It’s called “The Dialogue Projects”, a social enterprise founded by Torontonians Carly Bennie, Caroline Kassie and Ashley Steinhauer – three friends deep into fashion, but even deeper into philanthropy. Created to raise funds for Baycrest and three other health organizations in the community, they aim to spark conversations about reducing stigma attached to mental health.
Charity… it’s in the bag
To do this, the three friends and business partners decided to produce and sell “Dialogue Products,” the first of which is called the “Dialogue Bag.” Featuring a stylized, large elephant logo – representing the symbolic “elephant in the room” around issues of mental health – the fashion-forward tote bag is designed for style and functionality and is described by its creators as “great for all seasons and an on-the-go lifestyle, with interior pockets that organize your essentials for school, work, gym or travel.”
Carly, Caroline and Ashley formed the company in 2014 following a number of high profile, celebrity suicides over the last few years and as an outgrowth of being personally impacted by experiences with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. They’d discussed how best to take on what they felt was a social responsibility associated with mental health awareness, they say. “Each of us has been touched by mental illness, whether through personal struggle or helping a loved one through their struggles. We found that the common thread to all these different mental health issues, from anorexia to clinical depression, was stigma and a lack of accessible resources,” they say in a collective statement to Baycrest. “The Dialogue Projects was our response and is a marriage of two different ideas: a content portal to educate and share stories about mental health and a philanthropic fashion brand to make a tangible impact in our communities.” So why choose Baycrest as one of only four beneficiaries of sales from the The Dialogue Projects’ Dialogue Bag (the others being SickKids Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital and Progress Place)?
Easy, they say. Because helping older adults overcome late-life mental illness and other physical and cognitive issues related to aging was one of their core mandates.
A Dialogue (bag) for older adults
While doing their due diligence on which charities to fund, the women decided to cover multiple demographics. When considering the older adult community, they “instantly” thought of Baycrest, they say.
“We are very inspired by [Baycrest’s] mission to conduct innovative research on how to preserve and strengthen brain function, as there is a direct correlation between brain health and mental health. Baycrest represents a strong brand with a rich history of supporting those in need, and its credible donor base, reputation and innovative approach made it easy for us to decide to align our initiative with the work done at Baycrest.”
Specifically, sales of the Blue Dialogue elephant tote bag go toward benefiting Baycrest’s Dance Therapy programs at the Wagman Centre and at the Psychiatric Day Hospital for Depression. Dance therapy at Baycrest helps older adults with a holistic approach that allows for the exploration of the connection between mind and body as a creative outlet for self-expression, and to increase awareness of the body in stillness and in motion. The program is not covered by OHIP.
Donations to these programs make an important impact by funding certified Dance and Movement Therapists and help purchase props and equipment used in group classes. Donations also help support the development of new dance therapy classes. The stylish totes sell for $40 on The Dialogue Projects website, with $10 from every sale going to the intended charity. In this first year of operation, the women started off with 800 Dialogue Bags in stock and as of mid-July, more than 500 have been sold.
Toting toward tomorrow
It’s been a successful first year, they say. “Our main goal with the Dialogue Projects was to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness, and it’s already begun. We see people carrying the Dialogue Bags around Toronto already.”
Moving forward, they plan to introduce a new, charitable fashion item later this year as well as sell the Dialogue Bags at various retailers and boutique stores around the GTA. For the moment, they are available exclusively online.
To purchase a Blue Elephant Dialogue Bag in support of Dance Therapy and the Psychiatric Day Hospital for Depression programs at Baycrest, visit www.thedialogueprojects.com/products/dialogue-bag-blue