In this heartfelt and candid series, Partners—in Business and Bed, couples discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of living and working together.
Bernice and Justin Clarke remember the night all too well—the night one of them first fell for the other.
“I got a phone call from Bernice saying that her daughter broke her leg, and she needed a ride to the hospital, so I helped her out,” says Justin.
“That’s when I fell in love,” says Bernice. “I didn’t have any help, and he came literally in the night and swooped my daughter up and brought her to the hospital—and my heart melted.”
Justin, who’s originally from Newfoundland, met Bernice while they both lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a northern territory in Canada. There, they fostered a cross-cultural relationship, moved in, and now make soap together, derived from spiritually powerful bowhead whale blubber, and launch UasaU, a business name inspired by the English word wash and creatively adopted into Inuktitut. These days, they’re making anywhere from 150 to 300 bars each day—all proudly hand-cut, hand-packaged, hand-labeled, and hand-placed into the mail.
Talk a little more about your soap-making process.
Justin: Last year I was fortunate enough to be part of the hunt. I was part of the camp. Once the hunt happened, and they were successful, they brought the whale to the community. I was there on land. I helped sharpen all the tools. I helped divide up all the whale, and the elders accepted me.
Bernice: Justin came back from the hunt three days later. He literally carved himself into our culture. It was so humbling.
It was beautiful, knowing that we were going to create beautiful soap with the blubber he came home with. He rendered it outside for days on a fire, like the old way. I really didn’t know if I had the permission to do this, because the bowhead whale was taken from overhunting by the European whalers over 100 years ago, so we didn’t eat it anymore. We didn’t use the blubber anymore. It wasn’t spoken of anymore.
But Elders were very, very touched I was able to bring blubber back in a different way and that it was healing.
Share a sticky situation you’ve run into together. How did you overcome it?
Justin: I’m going to say something a bit personal right now.
Bernice: Honey, I love you...
My husband fought cancer. We both had surgery at the same time and different parts of us needed to be fixed. It was like life planned that moment for us because we were at a point where we were almost splitting up and divine intervention came and said, “You two are not breaking up.”
We ended up healing. We were alone in Ottawa together and his parents came here and ran the business for us, ran the house for us—
Justin: Took care of our children. Put the orders out.
Bernice: Kept everything going like we were still here, and when we came back, we rested but still were working and did not stop. If he thinks I’m doing too much, he’ll take over so it’s like this balance. We’re learning how to balance everything.
Justin: Divide and conquer.
What does work/life balance mean to each of you?
Bernice: We live hard. We play hard.
Bernice: We work very, very hard, and then we, like, unplug the whole world and just do nothing because we’re constantly doing something when we’re home.
Justin: Yeah, we’re fishing, boating, skating. We are going to dance class.
Bernice: It’s also important to have friends. You have to integrate friendship because you can’t always work. You have to play.
Bernice: We invite friends over.
Justin: Dinner parties.
Justin: Then we go dancing every once in a while. She likes to dance a lot.
Bernice: I love to socialize. It’s so important and so we integrate our friends. We try and do as much as we can. We try but we’re always working.
Justin: We’re always doing something.
Bernice: We like it. This is our passion.
Justin: Bernice is a very hardworking mom. She works at a land claims organization and also for an airline as a counter agent. Then we come home after 5 pm and we work until 11 pm most nights, filling orders of soap, because it’s not a job for us. We love it. It’s a pastime. Some people do yoga. We do soap.
Bernice: If we’re not making soap, one of us is playing with our daughter or going through the paperwork.
How did you initially feel about working with each other, and what are your thoughts on it now?
Bernice: It took a while for us to be able to work together. We were always fighting.
Justin: I was a chef by trade. So I ran restaurants, I ran menus, I did business planning, I did staffing. So I brought something different to the table than what Bernice did. I could see Bernice’s path, but I couldn’t figure out the road she was on, how she wanted to get there.
I’m so pigheaded. I’m such a Type A personality. I’ll take three months to do something and have it done right the first time. Bernice seems like she studies the night before the test. I’m a planner.
Bernice: I’m a jumper. Very much. I’m like, “Let’s do it. Let’s see what happens.” Justin’s like, “Let’s pace it. Let’s weigh it. Let’s see what it looks like in the dark and then we’ll do it again.” It drives me crazy.
When it comes to business and romance, how well do these mix together for you?
Justin: Sure, we're like chalk and cheese some days—
Bernice: That’s the thing—
Justin: Because we’re so headstrong.
Bernice: Yep, that’s the thing. It almost broke us. It almost ended, like with labeling, with ordering these little boxes. My husband does all those. He is amazing. He’s always on the internet looking at how to make it better. There were times we’d be arguing and fighting because we were so frustrated. We both didn’t know how, and we didn’t want to give up.
Justin: We couldn’t connect. I couldn’t get across how I wanted things to look because I had a vision, but I couldn’t find that vision. Then Bernice and I would talk and it would just not come out right, but then when we started mixing together and she started seeing what I wanted and I started feeling what she wanted, it came together really nicely.
Bernice: It’s made us so strong. We don’t talk sometimes and we’re thinking the same thing. We’re like twins now.
What’s your dream date night?
Bernice: My husband playing with my ears—just earlobing—and I’m going in and out of sleep. He’s watching a show.
Justin: We just dream of just a few hours alone in bed just resting, cuddling, watching movies, earlobing.
And what’s a typical date night like right now?
Justin: Barbecue, feed the kids, then soap and then—
Bernice: We don’t have date nights. We need to have them, I think.
Justin: We look back at our soap molds and say, “See you in the morning.” That’s usually it.
Do you have any goals you’ve set together?
Justin: We’ve never really talked about business goals.
Bernice: We’re trying to keep the water above our nostrils—
Justin: Below our nostrils. We’re still breathing.
Bernice: No, actually, we’re going to get gills now.
Justin: Our biggest goal is to keep being happy. We want to grow as a company, but we want to leave a legacy for our kids. And we don’t care about us because we’re happy and we’re living it.Illustration by Shout