Around 1999, I decided to put down my can of shave gel and try a brush and soap. I bought a cheap, pharmacy boar brush and a puck of Colgate mug soap. I put my soap in an old coffee mug and lathered up. I used Colgate for a while then, at the advice of my father, switched over to another drug store classic, Williams Mug Soap. I used Willams for the next decade or so. After ten years of using the same thing, I began to get bored. I bought some Colonel Conk and that became my soap of choice for the next five or so years. Eventually, Conk was replaced by Proraso. A friend of mine was a big fan of artisan shave soaps and, for a long time, he tried to convince me to use them. I had been wet shaving for so many years, I thought I knew everything. I figured artisan soaps were just a dumb, hipster fad. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I bought my first tub of artisan shave soap, Lisa’s Natural Herbal Creations’ Florida Freeze. That purchase was an eye opener and got me started down the soap buying rabbit hole.
One of the first successful shave soap artisans is Mike Coon, of Mike’s Natural Soaps. Mike has been making shave soap since 2009. Mike popularized the model artisans use today; soaps are made in small batches and with high quality, all-natural (or mostly natural) ingredients. Though many mass produced soaps perform well, they often lack the skin nourishing properties and creative scents found in artisan soaps.
Mike’s Artisan Soaps got the ball rolling. Eventually, more artisans got into the shave soap game. Eleven years later, there are so many artisan soaps, it can be hard to decide what to buy next. Other than Mike’s Natural Soaps, who is still producing great soap, other popular artisans include: Wholly Kaw, Barrister & Mann, Catie’s Bubbles, Grooming Dept, Declaration Grooming, Zingari Man, Ariana & Evans and Talbot Shaving, among many others. Even though it can be hard to choose, you simply cannot go wrong with any of these brands.
Other than the enjoyment we get from artisan-made soaps, there is another reason to use these products. At a time when small business are having trouble surviving, it up to us to reward these passionate artisans for their dedication, creativity and willingness to take risks. No one is getting rich making artisan shave soaps. The market simply isn’t big enough. That said, some artisans have turned a labor of love into a career. These small companies range in size from one-man (or woman) operations to small businesses with a handful of employees. Small businesses stimulate local economies, help to grow other small businesses and bring innovation to the marketplace. Also, we consumers have a direct line to most artisan soap makers. I frequently bounce ideas off of one of my favorite artisans. I don’t think I would get the same response from Proctor & Gamble.
For those of us who want to transform the mindless task of shaving into a more enjoyable sensory experience, artisan soaps are the most significant part of the equation. Though I never actually said it to him, my friend was right. I should have tried artisan soaps when he first recommended them. In recent years, I have tried many and have found my favorites. My wife would say that I have “too many favorites.” I admit, it can hard to choose what to use on a given morning. In fact, sometimes it feels like I’m getting drunk at a wine tasting. Since making the switch to artisan soaps, however, shaving has definitely not been boring.