Hand wrapped in brightly hued contemporary artworks and infused with vibrant scents, each bar of Anto Yukon soap intends to uplift and transport you. Hand poured and cured in Whitehorse, founder Kym Rempel has grown a home-based hobby into a thriving bath and body business complete with a studio and retail space.
Made from 100% natural essential oil blends that are distilled in house, the soap is swirled with soft colour imparted by the ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients. Rempel annually gathers wild rose petals, rosehips, arnica, fireweed and glacial silt for the line which also includes body and face oils, bath salt, and a muscle rub.
With soap bars named after local destinations and Canadian sites that are further afar, such as Dawson City and BC’s Clayoquot Sound, Anto Yukon pays homage to breathtaking landscapes — bringing a small moment of beauty into your home through scents and designs inspired by nature. Read on to learn what fuels Rempel’s creative spirit and how she’s connecting with both her local community in the Yukon and the world at large, one beautiful bar at a time.
How does the Yukon inspire you and what you make?
The landscape element permeates everything we do here. That is for sure a source of inspiration. We're lucky enough that we can wild harvest here without negative environmental impact. If you live in a place where a lot of people are doing that, it can actually cause more harm than benefit, but we just don't have that concern here. We have super medicinal and amazing wild ingredients that grow here, and that's an awesome benefit and something that we're always eager to include more of in our products.
A lot of our soaps are named after places. Plus, a lot of the artwork on our products sort of mimics different landscapes and you can see the connection between the two things. It’s a really local Yukon brand that tourists love, but we're not trying to cater to the soundbite tourism of Yukon, such as the Klondike Gold Rush or Northern Lights. You can see these elements flowing through our products, but in a beautiful and subtle way. We connect to a lot of places that are special to us, ones that are not necessarily on the beaten track for tourists. We live in the middle of the wilderness, really remotely, but we're bringing luxury, beauty and art into what we're doing. And that's super important, because we don't have to live in Toronto to love and enjoy that.
Have you always lived in the Yukon?
No. I was born in Winnipeg and growing up we moved a lot, every three years or so we would move to a different city. During my elementary school years, we were in Alberta and we spent a lot of time in the mountains there. Then my parents relocated us to Southern Ontario, which I hated. Coming from the mountains, landscape has always been very important to me. Being in the city hub was not something that resonated with me. The year I graduated high school I bought a Greyhound bus ticket that went as far away from Ontario as it could go, which happened to the Yukon. And I didn't know anything about this place. I didn't research it or anything. I ended up here and it was so beautiful. I didn't stay at that point, but it always held a special place for me. Then I moved here permanently in 2009.
What is unique about the soap you make?
It's hard to be unique in the bar soap world. There are so many options out there. But I do think we have a few unique things going for us. One thing is our huge offering of different scents and that we use complex essential oil blends. I think a lot of other lines try to stick to cheaper essential oils, and rightly so because that makes sense financially, but we're really focused on having exciting, super unique scent blends. We’re also really focused on a product that gives you joy throughout the whole process. The branding and the visual aspect of our product is equally important to the product itself. We've partnered with a couple of artists, such as former Yukoner Meghan Hildebrand and Jimy Sloan of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and so many people have commented that they iron out the wrapper so that they can continue looking at it after they've used the soap. I think that really sets us apart from other brands as well.
How do you incorporate the Yukon into your products?
Before I moved into soap making full-time in 2017, I worked in land management. I had worked for Kluane First Nation, which is a self-governing First Nation located up the Alaska Highway. It's a very small town that’s super rural and right beside Kluane National Park, which has the tallest mountains in Canada and glaciers that are just insanely beautiful. During my time there, I got to travel to incredible backcountry spots that I fell deeply in love with, and I held that love with me. When I started coming up with this idea to name soaps after certain places, I really wanted to think about a way to bring people there in every way I could. To make people feel or see these places that are so special. We do that not through one element, but through many, starting with the name of the soap. The name goes along with the wrapper, and we spent a lot of time picking specific wrappers to go with certain soaps that reflect on that place. And then it’s also through the scent and the look of the bar. Obviously, we can't necessarily recreate the exact smell but just the feeling of the smell. Our Kluane Glacial Silt Soap, for instance, has lavender and mint, which is not out on the glaciers, but that minty smell gives you that freshness of being out on the ice and the wind coming off it. We also collect glacial silt from a receding glacier in the Kluane area, so the land is actually in the bar.
