James N. P. O’Brien, co-founder and president of ShaveFace, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company that makes shaving strops for disposable razors.
When a friend told O’Brien that disposable blades could be sharpened on denim, he was hooked by the idea of saving money and throwing away fewer razors. While on the road with his band, the part-time singer took to carrying a scrap of an old pair of jeans with him. But soon he decided he’d prefer something nicer. As a favor, a tailor friend made O’Brien a prototype of a strop -- traditionally a strip of leather or canvas used to straighten the blade of a straight razor -- out of denim. This highly styled version was trimmed in leather with brass attachments for hanging on a towel rack or rolling up for travel.
In June 2014, O’Brien attended a wedding where he hatched a plan with Casey Perkal, a recent law-school grad interested in startups, and Tim Jeon, a financial consultant, to capitalize on the booming market in men’s shaving products. Together, they started ShaveFace to manufacture and sell the swanky denim strops. The trio invested a total of $10,000 to bankroll a small production run and create a website and series of videos.
Sharpening the Plan
ShaveFace wanted to narrow its customer focus from simply “everyone who shaves.” The company’s website and videos -- which are aimed at the same young, trendy demographic that shops e-commerce shaving sites such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club -- are chock-full of stats to show how the $38 product can save users money: ShaveFace estimates that a strop allows for three to five times more use out of each disposable blade, reducing the number used by the average man from 28 to seven per year, for savings of roughly $100.
ShaveFace sent product samples to editors and lifestyle bloggers to create buzz in advance of a January 2015 Kickstarter campaign.
“The strop benefits anyone who uses a razor, but it’s an odd concept to wrap your brain around, because we’ve been conditioned to dispose of our razors early and often,” O’Brien says. “The key is to assuage possible skepticism with a referral they can trust -- whether it’s from a friend, a publication or a friendly face on a video.”
The advance effort -- combined with a boost from being named a Kickstarter Staff Pick -- paid off, with ShaveFace surpassing its initial goal of $24,000 to raise $60,000 during its 30-day campaign.
With its Kickstarter funding secured, ShaveFace dove into the manufacturing process, planning to ship its first strops in time for Father’s Day 2015. “We quickly learned that manufacturing is going to be more expensive and take more time and effort than you think,” O’Brien says.
The company ended up switching manufacturers three times—though sticking to its self-imposed mandate of sourcing and making its strops in the U.S. -- and tweaking the design before finally shipping in August.
“The product we pitched on Kickstarter was not what we ultimately shipped out,” O’Brien says. “We ended up putting a filler between the pieces of denim and binding it differently. It cost a little more, but we came away with a better product that will stand the test of time.”
They’ve also added a customization option: For an additional $10 to $15, the strop can be embossed with initials or dates, ideal for groomsmen gifts and graduations. The strops are now sold at shaveface.com and in a few independent boutiques.
ShaveFace is partnering with other grooming brands to introduce a shave oil and aftershave product for the 2015 holiday season. Long term, the company plans to release more products that “change the way people think about and use disposable cartridge razors.” One clean shave at a time.