperature dips, we all need and deserve protection from the cold. Well, what if there was a way that we could help these folks out on a grand scale? What if there was a uniquely Canadian way to solve this particularly Canadian problem? This led us to coming up with an equation that genuinely inspired the entire business: ONE + ONE = TWOQUE.
Our mission is centered around the idea that for every item sold, we donate an item in kind to an individual in need. As we are donating clothing, our primary focus has been on poverty and homelessness. When we look to partner with individuals and organizations who share similar values, it is important that the folks we end up donating to have a reputable background of community involvement and outreach.
In our first season, we partnered with an organization called the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre. This is an organization that has serviced the downtown Toronto community for over a quarter of a century providing innovative services for vulnerable community members. CONC provides free programs, services and supports for children, youth, adults and seniors living in poverty. This includes community members who are newcomers, sole-support parents, challenged by mental and physical health issues, lacking food and income security, homeless, underhoused, and experiencing other barriers to living healthy lives and participating fully in community.
In our most recent season, we have partnered with a humanitarian organization Ve’ahavta; a Toronto-based charity dedicated to promoting positive change in the lives of people of all faiths and backgrounds who have been marginalized by poverty and hardship. We had the opportunity to volunteer with Ve’ahavta’s main outreach program on multiple occasions, which provided us the opportunity to hear personal stories of folks living through hardship and helped to debunk myths and stigmas associated with the idea of poverty.
Further, what has been great about these organizations is how we have been able to marry the two worlds of Twoque and teaching. For example, last year at the school, Twoque led a winter clothing drive where all of our donations were given to Ve’ahavta. The year before, we took a group of students to volunteer with CONC as they were preparing to open up a brand new community centre.
We are currently focused on organizations in Toronto since that is where we reside. Going forward, we are looking to partner with organizations across the country.
As well, we are always looking for new opportunities to engage with a wider community. Sometimes that means going beyond the bounds of clothing specifically. For example, this past August we were given 200 backpacks from our shipping partner and we were subsequently able to coordinate a drop off to high school students in need across the Greater Toronto Area just in time for the start of the school year.
In creating Twoque, we wanted to come up with a Canadian solution to a Canadian problem. In a perfect world, this would mean that we are able to source everything from Canada and that is something that we are always striving to achieve. For the time being, we are halfway there.
Recently, we have expanded into a line of face masks. We source our masks from a Toronto-based manufacturer, not far from our own office. It’s a smaller, family-run operation and we are very happy to have developed this new partnership. They allow us to buy in small batches, which is essential as we sample out potential growth opportunities. Further, we are very happy to support the local business.
For our Twoques, we develop and order our products using a Canadian manufacturer. This manufacturer physically produces our hats overseas. Fortunately, we came upon this manufacturer through a mutual friend and they have really embraced our socially conscious mission and have been a tremendous support for us as we have grown and developed. Our manufacturing partner has really taken care of us and they are truly the reason that we are able to put together a stellar product and remain competitive in the space.
We first implemented our buyback program last year in our second season. We were doing a wide range of trade shows and flea markets during the fall and winter, so we would physically see folks purchase a Twoque from us and then pocket the hat they had on their head. We figured out that we would be able to put these extra hats to use, so we started offering an in-person deal wherein someone could give us a toque on their head and we would give them a discount on a new Twoque product. That way, everybody wins since the customer gets a brand new Twoque that will help get them through the winter and, for us, that one sale now equals two donations.
Throughout the course of the season, this added up to just over 100 toques that we cleaned and have added to our donations. As long as the toque being exchanged is in viable condition, then we can repurpose it and pass it along to someone else who can benefit.
As we have said before, we consider ourselves in the business of spreading warmth. Though, that does not necessarily have to be so literal. Spreading warmth can also be done by spreading a positive message or by spotlighting the great work done by folks in other communities.
In truth, we look at what we do as making a modest impact in our community. Realistically, we know that “folks in need” is a large body of individuals with a wide range of needs. Although we know it is important for someone to be able to have access to a warm hat on their heads during the coldest winter nights, we know that there is much more to be done in the fight against poverty.
As we continue to grow, we can continue to cast a wider web in terms of contributing to the aforementioned fight against poverty. That said, what we really hope to do one day is create a movement; something actionable. We use the term “Wearing Awareness” when it comes to our clothing because we want people to be engaged with the clothes they are buying and be more engaged in making contributions to their given communities. If indeed Canada is one of the top tier countries in the world for quality of life, why do we still have folks living below the poverty line? Something there is amiss. The more we can help to fight against that, the more successful we can consider ourselves.
This is the ever-present goal in mind and, with luck, we will continue to meet other great folks in similar industries with even larger platforms and we will be able to work together toward making larger, systemic change. For the time being, we suppose that can best be achieved by taking things one Twoque at a time.
If you’re an individual or organization who could use our support, we encourage you to reach out. We are always interested in finding new communities to be a part of.
You can find us at: Twoque. Use code MATURINGMAMA20 for a 20% discount!