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Teacher starts social enterprise to keep Canadians warm

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A model wearing a Twoque toque

What does one plus one equal? For Eric Saltsman, the answer is “Twoque.” That’s the name of his new Toronto-based winter hat company that donates one tuque for each one it sells. Thus, the foundational formula: one item sold plus one item donated equals Twoque.

It’s thanks to Saltsman’s students that Twoque exists. He was teaching a class on challenge and change in society last year at Ulpanat Orot, a modern Orthodox girls high school in Toronto. It’s a class that, according to Saltsman, teaches students to look at the world around them in a different way. It covers “all things that affect every judgement, every move that we make in this world around us,” he said, such as racism, politics and feminism.

Saltsman assigned his students a project to create a business plan. The catch was that the business had to be either a non-profit, sustainability-based or a social enterprise. In other words, “something that focused on the likes of chesed or tzedakah or tikun olam, something that’s contributing to making the world a better, warmer, safer place,” said Saltsman.

Saltsman’s students asked him for an example, and that’s when he came up with the idea for Twoque. The Twoque business model was inspired by Toms, the popular lightweight slip-on shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for each pair purchased. The idea to make winter hats was inspired by Saltsman’s downtown Toronto neighbourhood.

“You see far too many faces on the street of folks who aren’t sufficiently looked after and (it’s) compounded with all the newcomers to the country, whether refugee or immigrants,” said Saltsman. “Regardless of socioeconomic status, it’s going to be cold and we’re all going to need to protect ourselves.”

After coming up with the idea, Saltsman called up his friend, Ethan Dassas, who also found the idea exciting. The first step was to find a local manufacturer and a charity to partner with. The manufacturer they eventually settled on was called Six Label, and the partner charity is the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre, which provides services to vulnerable people.

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Saltsman presented his business plan to his class in April. After connecting with Dassas, the two spent the summer working on the company. By the end of September, they had a product ready to be manufactured, and by the end of November, they launched Twoque.

So far, the only product Twoque sells is The OG, a black knit cap that retails for $25. Twoque sells each cap at cost, said Saltsman, when one takes into account the extra cap that Twoque donates with each purchase.

Saltsman’s goal was to sell, and thus donate, 250 hats this winter, a goal he has already exceeded: so far, Twoque has sold 340 hats. The company’s new goal is 500 sales by the spring. He’s also hoping to eventually expand his product line, to include gloves, scarves, jackets and sweatpants – “all things that are in the business of spreading warmth,” he said.

Twoque founders Ethan Dassas, left, and Eric Saltsman.

As proud as Saltsman is about Twoque’s growth, he seems to find even more joy in the success his students had with the project. He glowingly recalled some of the ideas they came up with, including a hostel run by homeless people, an Uber for babysitters and a service that distributes donated baby clothes.

“I was filled with a lot of great nachas when I watched my students and I myself was quite inspired to say, ‘Hey, listen, I’m still going to be teaching next year, but maybe I can also create something as I go and make a difference,’” he said.