I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mike Bronner who is one half of Dr Bronner beauty brand. If you love a brand that’s truly passionate about social and environmental issues, involved in activism and practises what they preach, you will love Dr. Bronner – famous for its magic multi-use all-in-one liquid soap but involved in a whole lot more.
My interview with Mike was at the Natural and Organics Show and we chatted for over an hour as he reeled off endless nuggets of inspiration and insight into the brand’s history, commitment to fair-trade, missions and principles.
I’ve rounded up six reasons why Dr Bronner resonates with me and why it totally ROCKS.
1. Dr. Bronner has a long history
The Dr Bronner story spans 150 years and is at the heart of everything the company does today. Here is a brief overview of this soap brand’s fascinating story as told by Mike…
“I’m a 5th generation soap maker, going back to 1858 when my great great grandfather started making soap in Germany. He came to US in 1929, very poor without a penny to his name. He tried to persuade his parents to leave Germany but they thought Hitler would pass. Of course he didn’t and eventually a letter came from a camp to say ‘you were right’.
My great grandfather then decided to go on a mission to unite people and the planet to prevent something like Hitler from happening again. He said it doesn’t matter what religion you are, we’re all one. We may be different and have different customs but underneath it all it’s the same divine. We need to understand that or we’ll destroy ourselves.
He started talking about his peace plan on the steps of University of Chicago but authorities thought he was crazy and put him in a mental hospital and gave him shock treatments. I like to say the line between madness and visionary is very thin; yesterday’s crack pot is today’s visionary.
He escaped twice, put back in. Third time he made it to California and Persian Square in LA. It was a hotbed of political activity and he fit right in so he started giving lectures about his peace plan. He became very popular and moved into auditoriums, and people were listening to him.
He was still a soap maker so he made liquid soap at home and gave it out to people. The soap became so popular people were coming to take the soap and leaving and not listening to him.
So my grandfather decided to put his philosophy on the soap bottle so people would take it into the shower and read it and they would have no where to hide. And that’s how this label came to be.
The soap became a vehicle to get the message out. Usually the label is the way to get the product out but this was vice versa.
This soap was very underground in early days in 1940s. People thought natural things were backwards so people kind of laughed at him but he was behind the times and ahead of the times. In the 1960s the counter culture came in and the hippies discovered the soap. The label was all about peace and at the time the Vietnam war was happening. My great grandfather put his phone number on every bottle so they could actually dial and talk to Dr Bronner.
Just by word of mouth this soap became the number one selling soap in America. My great grandfather has no sales force and no advertising and in 1968 it was a sell out.”
2. Dr. Bronner is a for-profit company with the DNA of a non-profit
Salaries are capped at 5:1 so the highest salary is never more than 5 x higher than the lowest and 25% bonus to all employees plus many other benefits.
“We think everything in life connects, from root to fruit, so we try to make every part of the company as best and fair as it can be – not just for farmers but for all employees.”
3. Not just a beauty brand, Dr. Bronner is an activist organisation too
The brand is well known for its all-in-one liquid soap which can be used in 18 different ways but did you know the company is an active campaigner and charity supporter too? Next time you see a Dr Bronner product take a moment to read the small print covering the box and you’ll see there’s more to it than meets the eye. Each product has a powerful story and message to get across.
“Last year almost 7% of revenue went to charity or activism. That equals about half of profits. It’s usually the more edgy ones that either haven’t caught on yet or don’t get as much media attention that we back.”
Causes Dr. Bronner company is currently supporting:
- INDUSTRIAL HEMP
- FAIR PAY TODAY – “It’s not just a fairness issue for employers, it’s a smart business choice too. We have less than 6% employee turnover – nobody wants to leave. Employees feel invested in and give 120%. If businesses were smart they would adopt fair pay too.”
- ANIMAL WELFARE
- DRUG REFORM POLICY
- GMO LABELLING
- YOUTH PROGRAMMES
4. Dr. Bronner went fair trade in 2007
Dr Bronner products are multi-ingredient fair-trade, not just one or two.
“We’re not doing this for us. We’re doing this for what fair-trade represents in the world. It’s about farmers making a living. If brands can get the fair-trade label by using just 1 or 2% fair-trade ingredients then the vast majority of ingredients are not being sourced from farmers getting a fair deal. We call that fairtrade-washing.”
5. Dr. Bronner launched the first ever organic and fair-trade project for coconut oil
Dr. Bronner started its own fair-trade coconut facility in Sri Lanka in 2007 because there was no other fair-trade supplier to source from.
“We wanted to go fair-trade in our soaps but the number one ingredient is coconut oil – it’s 25% of the product. At the time there was no fair-trade coconut in the world so we developed it.”
6. Brushing your teeth with Dr. Bronner just got a whole lot better
Everyone knows you can brush your teeth with Dr Bronner Pure Castile Soaps – as well as do you laundry, wash your hair, wash the dishes, mop the floor and wash the dog! (check out the cheat sheet for how to dilute for different uses here) – however, a stand alone toothpaste has now arrived.
The new Dr. Bronner All in One Toothpaste has been in the making for three to four years.
“It’s fluoride-free, with no artificial foaming agents. Like all our products, it’s vegan and cruelty-free. It contains coconut oil (to give it slip), baking soda, silica, minerals and organic menthol crystals. It contains no artificial colour, flavours, preservatives or sweetners. It helps to whiten, freshen breath, reduce plaque, and has a nice taste.”
Seven months worth of product were sold in just one month after the US launch.
Only around one or two products are launched every few years but whatever launches, sticks. One of my favourites, other than the liquid soap, is the Lavender Hand Sanitising Spray.
“New products have to be highly functional and meet all our core values. We’ll only make something if it can be certified organic and fair-trade we won’t use any synthetics.”
Love Dr Bronner too? Let me know! Comments below or tweet me @YanarBeauty.