Purple Urchin - Rebecca
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I lived in a few different places growing up, but my family finally settled in Sault Ste. Marie when I was 16, so that’s where I tell people I’m from. I love animals and have a multitude of pets (4 cats, 1 dog). I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of 7. I am an introvert and thus shy away from small talk. I love learning and absorbing new information. I have a quirky personality and offbeat sense of humour. Some people appreciate this, some people think I’m just weird. I cut my own hair. Which I’m sure is quite obvious.
How did you start making soap?
I researched it online and then just gave it a shot. And it turned out! I used a couple of those cardboard trays that packages of berries are shipped to grocery stores on, and lined them with garbage bags so the soap wouldn’t stick to the cardboard. I also got raw soap on my parent’s kitchen table, which ate through the wood stain, and left them with a permanent reminder of my ridiculous experiments.
What is your inspiration?
Sometimes it’s a new ingredient that I’m excited to try, sometimes I’ll see a product at the drugstore and think to myself that I should try making a more natural version, and sometimes it’s just customers asking for certain products. But mainly, I just really love being able to play around and experiment with ingredients and scents and textures. It’s hard to find the time to do it these days, but it was what drew me to soap making in the first place, and it’s still my favourite aspect of the business.
When not making soap and running the business what do you do for fun?
Oh, fun, I almost forget what that word means. However, I really love to garden, I wish I had more time to draw, go to concerts, read, knit, go for walks in the forest. I’m a homebody, and really love just being at home relaxing.
What do you love most about Ottawa?
I think Ottawa’s a really beautiful city with lots of natural spaces to explore, and it’s big enough to be interesting but not as daunting as Toronto.
How did you come up with the name “Purple Urchin”?
I always get asked this question, but I don’t have a good story for it! It really just popped into my head as I was reading stuff on the Internet, and I liked how it sounded.
If Justin Trudeau walked into your store for a bar of soap (lets say he had just come back from running along the canal) what fragrance would you suggest to him?
Man Soap. We’ve been making it since the beginning of time, it’s one of our most popular soaps, and it smells great. That’s what Justin Trudeau should smell like.
What has been your biggest challenge in business?
Cash flow and having to learn everything while doing it. I’ve just kind of figured things out as they come up, but it takes a lot of time and energy, and can be really stressful.
Your products are in Whole Foods! Was that a big deal for PU?
It sure was. It was great to have such a large company interested in our products. I think it’s helped expose a lot more people to our product over the years as well.
Is there another Ottawa business that helped you in your journey?
Terra20 was our first wholesale account, and a lot of our customers were introduced to our brand through their Pinecrest location. We also learned a lot about selling to other stores through our interactions with their buyers and staff, and selling to them gave us the ability to invest in professionally designed labels, which really helped the brand to look less DIY and more commercially appealing. Additionally, all of the cafes and restaurants that started using our soap in their washrooms really helped us reach a larger customer base. People still mention to us all the time that they first discovered our soap in the washroom of such and such restaurant.
Do you see more PU product lines in the future?
Hopefully! There are a lot of products I’d like to create that require a chemist and a lab setting to make, for various technical reasons. I don’t have any training in chemistry, but hopefully in the future we’ll be able to offer some products that are more complex in nature to manufacture.
How has Ottawa been as a place to launch PU?
Ottawa has been a great place to launch Purple Urchin. People in this city have supported us since day one and we managed to grow through word of mouth alone in the first couple of years. I don’t know if we would have been as successful in any other city. People here seem to connect with the brand, they love the products, and they really appreciate supporting small, local businesses.