“Our journey began in Toronto,” says Nuha Siddiqui, of her and her erthos co-founder Kritika Tyagi’s start. Although Nuha's family settled in Ottawa from the Middle East in 2005 and moved to Toronto in 2014, “being students at the University of Toronto, and having an incredible experience, I can’t imagine any other city where we could have done what we’ve done.” Kritika, from India, has lived in Toronto for 17 years. “I saw Nuha present her research project during second year and I said ‘How do I join this?’”
This, is now erthos, a company that builds regenerative, plant-powered materials with the goal of a planet free from plastic pollution. From biodegradable packing “peanuts” to cutlery and hangers, it’s all made to go back into the soil and, in fact, make the soil better.
Toronto, says Nuha, has played a huge role as a start-up home to tech accelerators. “And its diversity—we meet people from all walks of life,” adds Kritika, “problem solvers with a unique perspective, it’s an incubator of ideas.” As women and women of colour, “yes, we’ve had hurdles,” Nuha notes, “but there’s a unique and impressive founder system here; you can connect with great mentors in the innovator ecosystem.”
“Toronto is a very diverse city so it allows us to build these really compelling stories within our company's culture.”
— Kritika Tyagi, head of product and co-founder of erthos
It’s no wonder Forbes recently put the duo on its global 30 Under 30 List. “Toronto is always buzzing with sports, culture, tech, art, and it’s so diverse; it’s a sense of inspiration that the city brings,” says Nuha. Naturally, from zero-waste grocery shopping and vegan comfort food to fabulous vintage shopping and repurposed architecture, sustainability is always at the core of a day in Toronto with Nuha and Kritika.
Shop—but make it vintage.
“We love going thrifting,” says Nuha. “There’s great second-hand shopping all over the city.” She particularly likes the mother/daughter-owned Mama Loves You on Queen West, Nuha’s favourite neighbourhood.
“Courage My Love in Kensington Market for used, vintage and consignment,” says Kritika. “They always have something for everyone—I never walk out of there empty handed and they make some of their own wares, as well.”
Explore a new neighbourhood.
Kritika used to live in the city’s downtown east Canary District near Eastern Avenue and Front Street East and just a stroll from the historic Distillery District.
“It’s in the West Don Lands—close to hiking trails, bike trails and transit-accessible. It’s a great example of sustainable architecture, as it was built for the athlete’s village for the [2015 Pan/Parapan Am] Games and now repurposed for mixed-use space. Plus it’s super pedestrian friendly.”
For Kritika, Toronto’s neighbourhoods are all about the cuisine: “I’m a big foodie, and it’s a very foodie driven city; we have great food in every neighbourhood and foods unique and reflected in each of them; places like Greektown and Little Italy.” These distinctive flavours are what sets Toronto apart, she adds.
Make everyday shopping more meaningful.
“Shop for groceries at zero-waste Unboxed Market—you go with all your jars, packing, bags, and whatever else you might need to bring your groceries home,” says Nuha. The RE Place sustainable goods store in the east end (see Poured Coffee), is another favourite, for coffee, household, self-care and beauty products, she adds. They also both like St. Lawrence Market for local and organic products.
Try some plant-based eats (and gluten free to boot!).
On their ultimate day, the co-founders would finish with dinner at Parka Restaurant on Queen West. “It’s plant-based comfort food,” says Nuha. “The owners are thoughtful with their sustainable choices. For example, the T-shirts the staffers wear are partially made from recycled plastic bottles, while aprons are made from recycled denim.” And, she points out that Parka was the first ever all-around sustainable menu that supports not only local sourcing, but also global biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.
For Kritika, Bunner’s Bakeshop on Augusta Avenue also tops her list. “Vegan-friendly and gluten-free, so it’s the one place where I know that I can have everything.”
Experience all four seasons in the city.
For a year-round experience, Nuha and Kritika say that Toronto is unique: “Nuit Blanche! One of our fall favourites—it’s incredible how the city is transformed all night; in winter (we’re a bit cheesy), we love the Christmas market at The Distillery District and other holiday markets; during spring, it’s cherry blossoms at High Park; and in the summer, getting out as much as we can in nature, biking on Toronto Island or along the Lakeshore [Cycle Track] on the Waterfront Trail. We love to bike even when we travel and Toronto has a great bike-share program. It's the best way to explore a city.”
And do the work—in a space with like-minded people.
“When we do go downtown (when we’re not at our HQ in Mississauga), we love to find new places to work and feel connected to the community,” says Nuha. “One place we love is the Centre For Social Innovation’s co-working spaces. It’s a social impact co-working hub for mission-driven founders!”
“You feel so proud to support local and to see so many local businesses doing the work and having an impact,” says Kritika. “Toronto does inspire you—especially around the ecosystem it has around tech—it’s hard to explain, unless you come to visit.”