Note from Barrister and Mann: Trevor contacted us (and a few other vendors) awhile back to get some info for a paper he was writing on traditional wet shaving for a class. We liked it so much that we asked if we could publish it, so here it is, in all its foamy, shave-y glory.
Maybe it’s a nostalgia for a time long lost. A time when, as the saying goes, men were men. They smoked pipes, and went hunting, and drank rye out of hip flasks. They worked in steel mills, in the flashes of fire and darkness, in the dust of furnace rooms, and in the scorching sun of their farmland. It’s a picture of self–reliance: a jawline hard as iron and eyes narrowed into a look that might be challenging, might be skeptical, but could never be afraid.
Or maybe it’s the skin-pampering qualities of natural botanical ingredients like coconut milk, shea butter, and Australian tea tree oil.
Whatever the cause, wet shaving has been seeing explosive growth in recent years. In stark contrast to modern five or six blade razors stuffed with lubrication strips, batteries, rubber grips, and rotating parts, wet shaving utilizes a single, unadulterated blade. And in place of a gooey formulation of synthetic chemicals in a can, the wet shaver works up a lather with a badger hair brush and soap hand-poured by an artisan. Wet shaving is a rejection of the mass produced in favor of the crafted, the cheaply assembled in favor of the skillfully fashioned, and the mainstream in favor of the old-school.
Think wet shaving sounds like an expensive hobby? Actually, many make the switch to wet shaving because it’s significantly cheaper than more modern methods. A puck of good soap can be had for a few bucks and will last for months. Frugal guys tired of spending thirty dollars on a twelve-pack of Gillettes can buy a straight razor, use it for the rest of their life, and then pass it on to their grandson one day.
Although wet shaving may be significantly cheaper, it provides a much better shave. There’s a reason why high-class barbers still use straight razors. They shave closer, tug less, minimize irritation, and leave the skin feeling softer than a baby’s bottom. The majority of wet shavers tout this quality of the shave as the greatest benefit.
“The experience of shaving with a multi-blade cartridge and chemical foam from a pressurized can is less than stellar,” says Joseph Abbatangelo, cofounder of Italian Barber online store. “The internet, social media and YouTube have opened up the world to different experiences we didn’t realize existed. The growth of traditional wet shaving rests on the back of the internet, a real grass roots movement.”
Paula Carius, of Barrister and Mann shaving soaps, agrees that men are beginning to focus more on quality and the experience of a truly great shave.
“We have found that men today are looking for a better overall shaving experience,” Carius says. “Wet shaving with a good artisan shaving soap helps moisturize and soothe the skin. It also helps provide a closer shave.”
Small businesses like Barrister and Mann have been seeing increased growth as wet shaving makes its comeback. While the last three-quarters of a century have been dominated by cheaply made, highly advertised disposable razors, a swelling shift towards the methods of the past has recently begun to hold. Startups, like Barrister and Mann or Stirling Soap Company, scramble to keep up with the demand.
“Year to year, we have grown every year we have been in business, and I’m confident that this year will be no different,” says Rod Lovan, owner of Stirling Soap Company. “I do know that there are still men and women out there who are not happy with their current shaving setup, both in terms of cost and also the satisfaction they get from their shave. It’s our job to find a way to reach those potential customers and let them know that there is a better way if they are willing to put in the initial time investment required to gain the skill and manual dexterity to do it properly.”
Lovan started his business with his wife, Amanda, after realizing the low quality of soaps available at the average American drugstore or supermarket. They set out on a mission to provide clean and natural soaps at an affordable price, and they are now considered a trendsetter in the wet shaving market.
Barrister and Mann has similar roots.
“Will actually started Barrister and Mann during his second year of Law School in Boston,” Paula says. “He has very sensitive skin and found it very difficult to shave every day. Because of this he started experimenting with different ingredients to make a soap that would work for him.”
His “experiment” soon became pretty successful.
“After being in business for about two weeks Will called us [his parents] and said that he could not keep up with the soap orders,” Paula recounts. “We then made the decision to move production to Central New York where it is today.”
Will now owns one of the most respected artisan soap companies in the industry. And as more and more men discover the benefits of wet shaving, business should only continue to gain momentum, both in and outside of the current market.
“We believe traditional wet shaving will continue to grow because now it’s starting to get international exposure,” says Abbatangelo. “The internet has made the world a lot smaller, and now a lot of our new clients are coming from outside of North America. As the global middle class grows, more men seek better experiences and traditional wet shaving is truly an affordable luxury.”
Abbatangelo said that his company grows every year: 25% in 2016 alone. Carius and Lovan also noted this continuous growth. But they all stress that, while they are optimistic, they see the market as far from a sure thing. Competing businesses are constantly emerging, cheap knock-offs flood in from overseas, and, perhaps most threatening of all, big corporations and smothering overregulation loom in the background.
“At some point, if wet shaving continues to grow, the Proctor & Gambles and Gillettes will start getting involved to get their market share back,” says a concerned Lovan. “There will also be regulatory hurdles put in place for smaller companies like us, such as the Cosmetic Safety Act that Diane Feinstein has been trying to push through for years.”
But perhaps they need not worry too much. What wet shavers demand is something fundamentally at odds with what companies like Schick or Gillette could ever offer. Their businesses have become popular for a reason: men are seeking quality, craftsmanship, and customer service, and the cheap knockoffs and corporate giants will never be able to provide.