In the first of his Short Reads series on our blog, writer Jonathan Bean asked the question "Why do you shave?" I know why I do, I simply prefer to be 'clean shaven' – 'occasionally stubbly' – but have never grown a beard. I just don't like them. In the 90's most men didn't either! When I founded King of Shaves in 1993, about 90% of men were clean shaven (wore suits and ties, went to work, holidayed once a year).
But, times have changed, not least the amount of men choosing not to shave. And when you own a brand called King of Shaves – and a lot of men aren't shaving... 40%? 50%? That could present an existential threat!
When you're 27 years into owning a brand with A) your surname in it and B) it's a descriptor of what it does – how do you keep it relevant, current, future facing – and more importantly, how do you get men to fall in love with shaving again?
Indeed, I'm CONSTANTLY asked the questions below by the team at King of Shaves:
As a brand, founder, let me tell you, these questions vex me too. For the past 9 – is it 10 – weeks I've been largely at my home in London with my wife Tiger – just the two of us – and we've had a lot of time on our hands – wondering what the extent of Corona Virus will be on King of Shaves as we enter unlockdown around the world.
This Life, Then.
In 1993, looking back, founding King of Shaves as a 'challenger brand' to the all dominant Gillette made perfect sense. Gillette was big, sold 'conventional' shaving products (in aerosol cans) and razors. or many years, we were the David to their Goliath, creating shaving oils (!) and non-aerosol shaving gels (!!), creating market defining products (we were the first to launch a range of men's skincare products in mass retail). The market was growing, the tide was coming up, men were largely clean shaven – if you remember the BBC TV series 'This Life' – this was our target audience, and they grew up with us.
But that life was a LONG time ago. Men – young and old – started growing beards over 13 years ago – as the financial crisis ravaged the world, and Millennials started becoming of shaving age, but didn't choose to.
You'll have witnessed the slew of DTC (Direct To Consumer) shaving brands that have launched in the past 10 years – led by Dollar Shave, then Harry's, in the UK we have Cornerstone, Shavekit – and many, many more. Most, all of them have lost huge amounts of money (indeed, most still are losing huge amounts of money) in an attempt to directly connect with consumers. Intriguingly, many now offer a lot of products other than $1 razors, including ones for hair loss, erectile dysfunction, vitamins and more. I recently learned one has increased sales (slightly) and lost money (a lot more money).
For a 'small' brand like this, clearly this is unsustainable, and not a direction of travel for us. But, if men aren't shaving again, what to do?
Normal People has been a TV phenomenon in recent weeks, especially with younger people, watching on iPlayer (on-demand) as opposed to linear – and the male lead in it – Paul Mescal – is SHOCK, HORROR – clean shaven! A fact not missed in last week's One Minute Brief #BringBackTheShave, with one of the two joint winning ads "We Think It Might Be Back" by Trevor Ede (chosen by Tiger, not me I might add) now strongly resonates.
Maybe Paul will grow a beard, or a stubble in the future – now he's 'celebrity famous' – or maybe he'll stick with the clean shaven look? Either way, what I know is tens of millions of young people in the UK have seen, probably for the first time, a young, up and coming (and highly rated) actor, sans stubble. Indeed, recently on social media he was pictured (below) breaking the internet in the process.
As my creative director wife Tiger Savage often reminds me, trends start from a singularity; could this be the one that marks the fact that #TheShaveIsBack? If it is, the last weeks in lockdown will have been worth it.
PS. If anyone knows Paul (or Paul's agent) having read this, and thinks he might be up for a collab, put him in touch! We're on the lookout for a clean shaven 'Face of King of Shaves' in 2020, just as we were back in 2000...