New Brunswick’s men are getting a little hairier this month, as gents all over the world undertake the ritual of transforming from fresh-faced on Nov. 1 to moustache-clad by Nov. 30, all in the name of men’s health.
But beyond Movember, facial hair is turning into something that is nurtured, made strong, bigger, better through some tender loving care, especially in the cutting chill that accompanies the winter months.
Here in New Brunswick, Matt White identified a distinct lack of quality products to help keep beards, sideburns, moustaches and goatees everywhere looking their best.
And he decided to do something about it.
White is the owner of Sussex Beard Oil Merchants, which he started last November. An avid fan of beards, White sports a rather impressive bounty of facial hair himself. He laughs when he recalls the numerous times he was approached by random strangers asking if they could touch his beard. He says that during a shopping excursion with his family at Dieppe’s Champlain Place, he noticed a group of teens were following him for an extended period of time before they had finally worked up the nerve to tell him face to face how much they loved his beard.
“My family thought it was hilarious, but it was also at that time that the popularity of beards really hit me. There has been a shift in recent years where men are donning facial hair because it is a conscious decision to do so, and that it is not just because they don’t want to look after themselves,” the 52-year-old says.
“That was the point I realized that this could be something more than a hobby for me. I realized that it could be a viable business to get off the ground.”
Before he went into business with beards, White worked as a missionary. He is still an ordained minister and certified life coach, saying that his coaching got him started down this path, turning his encouragement of others to follow their passions on to himself.
He started Sussex Beard Oil Merchants initially because he was looking for products for his own beard, to no avail.
“I went through drugstores and grocery stores everywhere and couldn’t find a thing,” White says. “I went on the Internet and found some general information on specific oils to try, and while I found some products that were already formulated, they weren’t all that easily accessible.”
Disgusted by all the artificial scents, petroleum and chemicals that make up the bulk of men’s grooming products, White wanted to pursue an all-natural approach to his company’s products. He uses ingredients such as lavender, peppermint, coconut oil and sweet almond – mixing combinations of ingredients time and again until the desired results are achieved.
The first challenge was creating the products themselves, and then months were spent in pursuit of “the smell” that defines his beard oil.
“I had the thought of what I wanted the scent to be long before I had the scent. It took the better part of six months to find the scent that fit the thought.
“I wanted to be able to put this product on, close my eyes and picture myself running through the forest, knocking trees over with my shoulder. As abstract as that might seem to some, that is the exact scent I was after and actually have that very description printed on my product labels. I wasn’t after a musky kind of smell; I wanted that ‘clean forest’ scent.”
White says his pursuit of what he considers the perfect scent is validated each and every time he witnesses someone smelling his product.
“I love the look on people’s face when they smell the product for the very first time. They smell the product and then pause. You can see the wheels turning as they try to identify where they know that smell. Men often identify it as being out in the woods or fishing, while women identify it as being a manly, clean smell.”
In addition to the Sussex Beard Oil, White has a few other products in his arsenal. He recently launched StacheStick, a product catering to the distinguished moustache. White’s SlumberJack Nightly Beard Balm is a heavy-duty leave-in conditioner that, as the name implies, is best left in the beard overnight and then rinsed out in the morning for best results.
An item initially conceived at the launch of the business was the Sussex Beard Bar, a beard-cleansing product that resembles a soap bar but is actually derived from the same natural ingredients as the rest of his product line.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you should never use shampoo to clean your beard. It’s like washing your face with shampoo; it just doesn’t make sense. Once I started using the beard bar for myself and finding out how to use it properly, I even began washing my hair with it.”
And while he heard from many other male users of the Sussex Beard Bar, something interesting began to unfold: White started hearing from females and teens who were using the product as a substitute for their regular soaps and cleansers, leading him to rechristen the product the Sussex Beard and Beyond Soap.
“I had gotten so much in the way of feedback from people using the beard bar beyond its intended use; I couldn’t be happier,” White says. “I began hearing from women living with troubled skin saying how much the product helped them. My 15-year-old son uses it to help clear up bouts of acne; we often see improved results in a matter of just a few days.”
White’s online store located at sussexbeard.ca has played an integral part of getting the word out to the public on his offering. He has also strategically aligned with a number of retailers throughout the province who are selling his product in store, allowing people to see, smell and sample the Sussex Beard line before they commit to purchasing.
Pamela Wheaton is the owner and operator of Heartbreak Boutique, a Saint John store that combines a love of vintage fashion, art and more. She also carries the Sussex Beard Oil product line.
“I’m always thrilled to find local products that are a good fit for my shop,” she says. “I had been looking into men’s grooming products when someone asked if I had heard of Sussex Beard Oil. Once I had the opportunity to check out the product and had a chat with Matt, I knew it would be a great fit for my shop.”
Wheaton says the feedback she has received on the Sussex Beard Oil products has been overwhelmingly positive to date.
“The quality of the product is excellent, not to mention the fact that the ingredients are all natural, which I feel is a big draw. The scent is fresh and clean without being overpowering. I actually liked the smell of the soap so much that I began using it myself,” she says.
“I feel Matt came out with his product at just the right time. Beards and all types of facial hair are very popular right now. There are a lot of similar products out there, but Matt’s got quality on his side. Plus he is essentially a walking billboard for how well the stuff works.”
While he is optimistic that his products will soon be available at the region’s largest shopping centre, Champlain Place, White notes that Fredericton’s Urban Almanac and Klub Soda Salon both carry the Sussex Beard line of products.
This endeavour has grown over the past year, with hundreds of beard oil bottles being sold and interest in carrying his products calling from Ontario. And though he aspires to one day reach the point of having the Sussex Beard name all across the country, it comes down to putting those using the product first and getting it right here at home.
“At the end of the day, I’m all about the people using my products, but it also just can’t be about that. Behind every great beard is a chin and that chin is attached to a man that celebrates life but also goes through troubles. If my product can somehow be a part of that story, I’m in.”