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Montreal-based The Unscented Company wants to make soap cleaner

“You don’t clean your environment, your home, with toxic products (that have) synthetic fragrances,” founder Anie Rouleau says.

Anie Rouleau said she wants to “redefine the notion of clean.”

Traditional cleaning products make clean surfaces, but what’s in those products — and the plastic waste that’s created — aren’t so clean, she said.

“You don’t clean your environment, your home, with toxic products, with synthetic fragrances, with products that are not biodegradable, yes, the soap, the detergent is important, but what’s left behind is also important,” Rouleau said. 

Rouleau is founder and CEO of The Unscented Company, a Montreal-based firm that sells more environmentally friendly cleaning products and attempts to reduce the amount of plastic waste that’s created by, among other things, offering its customers the option of refilling their liquid soap bottles, rather than buying new ones.

“If we want to redefine the notion of clean, we have to think about the product inside being natural, non-toxic, biodegradable, but you’ve got to think about the packaging,” Rouleau said. “I really wanted to have a business where I did take care of the environment with the product inside, but also with the plastic footprint.”

 Rouleau said she has been intolerant to scents since she was around 20 years old, so she began to make scent-free cleaning products and cosmetics at home.

A little more than seven years ago, she began to sell her unscented products.

“I really started with a mission of creating a natural home and body line that was exclusively unscented but I knew I did not want to be a soap company,” she said. She wanted to go further, by reducing the packaging.

Her products are carried in a number of retail stores across Canada, including some Rachelle Béry, Bulk Barn, Metro and IGA locations. Many of the retailers that sell her products have “refill stations,” where customers can refill their soap bottles without having to buy a new bottle.

“The bottle can be reused 1,000 times, the labels are vinyl, so if you wash them, it stays nice,” Rouleau said.

Her products are also sold in the United States and a store in Hong Kong. In January, they were featured on Goop — the online “lifestyle” retailer owned by actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Initially, she sold her products to other businesses — offices, gyms, yoga studios and veterinarians — under the name Baléco.

Some high-end restaurants put her soaps in their washrooms, so that customers wouldn’t wash their hands with strong-smelling soaps that would distract from the gastronomic experience, she said.

After about two years, she began to expand into the retail market.

In 2016, she officially launched The Unscented Company.

Rouleau admits that, at least at first, she was asking her customers a lot — she had to overcome fears that her products wouldn’t be as effective as traditional cleaning products and convince them to change their habits and start bringing their bottles of hand soap, laundry detergent and dish soap back to store to refill them.

There was also the fact that her products didn’t have a smell — something that many consumers associate with cleanliness.

“You have sleepless nights but I made the decision that I was ready to lose everything to build my business, I was comfortable with that,” she said.

While it took time, Rouleau said the business is profitable and growing.

As part of her environmental focus, Rouleau said she tries to keep her supply chain local — around 90 per cent of her suppliers are in Quebec.

“Everything is available, it’s more expensive, but I’d rather reduce my margin, create jobs here in Quebec and prove at the end that we’re able to be a profitable, environmentally friendly company,” she said. “That’s my personal mission.”

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