With all the tragic news headlines lately, it’s sometimes hard to feel hopeful for the future, but my recent visit to the new WE store at Toronto Eaton Centre provided a beacon of promise.
When I was a teen, a visit to the Eaton Centre meant lingering around Le Chateau, sipping on a milkshake from Mr. Greenjeans, loitering by the water fountain, and maybe sneaking into an R-rated film. With the new WE store, kids can pop in and with one push of their hand, they can donate a litre of fresh drinking water to a village in need; they can track their impact by typing the code of an item for sale onto an interactive screen that will instantly share where and who will benefit from the proceeds of their purchase. For a moment, they will be transported to another part of the world, and learn about a life that is different to what they know, altering the shopping experience from “me” to “we”.
“What I’m very excited about is this incorporation of the digital element that will be updated on a seasonal basis,” says Me to We CEO Roxanne Joyal, as she points to different features around the store.”We have five different vignettes speaking to our current priorities, the VR is over there at the back so that you can immerse yourself in some of the locations where we work in partnership with.” Beyond the fancy tech tools, the long display table was built for a dual purpose; with drawers below, it can be easily cleared off to accommodate workshops for groups of young people.
Truly, it’s a retail experience unlike anything else. “Our sweet spot here is a millennial, a younger person…retail to that generation, and engagement to that generation, is fundamentally different than it is to many people,” says lead designer Andrew Gallici of Toronto design firm Designstead, who knew that this would be an undertaking unlike anything he’d ever tackled in his 25 years working in retail design. “It was about bringing a We Day concert to life. That magic, the larger than life aspect – the incredible sense of drama and humanity on a large scale, in a humble plywood box.”
This store marks the first in a nation-wide partnership with Cadillac Fairview, a company with vested interest in youth, and with philanthropic commitments in youth development. “Toronto Eaton Centre is the highest trafficked shopping centre in North America,” says Vice-President of Marketing, Jason Anderson. “With 50 million footsteps in a great location downtown, we thought it would be a great way to kick off the partnership…which is one amazing element of lots to come.”
While millions of young people will now be able to visit the WE store, most kids and youth will already have a relationship with the organization long before they walk through the doors. “We really speak to the educator community and that’s one that the We organization has been able to achieve scale. We implement curriculum through teachers, in our schools and we also have extracurricular clubs often sponsored by a teacher who will stay after school to get the kids involved.” If they aren’t introduced to Me to We at their school, they are just as likely to have learned about it at home. Celebrate For Change is a popular program where children forego gifts at their birthday parties, and instead, choose to fundraise for a cause they care about. “This is one way that Moms really get involved,” says Roxanne.
For those who are still unsure about what this WE movement is all about, take a quick look at this video from last year’s WeDay at the Rogers Centre, it’s as wild as any Taylor Swift concert, but the enthusiasm and dedication have the power to change the world.
Back at home, I pull the rafiki bracelets, made by women in Kenya, from my Me to We tote and head to the site to track my impact. I tracked one of my bracelets to a classroom in rural China, where my purchase could help kids get the tools for school they need to succeed, another took me to Ecuador where proceeds from my bracelet would provide a one month supply of clean water to a young girl, like Jessica.
The WE retail project across Canada is a massive undertaking and one that will entirely change the way a young person can experience their local mall. For a somewhat jaded lady with her own child to think about, it’s an endeavour that exudes hope.