a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Feb, 2013

It’s about soap, but not really

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!|Ottawa|Yaktivism

Yesterday I wrote about shopping and value, perceived or otherwise. Today I wanted to share a recent purchase I made.

Is it possible to be addicted to a cake of soap? I didn’t used to think so, but that was before Turkish Fig soap made its way into my life.

You are probably wondering what Turkish figs smell like. This scent was new to me and for a change it was something other than the citrus or coconut and vanilla scents that are usually found in my arsenal. Turkish fig is unlike anything I have ever smelled before. It’s fresh and uplifting without being sweet, like something botanical without being floral. I can’t put my finger on it but I love it. There are poppy seeds embedded into the soap as well, which gives it a really great feel. Whenever I use it I just think: ahhhhh, HEAVEN. And 30 minutes later I realize I’m still in the shower, remembering I have actual work to do.

The other day Sarah and I went to Ikea for lunch and stopped by terra20 to buy a cake of this soap because my last precious sliver had finally vanished down the drain. Here’s what it looks like when new:

Purple Urchin Soap

There don’t seem to be many poppy seeds in there, but trust me, they’re there.

This soap is made by a local company called Purple Urchin. They have a storefront on Somerset but terra20 carries a bunch of their products too. I was tempted to buy a whole ARRAY of different things but I had to restrain myself. I was allowing myself this one little thing because I see it as an essential.

But here’s the thing I wanted to talk about, this bar of soap costs five dollars.

I can practically feel people cringing as I write that, especially my mother and her mother before her. Is that a lot to pay for soap? Kind of, yes, especially since you can buy a dozen bars of soap for the same price at the grocery store. Five bucks may seem pricey, but the way I see it, there is value to be found there. Here’s the thing: cheap things always cost more in the long run. Know what I mean? What do cheap soaps do to my skin? And what about when the suds get flushed down the drain? This is something I worry about.

What should a good bar of soap cost anyway?

I don’t want to get into the science and chemistry of soap because I’d need a science degree to understand all of the information that’s out there, but I do like the fact that my soap is made out of ingredients I recognize: olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, vegetable oil, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, fragrance, wax colour, papaver somniferum seeds (poppy seeds). Also, terra20 researches all the brands they carry, so if it meets their criteria, I don’t worry about it because someone has done all of the thinking on my behalf. I can shop there pretty much worry free.

What other value is there in a five dollar cake of soap? Well, it’s made by a small, Ottawa-area business. And this is important to me. (I consider myself a local business too you know!) By shopping locally we’re keeping fellow Ottawans employed and prosperous, many of whom are supporting families just like yours and mine. By shopping locally our money stays in the community. I know there are people out there who don’t give a fig (haha, see what I did there?) about shopping locally, and I ask those people to consider the fact that if there were no local, independent businesses, our consumer landscape would be pretty bleak and monotonous. Well-functioning cities are made of many things: communities, culture, and consumer experiences (think restaurants, concerts, shopping etc), and businesses play a significant factor in our overall satisfaction with where we’ve decided to live, not to mention the value of our real estate. If you want to live in a vibrant and happy, community (and I do!), shopping locally sometimes has to be a part of it.

Phew. That’s a lot to be say about a five-dollar cake of soap, isn’t it? Maybe it’s more than we are used to spending, I know, but I think it’s money well spent. At the very least it just means I’ll refrain from buying that latte at Starbucks next time I’m driving by.

What do you think about five dollar soap? Yay or nay? What kinds of consumer goods you do shell out the extra bucks for?

18 Responses to "It’s about soap, but not really"

1 | Pamela

February 28th, 2013 at 9:50 am


I think you know that I feel pretty much the same as you do!

2 | Stefania

February 28th, 2013 at 10:11 am


Well worth it.
I have vivid memories of my mother and an Italian neighbour making their own soap in this woman’s basement. It was back-breaking work. They would have never dreamed about paying $5 for a bar of soap, however, they had no problems spending hours making their own despite the hard labour involved. It’s where you choose to place value.

3 | Judy

February 28th, 2013 at 10:23 am


I always think there is value is spending more when you know where it came from (I am sure you can guess why).

There is something to be said for knowing you are supporting people in employment and can see the results whether it be locally owned (and manufactured in this case), regionally made or Fair Trade. There is value in investing in people and the good products they make.

4 | Brenda A

February 28th, 2013 at 10:32 am


My current shower soap is the blackberry bar from Purple Urchin. Nothing wrong with that!

5 | Kerry

February 28th, 2013 at 10:34 am


I consider good soap to be an affordable luxury. Something I can use and feel as if I am treating myself – and I have treated myself to many bars of Purple Urchin Soap. A great local choice! To stay on budget I buy a lot of my clothes from consignment shops and I almost always brew my own coffee and tea. Changing those habits wouldn’t make me feel pampered the way a beautiful bar of soap and 10 minutes in the shower does.

