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Local gifts create employment for Downtown Eastside women

Healing the lost city

Beyond Gastown, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside becomes an unforgiving industrial landscape that has been referred to as the “Lost City”. Within this corridor of relentless cement, there are small businesses that have emerged like fierce antibodies. As these local businesses create jobs, green spaces and events, there is a sense of resuscitation and nourishment. 

At 614 Alexander St., a vibrant warehouse is occupied by Eclipse Awards (@EclipseAwards) and the Saul Good Gift Co (@itsaulgood). These two small businesses have worked for many years to make our city better. In addition to creating jobs, they have collaborated with countless organizations and social enterprises to make change. Some days are difficult enough to make idealism wilt, but there is an optimism that persists. 

Creating jobs for women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

At the end of Januray 2012, the Saul Good Gift Co. received a call from Vichy Laboratoires, a multinational corporate client requesting 500 gifts for International Women’s Day. They wanted to create meaningful corporate gifts that tell the story of creating care and nourishment for Canadian women. 

The Saul Good Gift Co. rose to the opportunity to create customized pens out of reclaimed wood and employ women from a social enterprise down the road from their office. The timeline for production was tight and the workshop needed to hire more women for the order.

Although it was challenging, this project was an opportunity to generate value in the community while creating meaningful corporate gifts that tell the story of economic nourishment, sustainability and hard working women. A perfect idea for International Women’s Day.

As February 2012 came to an end, the final touches were being made on these unique corporate gifts. I met with Saul at the Saul Good Gift Co. and walked to the nearby Women’s Workshop. The sun had pulled itself up over the white-capped mountains beyond the rail yard and it reflected off the warehouse walls of East Rail Town. Early morning traffic poured through the Cordova Diversion and roared with the weight of enormous freight trucks.

Women creating meaningful employment  

When we arrived at the workshop, three women sat discussing their goals for the next five years. “My job is to listen,” explained Kate, the production manager for the social enterprise. “The women that I work with do all the hard work”.

Ronalda and Seven welcomed me to sit with them as they busily brainstormed at a large plastic collapsible table. Ronalda spoke about moving through fear as she learned how to use complicated tools and machinery. Seven explained the process of overcoming fears and gaining confidence, “Since I have been getting more experienced with the tools, I feel less intimidated,” said Seven.

“The slight imperfections in the reclaimed furniture wood are sometimes challenging,” explained Ellen. “But I take these challenges as an opportunity to learn more. I like researching new techniques”. Ellen is highly respected in the workshop for her leadership and versatile expertise. 

“I love doing the complicated detailed work,” explained Carolyn. She lights up when she explains the process of overcoming the learning curve and achieving a higher level of skill. She excels in her ability to create intricate pens from reclaimed wood. In addition to gaining new skills, Carolyn has also overcome a recent stroke.

“I am grateful that I can still ride my bike and keep working. I’ve been appreciating my life a lot more lately,” she said.

Gloria moved here in search of new opportunities. She was working for Colgate in Equador when they decided to shut down their factory and move to a different location. Gloria was one of 400 workers who lost their jobs. She works hard and is happy to have been busy working on orders like this over the past month. 

It takes a community to raise an enterprise 

The Tradeworks Women’s Workshop was created by the female participants. After establishing the structure of the program, these women were supported by Strathcona businesses. Toby Barazzoul from Eclipse Awards advised them to purchase an engraver, so that they could increase the scope of their business. Meanwhile, Saul Brown from the Saul Good Gift Co. began creating great gift ideas to incorporate the women’s work in his Vancouver gift basket business.

After years of work, it is inspiring to see this wood shop busy working on major projects for innovative companies. The International Women's Day gifts are more than wooden pens: they are signs of the positive ventures that are rejuvenating Vancouver.

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