Creatively creating our business plan

Our partnership with RyersonUniversityhas led to many great connections for us, one definitely worth noting is that of Jenifer Forrest, who founded her own business Bennie and Olive in 2003. Bennie and Olive creates unique, hand made baggage tags, belt buckles, handbags, scarves and mittens. What is so amazing about Jen’s process is she creates a 3D piece and then photographs the piece to make her prints. You can watch her process here and check out her website and beautiful designs here.

As a successful entrepreneur and business woman, Jen has agreed to sit down with us and help us create our business plan and cost sheets. Two things an education in International Development Studies does not prep you for. Pre Jen, Consuelo and I were lost in an array of online manuals and articles trying to tell us how to write a cohesive plan. Yet we constantly found ourselves diverting back to our ethical, development rhetoric and forgoing the economic speak. Mitigating risks? Who knew how to do that? While Consuelo claims informed optimist, I do sometimes fall into hopeless idealist assuming because we are creating something transparent and ethical it will simply read to all sectors of society. It does not. The business folk still want their jargon and to be honest who can blame them?

We sat down with Jen in her studio in the Distillery District earlier this month, one of the first glorious spring days of the year. The sun was shining, you could smell the earth again, people were outside enjoying themselves and the birds

3D art used for designs

were chirping. It was such a picture perfect day I half believed that little mice would wake me up, help me dress and clean my place. Alas, no such luck. However, we both felt invigorated by rays and our first foray into the deliciousness that is Balzac coffee.

At Jen’s studio we found out how hard she works to create her orders. The sheer amount of work it takes to source materials, create designs, fill orders and remain competitive in pricing while not compromising the integrity of her business values and the end product is not a task to be taken lightly. Jen spoke of the difficulties of sourcing both ethical and eco materials. So much is made abroad. While all of Jen’s work is completely hand made and designed inCanadashe is often forced to source abroad. Many materials, such as Velcro and the buckles come from theUSA, but the vinyl she uses for baggage tags is only found inChina.

That being said, Jen constantly makes an informed effort to reduce her carbon footprint. She doesn’t use toxic adhesives, but rather tape that does not emit fumes. The taping process is more expensive and time consuming, but the long term risks are not worth the dollars saved.

Of course while surrounded by Jen’s creativity the talk turned to the fashion and food industries at large. Our obsession with the slow movement in terms of fashion had us conversing on end. In the coming months we will finalize our professional business plan with the help of Jen and the expertise she gained from starting Bennie and Olive. We lookforward to it:) In the meantime Jen is finalizing a product order for Porter, where she is making these adorable baggage tags.


It’s the Final Countdown!!

Design Junction. Art by Dani Benton

If you have been following our blog, you have heard us speak of this before. But here we go: Our final plug for our Indie Go Go fundraising campaign. Why might you want to support Design Junction? Let us elaborate.

What’s Different about Design Junction?

Design Junction is solution driven.  It supplies the demand for an avenue to engage in ethical business development that offers an alternative purchasing market for buyers in the apparel industry.  Design Junction is proud to work with the growing community in pursuit of constructive solutions for the challenges presented within international business operation. Design Junction works on behalf of the betterment of all its partners with the intention of continually improving livelihoods and wellbeing through ethical employment and profit sharing. Pép is modeled to be self-sustaining through sales.

Help fund the successful take-off of Pép, because it has a bright and driven future! For the past two months we have been running an online fundraising campaign on Indie Go Go to try to raise $5000 towards setting up Design Junction. With only 3 days left on our online campaign we urge you to check it out here at

First help Pép into Retail, and then we can talk expansion!

Design Junction will operate through digital and direct communication of designers and garment makers. Designs and consultations can be done digitally between Toronto and Port-au-Prince via video conference calling, email and phone calls. The internship program being developed for Canadian designers will facilitate the opportunity for designers to work directly with the tailors to co-design and produce garments for Pép. Not only will design skills be exchanged, but interns will be selected to work in the information technology and systems, production management, and marketing departments of INDEPCO. Haitians and Canadians will benefit from the professional work exchange offered by this unique cross-cultural work experience.

With measured and conscious steps, Design Junction plans to make Pép a Big Deal in the design community.

For a little more information you can check out a radio interview we did with George Christie on Iceberg 85, Sirius Satellite Radio. The interview ran December 25th and 28th and you can listen to it here:

Pep vest modeled by Sarah Jurgens

Interview with Ezra Braves

On a beautiful sunny morning three people sat together and talked cafe culture, business, organics and about the value and the mis-representation of fair trade. Conversation ensued as decadent, rich, and fresh roasted and brewed coffee was sipped on a patio surrounded by trees and a gentle breeze. Two of these three people were of course us. Honestly at times like these we cannot believe this is the job we are trying to create for ourselves-albeit unpaid at the moment. We truly are lucky!

