Clearly benefitting from the ongoing beard and grooming trend, specific men's care and cosmetic products are experiencing some great attention these days - not only in your regular drugstore environment, but also in the most well-assorted (fashion) concept stores worldwide. Felix Ermer, Viktor Dik and Jonas Hillebrecht from Hamburg, Germany, have made this their niche: Inspired by an encounter with an Australian couple in Brooklyn, NY, they started the Brooklyn Soap Company, a line of natural cosmetic men's products which is now sold at selected fashion stores across Europe. Moreover, the trio are currently running their first own pop-up shop in their hometown Hamburg. We spoke to Felix Ermer about his company's business idea, customer group and why he is convinced that the increased attention to men's care is here to stay. Interview by Maria Hunstig

The pop-up shop in its historical building at Ballindamm
The pop-up shop in its historical building at Ballindamm

What’s the story behind the Brooklyn Soap Company?
Viktor [my co-founder] and I decided to move to New York City after we finished university to intern for a big German media corporation. We moved to Brooklyn and shared a small dorm room in Bushwick. Strolling around the flea markets in Williamsburg, we met a young couple from Australia. They produced and sold handmade soap. It was the first time we got in touch with natural cosmetics. We both had made some bad experiences with regular personal care products in the past, including skin irritations etc. But, we never thought of trying natural cosmetics since we only knew them from our mums’ shopping trips to the local natural/vegan supermarkets. We thought that was only meant to be used by old people (sorry mum).
We loved how the hipster surrounding of this Williamsburg flea market had a positive influence on their little brand and their products. That’s where we got the idea that natural cosmetics could in fact be really cool. We’ve always had a strong interest in all kinds of design. That’s why we first started with a logo. Working title “The Brooklyn Soap Company”, the rest is our short history.

Your products are sold in a lot of fashion / concept stores. Why do you think this is a good team-up?
Our mission is pretty simple. We want to get as many people as possible in touch with natural cosmetic products. That is why we moved the products into stores, where our target group already goes shopping. Fashion and concept stores are more willing to try out new brands. Placing our products in between boots, jeans and designer coffee table books has a positive effect on our young brand. Today, it is not enough to build a product with a pretty packaging. It is about creating a communicative world around your product. You can’t do that in supermarket shelves.

Why did you open up your pop-up store? Will there be more retail outposts?
The goal is to show more local presence in Hamburg, our beautiful hometown. It is not so much about adding yet another retail outpost. Our customers are very sophisticated dudes and they share our appreciation for good design. Now we can invite them over to visit us and to get to know us. There are more pop-up stores planned but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

The trio in the pop-up shop in Hamburg
The trio in the pop-up shop in Hamburg
 
Please describe the interior of the store and your idea behind it.
The idea was to create an urban living space, which represents the lifestyle around the brand. Our store is located in a very prestigious street right in the city center, the Ballindamm. This street has a history of great furniture & interior design stores. That’s why we teamed up with the Danish design company BoConcept and they loved the idea behind the store.

What are your bestselling products and who are your customers?
It’s definitely good to be producing beard care products these days. It’s a segment that is not overrun by mass-market products fuelled with million-dollar marketing budgets. It gives us a great opportunity to gain a position in the market for men’s natural cosmetics. Our typical customer is around 30 y/o and up, he lives in a city and likes to try out new brands and products.

Do you think men are a better target group than women?
Many producers don’t believe in men as a target group. They don’t see the market. We think that is ignorant and dumb. If you look around, there are barely any producers of natural cosmetics that have a specific men’s line. I think they are afraid of failing with their slapstick-manly marketing campaign. Men might be hard to convince, but they are very loyal to the brands and the products they like.

Why do you think the whole barber/grooming sector for men is having such a heyday right now?
We see more and more men emancipating themselves when it comes to personal care. Every day magazines, blogs, newspapers etc. write about new grooming products. Men are finally being educated about personal care. The barbershop is the ultimate place of the dapper manliness. It’s not about looking younger, it’s about being well-groomed and feeling confident with your look. I believe this is not just a trend; it’s a general change in mind-set.

The store is designed to resemble an urban living space
The store is designed to resemble an urban living space
How long will the beard trend stay with us and what do you think could be its follow-up?
We hope to establish the well-groomed beard as a socially acceptable alternative to wet shaving for a long time. As a company, we always want to be able to equip a man with the right beard care products. Nevertheless, if he decides to shave it off, we are working on being able to equip him with the right products for that purpose, too. But if you look around, most men still clean-cut shave every day. That’s probably the only other option.

How important is social media to you? How do you make use of it?
For a small company like ours, social media is by far the most powerful tool for marketing and brand building. We would never spend money on marketing campaigns with paid testimonials. The testimonials we are looking for are our own customers. We love to see their confidence after using our products. We encourage them to take pictures of them with our products, show their results and to engage with the Brooklyn Soap brand on Facebook, Instragram etc.

Is there a role model for your shop? Any store – worldwide – which inspires you?
We have so many role models for anything we do. Some of them might have nothing to do with our market - but great design always works. A great example for a store, which I personally love, is Saturdays Surf NYC, a New York based urban surf company.

Brooklyn Soap Company Pop-up
Ballindamm 17
20095 Hamburg
Germany