Finding a common link between a professional mountain bike racer and the owner of a male grooming company may seem pretty tenuous. On the one hand, you're an extreme biker who competes at world class events while helping trainees perform 15ft jumps at your woodland track. On the other, you're patiently blending organic oils and balms while discussing the finer points of skincare regimes. What's the connection? Simple: the great outdoors.
When Bedfordshire Beard Co. launched in 2014, its signature oil was called The Sawmill. Founder (and bike racing guru) Tom Dowie associated the scent with his time spent shredding trails in the forest. "Sawmill was the very first oil we produced," he says. "With spending most of my time in the woods, we developed it with the familiar scent of a fresh pine forest. It's still one of our best sellers."
So how does someone go from performing zero G jumps to mixing organic oils? Back in 2014, when Dowie first began growing his beard, he became aware of the lack of handcrafted, naturally-sourced grooming products available on the market. "I started off making oils and balms for myself and soon my friends were asking to purchase them — it all just grew from there," he says. The confidence to launch the brand came from the surge in demand for his products. Soon, they were being stocked at local barbers around his home county in East England.
Dowie's partner, Caitlin Welsh, manages the international markets and customer service. "Two heads are better than one," she says. "We both live and breathe Bedfordshire Beard Co., and we wouldn't have it any other way."
A family affair
The brand's beard oils are carefully blended using organic oils (such as extracts of almond, grapeseed, hemp, juniper and apricot) to nourish and moisturise the skin while deeply conditioning the beard. Each oil is handmade in-house in small batches. The beard balms, meanwhile, have been created using a blend of oils, butters and waxes that give a light hold.
However, there's a family secret. "Tom's mother comes from an aromatherapy background, so he had a little help with which oils and ingredients work best together and give the best health benefits," says Welsh. "We blend all our oils by hand and we want to make sure this is always a core process in our business, no matter how big it grows." She admits they have a secret technique when it comes to hand-pouring the oils, but says the method is "hush-hush".
The need for secrecy is self-evident: the beard grooming market has exploded into a US$6 billion global business in recent years, according to market researcher Euromonitor.
The beard boom
"It's great to see how the industry has blown up, but sadly this brings a large majority of price wars and lower quality products," says Dowie. "It has definitely made the established companies work harder on educating customers though, which can only be a good thing."
Bedfordshire Beard Co. prides itself on handcrafted and naturally sourced oils. "Our core values are excellent quality, artisan production, and affordability," says Welsh. "We try our best to source ingredients locally and our retailers know they can trust us to supply them with handmade grooming products of the highest standard."
However, while the company's goal is to deliver artisanal quality, there's also a whiff of romance in its branding. Take its latest scent, The Tobacconist. "We wanted to combine warm, spicy tones with the sweetness of vanilla," says Dowie. "It's what we imagine the scent of a gentlemen's club from the early 1900s would have been like. For us, this is the perfect fragrance for the modern gentleman. Everyone lucky enough to have sampled it has fallen in love with it."
Company of men
Grooming-wise, the longevity of the beard's popularity is a hairy issue. Some say beards are here to stay, others claim we have reached "peak beard". Dowie is more philosophical.
"What they might be forgetting is that many who were in it for the fashion have now shaved theirs off," he says. "There are many men who had a beard before it became a fashion statement, and those guys still have them now.
The hipster stigma — if you want to call it that — has passed. Men are choosing to keep the beard or grow one simply because it suits them. They aren't growing one to conform to the latest trend. These guys are our ideal customers. They understand the beard community, the lifestyle, and beard care."
Talking of communities, does he find that bearded men orbit towards one another for grooming advice?
"Totally," says Dowie. "Every time we're out and about we end up in an in-depth conversation on beard care or even skincare routines. They say men's grooming is the fastest growing market in the cosmetics industry, so we hope to bring the use of natural ingredients within our products to address men's grooming needs."
As for defining the ideal customer, he is careful not to pigeonhole. "We tend to avoid focusing on the beard making a man 'manly'," he says. "Modern masculinity has nothing to do with facial hair. It's a gentlemanly attitude with an edge; someone who gets their hands dirty but takes the time to maintain their appearance and enjoys the fine things life has to offer."