a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Jun, 2017

The best kind of shopping

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!|Ottawa|Yaktivism

If you follow me on Twitter you probably already saw a few tweets go by about my visit to the new WE Store at the Rideau Centre the other day. I may have gushed a little bit:

Are you familiar with the Me to We, and the WE movement? WE is essentially about bringing people together – especially young people – and giving them the tools and inspiration they need to foster social change on a bigger scale. I’ve attended a few WE Day events here in Ottawa (this archived post will give you an idea of what that’s all about) and am a big believer in the power of one person to kickstart something bigger than themselves. (You can read more about WE at WE.org!)

I was pretty keen to check out the WE Store at Rideau. Ottawa is the ideal town for this kind of store. There are many socially minded people here, and a downtown location – which is both a destination for residents and ground zero for tourists – is kind of perfect.

Some have been calling the We Store a pop-up, but it’s not quite the right term for it. It is, however, temporary. As it stands now, it will be there until January 2018. (After that, “anything can happen,” at least, that’s what I was told when I was there.) I will say this. The store is BIG. Imagine 2000 sq.ft of comfortable, breezy shopping space:

New WE Store at the Rideau Centre



Shoppers will find a range of products: clothing, jewelry, school supplies, and more. Proceeds from WE Store purchases are funneled to a number of different charities and projects around the world. Every purchase makes an impact. Take for example, this necklace:

WE Store, where every product makes an impact

Note the code on the tag. If you punch it in on the WE website you’d see that your new favourite necklace actually helped make transformative changes in Kenyan village.

Each piece is handcrafted by a mama in Kenya who earns a fair wage for her work. And when women work, change happens and communities become more prosperous. I do like shopping that gives back; gifts that give multiple times over.

I imagine that what helps the WE Store business model is that the merchandise is so inherently “buyable.” It looks good. I’m sure people would buy the kind of products for sale at the WE Store, even if they didn’t come with a great story or a charitable aspect attached to it. For example, their new semi-precious collection is something I would totally wear to the office or on a night out (see these online).  I am also in love with their Imani bracelets:

Imani bracelets, We Store

It’s a very cool bracelet, totally wearable. The added bonus is that I know my purchase is doing some good in this world.

The We Store also has a Rafiki bar. (I should point out that Rafiki is the Swahili word for friend, but in this case, the term refers to beaded bracelets.) Modeled on the Menchies build-your-own fro-yo concept, the Rafiki bar represents an opportunity for anyone to drop by and make their own bracelet from the ground up.

Rafiki bar at the new Ottawa WE Store

It’s easy. You choose where you would like to direct the proceeds of your purchase (Education? Health?), pick your beads, and go to town. “Recipe” cards are available if you’d like to achieve a particular look and style. The workspace here is actually quite large and could easily accommodate a dozen people at a time. (I sense this could make a great birthday outing for Ottawa families. Just call ahead!)

I am already looking forward to bringing the girls to make some bracelets of our own. Interestingly, it takes 20-30 minutes to make one, but that’s how long it takes for a novice. The Kenyan artisans clock in at seven minutes.

One of the ME to WE Artisans, Mama Helen, was at the media event. I was happy to learn a little bit about her story.

Mama Helen demonstrating bead work at the new WE store at the Rideau Centre

Mama Helen is from a rural village in Kenya where opportunities to earn an income are scarce. With the help of the folks from ME to WE, she’s become a manager in the beading production chain. She’s the mother of five sons, and from what I understood, two of them are in university, which wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t have paying work. Amazing things happen when the cycle of poverty is broken. She gave the example of buying catch basins for rainwater and tanks to store it. And to think, it all starts with our purchase of a beaded bracelet that sells for $10, made in Kenya by Mama Helen or one of her neighbours. It is, in the truest sense of the word, life-changing.


Next time you’re downtown I do hope you check out the WE Store.

Related to this: have you heard there’s a WE Day event happening on Parliament Hill on July 2? Some amazing Canadians are going to be sharing their stories with the crowd, including Chris Hadfield, Margaret Trudeau, Penny Oleksiak, Romeo Dallaire, and many others. Having been to past WE Day events, I can tell you that the WE program has an especially big impact on tweens and teens. Somehow it has a way of feeding that fire that’s probably already smoldering inside them. If you’re looking for something do to, do it!

1 Response to "The best kind of shopping"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Gifts for people who have everything, part 2: Gifts that help break the cycle of poverty - a peek inside the fishbowl

November 24th, 2017 at 4:28 pm


[…] of you may recall my blog post about the opening of the WE Store at the Rideau Centre. That day, I got to chat with Mama Helen, a ME to WE artisan from Kenya whose life was turned […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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