Pure Art re-born
By Nick Zacharias
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Pure Art founders Brigitte and Robert McKinnon welcome customers for the first time to the new home of their not-for-profit boutique, which runs on the principle of Fair Trade and supports the Pure Art Foundation’s efforts to improve the lives of impoverished but hardworking people in Peru and around the world. Much work has gone into turning the former office space into a luminous and welcoming boutique to draw patrons new and old to ‘shop with a purpose,’ while knowing that their purchases help communities in need.
After more than a decade of selling unique Fair Trade clothing, jewellery and gifts at their boutique in the centre of Hudson, Pure Art was forced to make the decision to close their doors following last spring’s COVID-19 lockdown. Much in line with their dedication to building homes and public spaces in the slums of Pucallpa, Peru, they have kept the spirit alive to rebuild their store here at home. “People tell us we’re either courageous or crazy; I’m not sure which it is,” says founder Robert McKinnon, who started the Fair Trade, not-for-profit boutique along with his wife Brigitte to support education and empowerment, housing, infrastructure and health for impoverished neighbourhoods in Peru, Tanzania and Nepal.
Travelling to Peru, as they do with a large team of volunteers every year to build homes and community buildings, ended a little differently this year. After they’d finished their work in the second week of March and were ready to head home, the Peruvian government imposed martial law to enforce a COVID-19 lockdown. Says McKinnon, “They shut down the airports and halted all travel, and we couldn’t get out of the country. We were trapped there, holed up in a hotel room for 10 days, with somebody coming twice a day to slide food under our door.”
When they eventually returned to Canada, the spring lockdown here meant business suffered so badly that they were unable to hold on to the physical store, and had to retreat to their foundation offices in Vaudreuil-Dorion. They kept the boutique going online however, and maintained their charitable efforts. “We’ve been able to keep the school lunch program going in Pucallpa throughout COVID,” says McKinnon, “the schools are closed, but the kids still need to eat, so we made sure lunches are provided – the kids can come every day, with safety protocols in place of course, to get a decent meal.”
Now that stores are allowed to open again in our region, in spite of the uncertainty, they’re ready to attempt a rebirth. “Online can be great, but with the kind of Fair Trade, handcrafted and unique items we bring in, you really want to have a physical store.”
City has been amazing
The McKinnons are devoted to their ‘100 per cent model’ where all publicly donated money goes directly to the sustainability programs, which means the boutique has to absorb the administrative costs of running the foundation. They call it ‘the art of shopping with a purpose.’ To save overhead, they’ve decided to re-open Pure Art on the ground floor of their office in a big white stucco house at 132 Chemin de l’Anse, next to the popular Félix-Leclerc Park.
“The city of Vaudreuil-Dorion has been amazing,” says McKinnon. “We needed permits for the new store, for a sign, parking, all of it – and they’ve been very helpful and accommodating. And the response and support we’ve gotten since opening three days ago has been absolutely great. We’re just 6.9 kilometres from our old location, so we’re hoping our friends from Hudson will take the route by the water and stop and see us on their way to Vaudreuil, and that lots of new people from Vaudreuil can discover Pure Art too.”
Plans for the spring
“This year will be the first time in 14 years that we won’t be able to travel to Peru, and that’s really sad, but we have to carry on,” says McKinnon. If the draw of shopping locally to make a difference globally is successful at their new location (especially as gift-giving season sets in) they plan to expand to include a café selling Fair Trade coffee and other treats. “It’s like an oasis when you turn that corner on Chemin de l’Anse and see the open water and Oka across the lake. There’s so much draw in this beautiful spot. Next spring, we’d love to create a welcoming atmosphere where people can come for a coffee and learn more about Fair Trade, about the positive impact it can have on communities.” McKinnon says they aren’t sure how opening a new store location during a pandemic will work out, but so far signs are good and they remain hopeful. “I’m a pathological optimist.”