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Bernice Clarke

Uasau Soap (Iqaluit, NU)

My name is Bernice Clarke and I was born and raised in Nunavut. I started my business in my kitchen and decided to venture out to the craft fairs in Iqaluit. Everyone was very pleased with the product so I continued with the body butters and grew into soaps. We are now selling shampoo/conditioners, lip balms, kamiik grease and of course what we started with, body butters. We would like to keep expanding, we just need more space. We are quickly outgrowing our kitchen!

We are receiving orders from all over by using Facebook, word of mouth and attending craft shows. We have attended the January 2016 Northern Lights Tradeshow in Ottawa, as well as ‘The Crafted’ show and sale at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in November 2016 as a representative of the artisans of Nunavut. At both events, we sold out and gained new customers!

We receive a lot of support from family, friends and other businesses. We also have people approach us letting us know who to reach out to for grants. Many people want us to succeed, it’s amazing!

Friends and family have shared their ideas with us. For example, we were approached by Meeka Mike to use Bowhead oil into our soap and butter. It mixed in very well with our all natural products that were already healing eczema! The Bowhead is very special to many Inuit because the whale was banned and was lost as part of our day to day food. By adding Bowhead into our skincare line, we made Inuit feel like we were reclaiming the Bowhead from the Whalers.

I was told a story of an elder who cried when he heard there was bowhead oil in our soap. He knew that the bowhead oil would heal his eczema and the bowhead whale had a very special meaning. We expanded into Narwhal & Beluga whale oil. My husband designs the soap to mimic the skin of the Whale.

We have had Elders approach us suggesting to us to use what Inuit have used for centuries. Many Inuit are sharing with me all the healing methods they have used for hundreds of years. Inuit are asking me to take this knowledge and bring it into our product. To use and to pass on the knowledge onto the next generation using a new method. This made me very emotional because I am being entrusted with old knowledge.

We also started incorporating tundra into our soap as a natural exfoliant and to make the soap look pretty. Same as the Bowhead oil, it gave our soap a special place for people in Nunavut and for people outside of Nunavut. We are receiving orders from all over because of the special meaning that the soap has, as well as the fact that it is crafted right here in Nunavut! Basically, this soap is Nunavut in a bar.

It is quite a challenge running a home-based business in Nunavut. To add to this, my husband and I work full time jobs. I have a casual job with Canadian North and I also sell Mary Kay cosmetics on the side. I took the Kamik making program and was in an anaana and me sewing group. My need to learn everything Inuit is like a thirst I can’t quench. It has made it more challenging, but a challenge that I was ready for. It’s as if something in me has awoken!

The shipping through Canada Post was very expensive. It was eating half of the profit we were making! We were patient and kept moving forward knowing that we will one day figure out a way to avoid the high postal costs. In August 2016, we placed an order using the Sivumut grant through Kakivak and we were able to go from a small operation to using industrial sized products. Using the ship was a big cost saver!

I see now that selling Mary Kay prepared me for Uasau Soap. It was very hard for me to accept money from people even though they wanted the product. I had to learn to accept the money, to keep stock, to take orders. Mary Kay sells itself so I’ve never had to push the product. Same with Uasau Soap. Having a support system, like my husband, was the only way that I could have worked at both jobs, taken the mandatory courses with the airline and took the sewing programs. I wanted to do it all at once and I am still learning to juggle life in general!

Using Facebook as a page, not as an account, has been both challenging and helpful. We have missed some orders as we transitioned from an account to a page but it has been helpful to get the word out. We’ve also started an Instagram page, which is great advertisement! You can follow us at @uasau_soap!

Some other opportunities have been lost because we have been so busy. I am taking those as a learning curve and to be easy on myself. It can be very easy to bash yourself. I am quick to stop that voice and remind myself that we are juggling a lot.

The support has been so great with friends. I have a big vision that Uasau Soap will help Inuit thrive. The business can grow and can go in many traditional ways. I often see visions swimming in my head and I have to calm myself and say one thing at a time, it will happen all in good time!

Our time is either our full-time job, our home-based businesses or spending time with friends and family. You need to have the play time as well as the work time, or you will get frustrated and resentful. Slow and steady wins the race!