Can you tell us about the Anto Yukon shop?
Yeah, I made that decision early on and it's a really small store. It's also not right on the tourist strip, so traffic is plentiful and good for us but it's not constant all the time. The model works because people are working in the back, behind the scenes, and when customers come in, staff move into the store. We share our time between the two different aspects.
And our products are really small, so most of our space is filled with other people's products. And from that perspective, we do try to carry Yukon-made products in every category. But my brand survives because of other Canadian stores and recognizing that ‘made local’ means made in Canada, means small batch and supporting companies that have an artistic focus and ethic. I do the same thing in my store. I consider small Canadian brands to be equally legitimate to the Yukon brands.
What do you consider to be special about being a Yukon maker?
It's an interesting place to be a maker. There's challenges that are heightened, and then there's benefits that are heightened. One of the really amazing benefits is just the joy and support that people have for you as a business, whether it be customers, individuals, or even different government programs or organizations. They just want to see us succeed, which I think is really different from other places. I know that programs exist in other places, but usually you have to search them out. Here people are just so thrilled, they come up to you and try to help you. That's definitely one of the best things about being up here.
What’s the biggest challenge to being a maker in the Yukon?
Pretty much any product or service you need is challenging to get and very expensive, whether it’s getting your supplies, ingredients, printing, even getting graphic design done, or help with accounting. And then shipping is a huge challenge, too. A lot of southern Canadians or Americans expect free shipping, or very, very cheap shipping, and our costs up here are way higher. It’s not something that we can offer, and we get a lot of complaints about our shipping costs. Another challenge is that we have extremely high rent here for both commercial and residential spaces. It’s very, very challenging to find space. I know a lot of makers or businesses that have a great idea and just have nowhere to operate from.
How do you foster the local community through your product?
With the team that we have at Anto, it's really important to me to have a very open and friendly work environment. I think it's not so much about just the work getting done, per se, but that we spend so much time with each other, so you want to be supportive of each other and enjoy going to work. That's super important to me. More broadly in Whitehorse, there are so many female makers and it's been amazing to connect with people. I send messages to other people all the time, and ask them questions about different things, like lawyers or accounting or insurance. It’s so great to have a team of businesses that are kind of at the same level. We're not super small, but we're not big. We're in this growth phase and it's amazing to have all these people that are so happy to share. That community is just so lovely and helpful.
How have you been able to connect with a market beyond the Yukon?
The initial stage was mostly through Instagram. In the early days when I started making soap, I spent a long time really nerding out on the branding and doing a ton of research on that whole aspect. I was so proud of it. I'd find stores I like on social media, and I was looking at what types of products they carry. And I was doing that as I was developing my own branding. After I launched, one of my favorite stores reached out to me right away and asked to carry the products. Even before I really had hardly any local stores carrying my product, I was shipping out to that store owner in DC. Her Instagram game was huge, and for the first year I could trace this linkage between her posting about my products and my own new customers. It totally started through Instagram, and that's where I source a lot of the products that I carry in the store now as well. What’s been really cool is that people that carry my soaps will follow my store and, from that, a couple of other Yukon makers have had their products picked up by different stores that carry mine, which is amazing.
How do you cultivate joy as a maker?
I surround myself with beautiful things. Right now, ceramics are a love of mine, and my whole house is filled with beautiful items that give me joy and can uplift those quiet moments. That's what we're creating through our business with these beautiful products. And I feel joy at work creating them and wrapping them up in the store. It's an amazing experience to have a store like ours, where people just feel lighter when they walk in the door. So many customers come in, and they know us, and say "Oh, I was having a bad day, and I had to come here just to rejuvenate." Even if they don't buy something that honestly doesn't matter to us. It's that feeling that brings me joy.