When philanthropy gets hairy: Ottawa’s Unshaven Mavens a huge success


Malorie Bertrand (Twitter) is Editor-in-Chief of Eco-Fashion Magazine. Growing up in Aylmer, Quebec, Malorie left the Capital region as a child before moving back after university. In addition to her passion for green fashion, she loves staying active, cooking for friends and staying up-to-date on all of Ottawa’s fun happenings. 

It was November 2010.

Mustaches for Kids (M4K) and Movember were just underway, and I was sitting at a table having lunch at Temptation Tea Shop with my hilarious colleagues, Amie Beausoleil and Elizabeth Shilts. I was recounting to them a joke I had made about how women should have a growing campaign too and it should be called Octobush. Amie loved the idea and took my joke and ran with it. I came along for the ride and soon became an active partner in what soon evolved into the hairiest philanthropic initiative of our lives – Unshaven Mavens.

We considered asking women to grow their pubic hair but thankfully, Julyna took that on. Instead, we focused on our pits. We know they’re not exactly ‘sexy’ and hairy pits are synonymous with French women in the 1960’s. But our chosen charity, Rethink Breast Cancer, promotes the importance of checking our underarms for swollen lymph nodes, a potential early sign of breast cancer. Also, we could easily prove our growing efforts by posting progress pit pics on our website without worrying about exposing private parts. Bonus!

So from here, Amie and I came up with the name Unshaven Mavens. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we clued in that a maven is someone who shares information with others. Perfect! Our unshaven mavens would share information about the importance of early detection of breast cancer in the underarm area, brilliant. We then proceeded to get the campaign rolling and called upon our brothers at M4K to help us with our website and logo.

Amie Beausoleil and Malorie Bertrand of Unshaven Mavens

Over the following months we developed wonderful relationships with our sponsors: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., UsedOttawa.com, PSI Print Solutions, Urbanite Jewelry, Jasmine Virani, Flights of Fancy, Thann, Oresta Organic Skin Care, Moksha Yoga Ottawa, Schick, Stella Luna Gelato, Heart & Crown, Green Beaver and Tinted Edge.

With volunteers in tow, we kicked off our month-long campaign at Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill on October 1st. In partnership with brothers Steve and Phil Beauchesne of Beau’s, Unshaven Mavens sought out as many festival-goers as possible to meet two fundraising goals for the day – $500.00 would get Phil to shave his head and $1,000.00 would get Steve to shave his. To encourage donations and participation, Beau’s agreed to donate $500.00 in gift certificates to the winner of a draw. To enter the draw, people had to donate $40.00 and had the option to also get their head shaved. The festival’s MC, Jay, did an amazing job of rallying the crowds – even getting someone to pay upwards of $200 to have their friend’s eyebrows shaved. Needless to say, the shaving activity was a huge success (we raised $3,000 that weekend alone) and Steve and Phil (our token Shaven Mavericks) are still shocked.

By the end of our campaign kick-off weekend, we had 55 participants and already surpassed our fundraising goal. We were overwhelmed by the positive response.

On Friday, October 28, our inaugural Unshaven Mavens campaign came to a close. We celebrated our efforts with a Red Carpit Bash at the Heart & Crown on Preston Street. Our pink balloons, red carpet and fashionable mavens set the stage for the evening’s main event. Four brave men agreed to be our judges for the “com-pit-ition”. Fadi Ghaby from Thann, Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s, Ryan Redecopp from M4K and Nathan from Heart & Crown took their job very seriously. They diligently inspected each competitor’s armpits and awarded prizes to the Most Pitiful, the Jolie Pit and the Brad Pit. The Pit Boss award went to the maven who raised the most money.

The night was a blast and we were very honoured to have breast cancer survivor, Cat Birch, speak to the crowd. Birch is launching Rethink’s Live, Laugh, Learn program in Ottawa and all of the money raised by Unshaven Mavens will be directed to this program. We are very proud to support this inspiring project and look forward to next year’s campaign.

I think a lot of the success of Unshaven Mavens comes from the fact that we’re encouraging people to laugh at themselves. It’s not that growing your underarm hair is strange or funny, but that promoting it and making it the central focus of a fundraising campaign is something different. Unshaven Mavens gives women the opportunity to be self-deprecating and unite for a great cause. In the spirit of Live Laugh Learn, if we end up encouraging women to laugh at themselves, that’s great and if they more regularly incorporate the underarm in their breast exam, even better.

It’s important to point out the generosity of our city. From the local business sponsors to individual donations and all of our fabulous participants, they all proved that Ottawa has a great, big heart. Without their support and without the involvement of the people of Ottawa, Unshaven Mavens wouldn’t have been the success it turned out to be.

Amie and I are eager to get started on the planning for next year’s campaign with a higher donation goal, more participants, bigger prizes and oodles of fun.

Unshaven Mavens supports Rethink Breast Cancer and raises awareness of the importance of early breast cancer detection by asking its participants to grow their armpit hair for the entire month of October. Lymph nodes are filters that can catch infectious organisms or cancerous tumor cells. When they do, lymph nodes increase in size and are easily felt. An armpit lump in a woman should be checked by a health care provider immediately, as it may be a sign of breast cancer.

Thanks for your contribution, and for all of your hard work Unshaven Mavens team!