If you heard that a new shop called North Pacific Utopian Wares had opened in downtown Aberdeen, what would come to mind? If you guessed organic lotions, oils and other aromatic products you’d be correct.
The business got its start at the Shoppes at Riverside and the owners, Nathan and Julie Kennedy, are trying to carve out a retail niche appealing to Harborites looking for locally made goods that are chemical-free.
In the last few years, they have taught themselves how to make their own lotions, essential oils, lip balms and teas that they sell along with products from other Pacific Northwest vendors. Nathan said he started learning about creating lotions and oils from online guides and an organic chemistry textbook he found.
After starting with a simple lotion made with bees wax and borax, the husband-wife duo now makes a wide assortment of products that treat headaches, act as sunscreen without harmful chemicals, or simply make a room smell good. The store is filled with various jars of scented oils, colorful bars of soap and more.
The store moved to 228 W. Market St. in Aberdeen last month. The new location is a little smaller, but it’s also easier to find for those strolling through Aberdeen.
Although the two haven’t gotten much formal training, their creation process for these natural products has gotten more sophisticated over time.
Hunched over a chemistry distillation set one morning in September, Nathan was checking on a batch of bay leaves sitting in a small spherical glass container, connected to another container below filled with boiling water. The setup looks similar to something from a high school chemistry lab with curvy glass tubes and different liquids.
Nathan explains that by boiling water below, it pulls the oils out of the bay leaves, then pushes it through a series of glass tubes so they can collect the liquid.
“It’s a vacuum process,” he says. “You have the steam which has a certain amount of pressure. It’s not a lot, but it goes into the bulk flask. It will push the steam through the material.”
After several hours of percolating, Nathan is left with a few-hundred milliliters of bay leaf oil, along with a separate jar of “hydrosol” — the aromatic water that remains after distilling the leaves. According to him, bay leaf oil works well at treating the flu and other respiratory infections, as well as a topical treatment for rashes, sores, and dental infections.
The leaves are from a friend’s house in Raymond, and most of their products are made with plants and oils harvested from around Washington and Oregon. Kennedy is always willing to dish out free advice on making these products themselves, and says the Pacific Northwest has a wealth of plants suitable for making oils like theirs.
“We have tons of stuff around here that people don’t even know about,” he said. “Dandelion is a great one, and most people mow these things down. The roots are one of the best liver detoxifiers you can use.”
Kennedy added that if anyone has botanical materials they’re interested in selling or turning into oil, they’re happy to make a deal.
“If you’re growing something in the right way that can produce an oil, bring it to us or give us a call to come harvest some, and we’ll split it with you,” he said. “We’ll distill it, and you can have half.”
In the near future, Nathan and Julie say they want to start holding distillation classes for those interested in learning how to distill essential oils or make lotions themselves. Nathan said ideally the store would purchase a few smaller distillation kits, and those who sign up and pay for the class could take the kits home with them to do their own distillation.
Some of their products are available online at www.npuw.biz.
For anyone interested in visiting North Pacific Utopian Wares, they’re open Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The store is easily recognizable from the outside by its multi-colored prayer flags.