Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut December 30, 2015 - 10:00 am

Wash away your stress with Iqaluit’s Uasau Soap products

Couple makes natural Nunavut soaps, body butters, and skincare remedies at home

THOMAS ROHNER
Justin Clarke and his four-year-old daughter, Alethea, prepare Uasau Soap products for the Iqaluit Christmas Fair. (PHOTO BY BERNICE CLARKE)
Justin Clarke and his four-year-old daughter, Alethea, prepare Uasau Soap products for the Iqaluit Christmas Fair. (PHOTO BY BERNICE CLARKE)
The Uasau Soap line of products includes soaps, body butters, bath products and skincare remedies. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
The Uasau Soap line of products includes soaps, body butters, bath products and skincare remedies. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

As soon as you walk into the Iqaluit home of Justin and Bernice Clarke, wafts of citrus, spices and flowers welcome you.

In neatly-stacked piles inside their living room and kitchen, you’ll find soaps, body butters, bath products and skincare remedies, wrapped in a small logo bearing the word “Uasau.” 

The Clarkes have been making these products in their kitchen at home for the past couple of years with the help and inspiration of friends, family, and their four-year-old daughter, Alethea.

But what started as a hobby, fuelled by curiosity and fun, has blossomed into a passion that’s on the verge of becoming a booming business called Uasau Soaps.

The couple’s products are natural, sustainable and chock-full of Nunavut-harvested ingredients, like tundra flowers and bowhead whale blubber.

Bernice started the company, unofficially, in 2013, but since then has watched her husband, a trained chef, grow more and more interested in making the products.

“It’s like he’s cooking when he makes soaps or body butters. He’s passionate and puts his love into it,” she said, sipping hot tea and sitting at her large wooden kitchen table with Uasau Soaps’ products spread out in front of her.

In fact, Justin’s interest in the hobby has grown so much that he said he’s even dreamed about it.

“I dreamed a bowhead whale was chasing me. I told him, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. I’m only taking what wasn’t harvested already!’” Justin said, somewhat embarrassed, sitting beside his wife.

The Clarkes are serious about the ethics of their businesss: their source of bowhead whale blubber comes from a successful community hunt in Naujaat. The couple said they won’t hunt for animal products, but only use what’s left over from community hunts.

“Inuit don’t waste any part of an animal,” Justin said.

And Inuit traditionally use bowhead whale blubber as a healing agent, Bernice explained.

“These animals are like 200 years old, so there’s something magical in them,” Justin added.

Their use of tundra plants as natural exfoliants and their plan to extract oil from tundra flowers form an important part of the same approach.

“People love our tundra soap,” Bernice said, adding that the couple quickly sold out and tripled their sales from last year at this year’s Christmas craft fair in Iqaluit.

The couple have also been thanked by some customers for helping to clear up acne and eczema.

Envisioning their business as a community and family affair, they said they hope to ask elders to help kids gather tundra plants for their products to pass on traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.

They use Inuktitut names for many of their products.

“We like to have fun with naming our products,” Bernice said, their daughter Alethea having come up with a few.

Like a spearmint soap called “Kutsusunni,” whose name comes from the English words “good chew” that some Inuit use for “chewing gum,” and “sunni,” meaning, “smells like.”

Or a fragrant-free body butter called “nilak,” which means “ice.”

Some of the ingredients used in the products include butters from avocado, cocoa and shea trees; vegetables such as carrot, cucumber and olives; and scents from lemons, dill weeds and coconut.

Some products can even be used as shaving creams.

The Clarkes also make lip balms and are thinking of branching out into candle-making and hair products.

The response the Clarkes have received from friends and customers alike have inspired them to keep going.

“I feel the energy from people, when they use our products,” Bernice said.

“This could be something big for us.”

Justin is a little more cautious, hesitant to quit his full-time job and jump into the risky world of private business.

“I’m a Virgo and she’s an Aries,” he explained, laughing.

But the couple has big plans.

They’d like to see their products available on First Air or Canadian North flights; sold in gift shops across Nunavut; and available as a Nunavut-made and inspired product wherever Canadian tourists travel.

But for now, the couple is recovering from the Christmas rush while finishing up a custom order of wedding favours.

“We have a lot to learn still, but we’re having fun with it. It’s our passion,” Bernice said.

If you’re interested in learning more about Uasau Soaps’ products, you can contact the couple through their Facebook page by clicking here.

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