For the Love of Beards
One Belfast based company has created a unique business out of the current trend for facial follicles. Laura Heather Mac talks to the couple behind the Belfast Beard Company.
When Adam Henshaw, 34, asked a friend to set him up on a date in October 2014 little did he know how much, or how fast his life would change. Within six weeks of meeting, Adam and Laura Harkin had jumped head first not only into a serious relationship but had taken the first steps to starting their own business.
And it all began with a big beard, or more specifically, a lack of one…
Although Adam had never really been clean shaven, when he started dating Laura (a pogonophile – lover of beards) he decided to grow a longer one in her honour. A few weeks later, the itch kicked in: “When I looked online for a bottle of oil to soothe the itch, they were about £15.00 and I just thought, it wasn’t worth it. The next day Laura surprised me with a little bottle of oil, that she had made herself and it worked!” said Adam.
Aromatherapy oils had always had their place in Laura’s house and with a little research she put together a formula of natural products that would stop the itch, make the hair softer and prevent dry skin: “With my background in barbering and the training and experience I have had over the years I created the Original Oil which is a mixture of hemp, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, patchouli, cedar wood and lavender,” said Laura.
Laura, 30, originally from Bangor trained as a hair technician with barbering in Bangor Tech twelve years ago. She now works as a full time barber in Hombre on the Shankill Road, Belfast and lives in Whitehead with Adam and Charlie, her son from a previous relationship. In November 2014 the pair started playing around with product ideas and doing research on the legal aspects, official testing and selling of cosmetic products. One month later, in December, with the launch of a Facebook page the Belfast Beard Company was born: “When that first product worked I asked Laura; ‘What else can you make? What else is there in beard world?’ and she produced a deep conditioning balm which is coconut oil and shea butter based. From there we started looking into accessories like combs,” said Adam.
Laura is the official director of the company and produces the formulas of the products. Adam uses those formulas and produces the oils and balms, hand bottles them and finishes them ready for selling. He also handles all the branding, marketing and selling. Adam has since given up his full time career in education administration to focus solely on the Belfast Beard Industry. In early 2015, Adam began working with his engineer-trained father to come up with a comb design and with the help of a CNC machine in the garage the duo created a comb prototype: “The combs, like the oils and balms are made from scratch; thin pieces of veneer, layered up, pressed, cut, imprinted with the copy logo, hand finished and soaked in the oil.”
However, before selling the cosmetics, Adam and Laura had to make sure their products were certified and approved under EU safety regulations:
“Certain essential oils can burn the skin if in high concentration so there are legal requirements as to the content of these oils in the products. We found a company in England who work mainly with cottage industries and could legally approve our formulas at a reasonable price.
“The worry for us is there are a lot of other companies out there who just pop up and sell stuff without getting the formulas approved. If someone buys their product and they have an adverse reaction it would put them off ever buying any beard care products again,” he explained.
In November 2014 the pair started playing around with product ideas and doing research on the legal aspects, official testing and selling of cosmetic products. One month later, in December, with the launch of a Facebook page the Belfast Beard Company was born.
Although they were officially recognised as a company in December 2014, waiting for the legal approval of the formulas took months, so to garner a buzz around the products they shot promo images, circulating these on social media and then held a presale via their website.
Clive, otherwise known as ‘Mega-Beard’, who is a reoccurring Game of Thrones extra was the Belfast Beard Company’s first buyer back in March 2015 and to mark this and his fantastic beard Adam designed, made and named a comb – the ‘Mega Comb’ after him.
Clive isn’t the only one who’s gotten something personalised, the company has produced several unique combs for various eccentric characters. They made Logy oil after the Irish street performer Logy On Fire which comes in a specially designed bottle. Product packaging too has to follow a strict set of EU guidelines when it comes to the ingredient list but despite these stipulations the products retain a sleek, stylish, and timeless look. And putting finishing touches such as presenting the combs in an upcycled leather pouch ensures they stand out against their competitors.
To add a bit of local flavour and to give each product its own individuality Adam and Laura decided to give all the oils Belfast slang names such as Craic, Banjaxed, Eejit and Saunter. Having that local flavour is very important to Laura and Adam which is why they choose to source most of the ingredients from Ireland: “We like to support local, the internet is great for getting the best deals, but we would rather pay a little more and get a local product and support our local community.
“We source almost all our ingredients from Ireland. In the very near future we will be using 95% naturally sourced ingredients which is a massive breakthrough and no-one else that we know has that.”
The pricing of their products was equally important to them, after all it was the reason Laura made Adam that first bottle of oil: “We have been told our prices are too cheap, that we could sell for double, and that’s fine for big cities like London, but we don’t what to alienate our local clients. We sell an honest, reasonably priced product that lasts.”
The products are sold in several barbers around Belfast (including Laura’s), at craft markets including St Georges Market every Friday, The Wicker Man shop in Belfast City Centre, across multiple online stores and via several distributors in Europe and even one in Boston. Prices start at £7.95:
“Little by little we are expanding and selling to other countries but all the products will remain grown, sourced and packaged here.”
And even though the Belfast Beard Company was approached by international men’s magazine GQ to be featured in an issue, the pair both say that positive local feedback is more important to them. Of course they differ on which feedback is the best: “The best feedback we have gotten has been for the design and branding,” Adam said.
While Laura believes: “It’s the feedback from people using the oil who have loved the results which is the best, Eejit Balm or Logy Oil would be our best sellers.”
As for their personal relationship, if things were going from strength to strength within the business their romantic life was too. The couple got engaged after just a year together and in March 2016 they tied the knot in Carrickfergus Town Hall.
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