In a new weekly segment we are interviewing local business owners in an attempt to further understand sustainable businesses in Toronto and we started off with Ezra Braves of Ezra’s Pound-our stomping ground.

Leading a business the way you lead your life.  Not exposing your workers to chemical cleaners that you would not have you children be exposed to. Not serving customers a product you would not feel comfortable and enjoy consuming yourself. These are the ideals of Ezra Braves.  He believes in integrating the home with the business, as in not serving anything in his cafe he will not serve at home. To Ezra this is a ‘common sense way of business’, and the way he leads his business, believing that why open a business if you don’t aspire to be the best?  With two busy locations, Dupont and Spadina and Dundas West, Ezra seems to be doing something right.

Our love of coffee fully blossomed at Ezra’s as did our true appreciation of cafe culture and lifestyle. It was at Ezra’s Pound where we really began indulging in coffee and really savouring the taste. This was easy as it is delicious but knowing that it is brewed as ethically and environmentally friendly as possible here in Toronto makes each cup that much more gratifying. Ezra uses 99.5% organic and buys local whenever he can and only uses natural cleaners. Baristas ask you if you are staying, rather than simply putting the coffee in a  to go cup. And the cups are biodegradable! Ezra’s Pound was the first cafe to introduce biodegradable lids too! Each of his locations compost and recycle and as a result only one bag of garbage is produced weekly.

Speaking with Ezra was a wonderful experience for us. We were curious about how he got interested in merging both ethics and sustainability with business. Ezra confessed to not originally being interested in the ethical aspect, but really was in love with cafe culture. He started out in donut shops in the mid 90s. Through his love of coffee and the culture that surrounds it he began to think about what he ate which gave way to a consciousness of the ethical, environmental aspects of coffee and healthy living. He began to think about the way we consume and the implications of our consumption. Ezra seeks to find the balance between doing the right thing in his  business while remaining practical.

Walking into Ezra’s Pound, you immediately feel the ambiance-it’s relaxing, inviting and you can tell that there is a real sense of pride in the product you are about to purchase  and ingest. The interior of each cafe was built by Ezra himself from salvaged materials. Local art work hangs on the wall, and the smell of fresh coffee mixed with cookies baking in the oven wafts through the air and washes over you like gentle waves rolling in.

It’s evident simply by walking into the cafe that Ezra takes immense pride and pleasure in his work. You can feel his love for coffee and cafe  culture as you cross the threshold. Ezra is so committed to promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for coffee that he offers classes through the Coffee Institute at his Dundas West location. Introduced earlier this year and featuring three different levels you can learn everything from the history of coffee to the finer points of tamping down espresso grounds and texturing steamed milk to create intricate designs atop lattes. Through the Institute one can learn about roasting, tasting and of course really delve deep into cafe culture itself.

Through our conversation with Ezra we began to garner a greater understanding of the Toronto cafe culture and the challenges of running an organic, sustainable coffee shop. As a bonus, the community of small, local coffee shops in Toronto is a supportive one. Ezra believes in business you can cut corners to save now, but you will end up paying later. It’s not simply a financial burden on the business owner this extends to the customer as well in the quality of the product they purchase.  Ezra buys organic milks and sugars for his cafes because he believes the product tastes better and is better for you. As he purchases 100’s of liters of milk each week, this purchase has both a huge and positive impact as he supports both local and organic farmers.

All the coffee available at Ezra’s Pound is roasted in Toronto and dripped fresh for each order. Not only is the coffee organic and fair trade but is purchased from coffee co-ops, a step beyond simply being fair trade. As Ezra won’t expose his workers in Toronto to harmful chemicals he also does not wish to purchase coffee from which coffee producers and pickers are exposed to harmful chemicals and poor labour standards. The coffee is bird friendly and shade grown.

You can taste the difference in the coffee, as only high quality coffee is available.  Ezra’s views on corporate greenwashing echoed our own. Ezra pointed out that often the product becomes irrelevant, and the way you feel when you purchase the product becomes what is relevant. Instead of selling ethical items, often it’s the ‘feel good’ mentality which adds value for consumers. At Ezra’s though, turns out most people come for the quality of coffee and the organic, ethical and eco-friendly products act as the added value.

We left the interview with empty coffee cups, fixed caffeine cravings, and a greater understanding and appreciation for local business owners who seek time to run ethical and sustainable businesses. Especially when those business owners take the time to meet with two young girls seeking to create a change in consumption patterns. Pleasantly high on caffeine we were set to tackle that daunting task.

For more information on Ezra’s Pound click here