The bright and bold purple sign above the entrance reads: “YOU NEED SOAP. P.U.”, with the initials P.U. standing for the store’s name, Purple Urchin (of course).
The cute play on words does grab one’s attention, and when I entered the store for the first time in the heart of Ottawa’s Chinatown neighbourhood, I half-expected to be smacked with an arsenal of fragrances that would violate my senses.
Instead, I found a room full of wonderfully warm natural scents of flora and fauna, herbs, and spices that was not only inoffensive, but completely inviting and positively stimulating. Within seconds, my nose became accustomed to the store’s lovely scented products of soaps, shampoos, body butters, balms, bath salts, and candles.
The cozy well-laid out store also featured a skin care line, essential oils, a men’s line (Lumberjack), products for babies and pets, as well as many fragrance-free alternatives. Store owner Rebecca Pereira tells Apt613 how she got started in the business of soap making:
“It’s been 10 years since I’ve been making soap and selling it under the name Purple Urchin. The retail store is 5 years old this month. It all began when I was in school for business and I wanted to try and start a little side thing…something creative, that wasn’t bad for the environment. And that’s why I chose soap, because it biodegrades, and also it makes a good little gift to give people that’s useful. Later on, I had people asking for other products that they wanted that were natural, so I started expanding into other things like body butters, liquid soaps, etc.”
There were products that featured names like “Ginger Spice”, “Grapefruit Grenade”, “Maple Lemon”, “Caramel Apple Crumble”, and “Strawberry Shortcake”, with scents so savoury and natural, they smelled good enough to eat. Others like “Kindling”, and “Amber Woods”, immediately evoked images of a crackling fire inside a log cabin in the woods.
One that at first puzzled me, was a scent called, “Eighties Revival”. For Pereira, who grew up in the eighties, it was her way of trying to recapture the smell of some of the toy dolls and figures she played with at the time. As soon as I took a whiff, I could envision the sweet plastic smell of Barbie dolls and My Little Pony. I’d heard that the sense of smell triggers the memory the most acutely out of all the senses, but never had the scent of a candle made me think of childhood toy memorabilia… I thought it was uniquely sentimental.
One of their most popular scents, Lumberjack, is one found in a line of products geared towards men, like their Moisturizing Beard & Face Oil, Liquid Soap, Bar Soap, Moustache Styler, Shave Bar, and Hand Balm. They feature the warm and light scents of cedarwood, balsam wood, bergamot, and a hint of vanilla. Pereira goes on to say, “There’s men who like the Lumberjack soap, I think partially too because of the name, but we have male customers who come in that love the Blackberry Ripple or the Rosemary Mint.”
All Purple Urchin products are made on the premises, in an adjoining room that looks part-kitchen, part-laboratory. It’s a long way from how Pereira started when she began whipping up her soapy concoctions in her basement a decade ago:
“We make everything here on-site. It started as a home-based hobby-type business in my basement. A lot of the equipment in here is just regular kitchen equipment, aside from a couple of tanks and things we need for doing large-scaled capacity which we’re into more and more now.”
Purple Urchin products are available online, or at their retail store at 884 Somerset St. W. in Ottawa. You will also find their products for sale at nearly 60 retailers. Most of these are in Ottawa, with others located throughout Ontario, and some as far west as North Saanich, BC and as far east as Georgetown, PEI.
“We have one retailer in PEI, and one in BC that sell our products now, so we can actually say we’re coast to coast, but most of them are in Ontario. I’m surprised at how well it‘s going. As far as our own store goes, eventually we’re going to outgrow this space… we kind of already are. It’ll be exciting when that happens.”
As part of the store’s 5-year anniversary celebration, Purple Urchin is having a special month-long contest that is simple and easy to do if you enjoy using their products.
Pereira and Communications Manager Leah Wilkinson outline details of the contest:
“We’re having a fun contest on Instagram for our 5-year anniversary, as a way of giving back to our customers. It’s for the whole month of November, right up to 11:59pm on the 30th of November. What you have to do is to take a little video of yourself talking about which Purple Urchin product is your favourite and why, and post it to Instagram. Then tag us @Purple_Urchin, and #5yearsofPU, and you can be entered for a chance to win a soap making class for you and 3 of your friends. You’ll get to come in and make a batch of 48 bars of soap – pick the scent, pick the colour, and then take the soap home and do whatever you want with it: give them out as Christmas gifts, or just keep it.”