Red Tent Sisters brings women's health and sexuality to the Danforth

A friend of mine, who manages the Rogers Video at Pape & Danforth (less than 2 blocks from my house) put it best: "how have you not visited Red Tent Sisters yet?"

My shame knew no bounds. It's not every day that a store carrying sex toys opens in my neighbourhood... and given some of the, er, more masculinist tendencies of Greektown, seeing one arrive that foregrounds women's reproductive and sexual health is nothing short of delightful. In fact, let's throw out the "store carrying sex toys" label altogether. Yes, Red Tent Sisters has a wall of all the usual suspects: bunny rabbit vibrators and anal lube and that bigass Hitachi Magic Wand that got it all started for so many women around the world. But it also has Luna Pads, DVDs on baby sign language, Hippie Chick baby carriers, and a women's health book section that puts the Pape/Danforth Public Library to shame.

The store has been open for about a month now, in the part of the Danforth (east of Pape) that is slowly, assuredly cutting loose its dollar stores and dive bars in favour of better restaurants and specialty shops (we're even getting a Magic Oven!). RTS' bright red marquee is already quite the eye-catcher against the older establishments, and awareness in the neighbourhood (based on my admittedly informal poll of friends and neighbours) is starting to grow.

Plus, score one for truth in advertising: the store is actually owned and operated by two sisters (who also maintain a place of honour on the book shelves for Anita Diamant's The Red Tent). I went into the store a week ago and had the opportunity to meet Kimberley and Amy Sedgwick, and talk to them about how and why Red Tent Sisters came to be on the Danforth.

Why did you choose the Danforth? How has the reception been in the community thus far?

We chose the Danforth because we both grew up in this neighbourhood and feel a real connection with the community. The people who live and shop in this area tend to be more open to alternative products and services, and the people tend to browse a lot in this neighbourhood - they'll go for a leisurely walk and check out what new stores have opened. People seem to be willing to spend a little more to have the convenience of shopping in their own community, rather than having to go downtown to a mall.

The response so far has been very positive. We've had a number of people tell us how needed Red Tent Sisters is in this neighbourhood. There are some great feminist sex stores in the west end - Good For Her and Come As You Are - but they are both a fair distance away. And as far as we know, there is no other store in Toronto that caters to women's reproductive and sexual needs.

We were a little concerned at first about how people would respond to the Red Tent Sisters' concept but almost everyone has been really excited. They like that they can find products and services for a variety of needs in one store. Women seem to particularly appreciate the symbolism of the store's name and concept - a "red tent" that provides a safe space for women to gather during times of menstruation and childbearing to share wisdom and support for one another.

Red Tent Sisters will be offering a number of services around parenting, sexuality, and fertility. What was the impetus behind this, and what are hoping attendees will take away from their experiences?

Amy is an Occupational Therapist with a background in planning and booking wellness programming. She has also recently become involved in a training program for reproductive health that teaches the Justisse method of fertility awareness. We knew from the start that it would take a while to establish a solid clientele of women who wanted support to learn how to track their menstrual cycles, as this is not a well-understood skill in our culture. Thus, we were looking for other services to round out the service side of our business. We also felt that the "red tent" concept of the store needed to be extended to the services to ensure that we were meeting our mission of promoting optimal reproductive and sexual health. As a result, we have a wide range of services that we hope will cover the breadth of reproductive and sexuality issues faced by women across the life-cycle. We are new, so we are continually adding to this list of services and we welcome women's input on things we can add to better serve them. We hope women will come away from all of our workshops and classes with a deeper sense of connection to their bodies, or to that of their infants, as the case may be in our mother-baby classes.

What is Baby Sign Language?

Weehands is a curriculum for teaching parents how to use American Sign Language (ASL) as a means of communicating with infants when they are not yet able to effectively communicate their needs and desires verbally. Children usually develop the capacity for clear speech around the 18-24 month mark; however, infants can learn to manipulate their hands to communicate a sign as early as 9 months old. Teaching babies ASL provides a way to reduce frustration levels for both parents and children, and provides a window into our babies' minds at a time when it can be very difficult to understand what they are thinking and wanting. Amy did the full Weehands curriculum with her daughter, now nearly two years old, and found that it had profoundly positive effects on her communication, verbal development, bonding, and even reading abilities! The Weehands classes fit into our philosophy by promoting bonding and communication women and their children.

That sounds awesome! Flipping over to the other side of the business, what are your favourite products in the store?

The retail side of Red Tent Sisters is essentially a wish list of products we own or would like to own, so it's pretty hard to choose! Kim's personal favourites are the Diva Cup, which is an alternative menstrual product, and the Crown condoms, which live up to their slogan of being the "closest thing to nothing at all." Amy's personal favourites are the lunapanties (underwear with a menstrual pad built right in!), and two of our books that are both self-published books from the U.S. - one a cartoon book about the clitoris called Tip of the Iceberg, and the other a Cycles of Life Journal designed for daily reflection on your fertility, sexuality, emotions, and sense of balance. The G-twist is our favourite vibrator by far. And last (but not least), Mattea (Amy's daughter) loves the heart-to-heart sling and the baby sign language videos the best!

I want to thank Kim and Amy for their time, and welcome Red Tent Sisters to the neighbourhood. You can check it our for yourself at 810 Danforth Avenue, a couple of blocks east of Pape and Danforth (Pape Station). Info about their workshops and products can be found at the Red Tent Sisters web site, redtentsisters.com.

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