We had a chat with the founder of The Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company, which is a company focused on bringing you artisanally saponified vegan shaving soap. Each product is handmade, vegan, cruelty-free and never tested on animals. Want to learn more? Have a peek at our interview with John Brown of The Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company.
How did your business come about?
I began my business a couple of years ago after a friend and fellow volunteer at the local bike co-op asked me if I'd ever tried using a safety razor before. He was pretty enthusiastic, so I picked up a safety razor and gave it a shot. He was right. It was pretty great. I'd had a soapmaking hobby for years before that, so I decided to give making a decent shaving soap a shot. I looked up which ingredients seemed to be most important for a good shaving soap and made a couple of batches, and did a "how to" thread on a major wetshaving forum. The thread got a lot of attention, and people really seemed to enjoy the samples, so I decided to start selling it, and things have grown from there.
What is the process for making your soaps, and how does it differ from other brands?
I use the hot-process method, and I would guess that my process is pretty similar to most other artisanal shaving soap makers, as it's pretty hard to make a stearic-acid heavy soap via the cold-process method, since it seizes almost immediately and becomes pretty unwieldy.
Your products are entirely vegan friendly. Why did you choose to move away from the typical tallow and lanolin based formulas?
I'm vegan myself, so I wasn't interested in making a non-vegan formula, so when I found that some of the most well regarded shaving soaps on the market were also free of animal products, the decision to make a vegan shaving soap was a no-brainer.
How do your ingredients differ from non-vegan formulas?
Non-vegan soaps are typically tallow (beef fat) based, while vegan soaps tend to use a vegetable based stearic acid in combination with other oils.
Do you find the vegan friendly formulas differ in ways other than ingredients? Are they softer, more comfortable, etc?
My soap is fairly soft, but I believe that has more to do with using only Potassium Hydroxide to turn the fats and oils into soap, instead of a combination of Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide or Sodium Hydroxide alone. Using Potassium Hydroxide tends to make for a slicker soap and a smoother lather, and my soaps tend to last for a fair while under normal use, so there's no real benefit to a harder soap.
Your soaps have very unique fragrances. Where does the inspiration for these scents come from?
The inspiration comes from a variety of sources. Initially, I started with lavender and mint, because those scents are pretty common for personal products. I wanted to round them out a bit, so the lavender became a woody lavender, and the mint became vanilla/eucalyptus/mint, which gave them a little more richness than they would have had otherwise. After that, I was encouraged by a local retailer to make a bay rum soap. I'd never used Bay Rum before, and when I ordered my first bottle of West Indies Bay, I was a little surprised by its rather pungent scent. Being a fan of more balanced scents, I added citrus and vanilla and some herbal and woody notes, and came out with a tropical bay rum scent that's quite pleasant and which became my Santa Monica Bay Rum. After that came Topanga Fougere, which was my homage to Fougere Royale, the original fougere scent, in which I tried to create a similar fougere using only essential oils. Making that soap really helped me understand why fougere scents have been popular for more than a century.
What do you think makes a great shaving soap?
A great shaving soap is one that enables you to create a thick, slick, great smelling lather with ease, and that leaves a nice post-shave face feel. To me, those are the five essential components.
Do you have any shaving tips you would like to share?
If you're not perfectly happy with your shave, and you're using a reasonably good technique, then analyze the products you're using. If your brush is too stiff or too floppy, swap it. If your soap doesn't smell nice and isn't giving you a good lather and a nice-feeling face after your shave, swap it. If your blades are too harsh or to dull, swap them. Most importantly, spend some time making sure your razor is the right one for you. For me, and for many other folks, I've found that a razor that's too mild actually causes more irritation, as doing repeated passes to get a BBS shave doesn't make your face happy. Using an old blade or two with the edges cut off placed between the blade and the safety bar plate to "shim" the razor, or better yet, getting a slightly more aggressive razor, may be the way to go. Keep experimenting until you get the shave you're happy with.