6 | Rebecca

February 28th, 2013 at 10:43 am


When we switched our cleaning products and our personal care products (soaps etc) to natural selections, at the time, years ago, options were limited so paying more was simply part of the choice.

Now, options are a bit more readily available and costs have come down and while they are still often more expensive than other alternatives, I can’t imagine going back. We’ve been fortunate enough to adjust our budget to suit these changes.

Same certain food selections. We only buy Fairtrade coffee and organic free-run eggs. It’s more expensive, but we just found places to make up for it. I do recognize that not everyone has the luxury to add these items into their budget so it’s not always a matter of choice but reality. Which is stressful I’m sure.

Being a conscious consumer where I can (buying local, Fairtrade etc) is something I try to be – it doesn’t always work out that way (budget is still probably my biggest inhibitor in buying some products that are more mindful), but slowly, each year, I introduce these options into our everyday.

I’m still learning, but I’m trying!

7 | Chantal

February 28th, 2013 at 10:51 am


I think I already told you that I use a natural soap to wash my hair. The original bar came from a soap maker in the London area and to get another one from her Etsy shop would cost me upwards of 12$, which I have decided is just a bit too steep for my wallet. I am currently working my way through some natural soaps that were gifted to me (love) and then my plan is to make my way to Terra20 for some Purple Urchin soap. I bought their dead sea face mask at the opening of the store and I love it. I also love how these hand made soaps are seasoned and last so long. Unlike the dove style soap that I use for general washing (yes we use the cheaper soap too, its a mix) which seems to dissolve so much quicker.

8 | dawn mclean

February 28th, 2013 at 11:02 am


“the more you pay, the more it’s worth”

9 | Lenny

February 28th, 2013 at 12:42 pm


Being mindful is important and small luxuries are doable but we must be cautious not to assign too much virture in choosing to practice “enoughness”. Choice afterall is a luxury in itself.

10 | lacoop

February 28th, 2013 at 6:33 pm


Good piece Andrea. I think price is only one factor in buying something. We really do look at factors like “is it made locally”, “does it harm the environment”, “does it even work”. So, sometimes it makes more sense to spend more on a product because the long term benefits make sense. Too often in our society we sell out our future so we can take short cuts right now…that’s not very smart. One thing though: we’ve been to terra20 and bought stuff (because of your writing about it) and we like it…but I would never let them do all the thinking for me…I will continue to check ingredients, owner and so forth…just because a store I like provides the product…people can be wrong or just out of step with your values on some things.

11 | Tricia

March 1st, 2013 at 11:37 am


Just curious…is the Purple Urchin soap the same cost at terra20 as it is at their own store on Somerset?

12 | andrea

March 1st, 2013 at 11:59 am


Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful comments.

Tricia – I have no idea! Purple Urchin has a online store but it’s “closed” at the moment.

13 | Wendy

March 1st, 2013 at 12:20 pm


I love the way a bar of soap can make me feel!

Silly as it sounds, I have bought a special bar of soap and couldn’t wait to get home and lather up:-)

Smells are an important part for me. So, 5 dollars is pretty cheap if it makes me feel good!

14 | Meghan Maack

March 1st, 2013 at 12:39 pm


Purple Urchin is the best thing to happen in Chinatown in a very long time! I am highly addicted to their face cream – “Extreme Cream”. No more drugstore face creams for me. Now I just have to try their soaps. It is so great to go into a store and meet the people making the products. I made some suggestions the last time I went in (bigger containers of Extreme Cream!) and part of me thinks they may actually implement them…….love this place.

15 | coffeewithjulie

March 1st, 2013 at 1:35 pm


My husband will always buy a high quality product and then take care of it for life. (Naturally, this doesn’t work for soap, but you know what I mean.) Unlike me, he is fortunate in that his clothing sizes never change. So he will buy a good piece of outdoor equipment and know it’s worth the money to pay for the better quality rather than have to replace a poorer quality product in a few years. I’m not always the best at this. I will get sucked into a sale on something. But I’m starting to come around. I also agree with Kerry that a good bar of soap is an affordable luxury … a little something special to enjoy each day.

16 | Jen

March 8th, 2013 at 10:53 am


Totally worth it! And if you feel guilty enough to have to justify it, think about “cost per use”…You could spend $5 on a fancy coffee that you scarf down once, or $5 on a bar of soap that you’ll use and enjoy every day for a few weeks. (Same reason I spend a ridiculous amount of money on a good bra that I’ll wear every day until it falls apart vs. a special occasion dress I’ll likely only wear once…)

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March 13th, 2013 at 10:29 am


[…] a new patron to the Fishbowl family today: terra20! I’ve written about terra20 before, most recently as it pertained to a bar of my favourite […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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