Dr Bronner: It’s an iconic beauty brand that was ahead of its time — a natural line of soaps emblazoned with pure ingredients and messages for the greater good that have been read, shared and talked about for more than 150 years. In 2015, the product and its label are more relevant—and loved—than ever.
Dr Bronner Soaps have had minor changes over the years – a label tweak here, a slight ingredient ratio change there. Such consistency and efficacy has enamoured them with legions of fans, followers and loyal customers alike. Renowned for their quality, versatility and eco-friendliness, Dr Bronner as a company goes from strength-to-strength.
When a new product is introduced to the line, it’s a big deal. So is the case with the recent launch of Dr Bronner toothpaste range: Cinnamon, Anise and Peppermint.
I recently caught up with Lisa Bronner during her Australian visit to find out more about Dr Bronner past, present and future.
Lisa is natural-beauty royalty, as well as being a fifth generation member of the Bronner family soap makers. She also writes the blog Going Green with a Bronner Mom at lisabronner.com. Here, she guides consumers through the maze of the organic marketplace and simplifies the process of green living at home. She takes a very pragmatic approach to living an eco-conscious life which makes it all the more attainable for everyone.
Read my interview with Lisa below…
How has the Dr Bronner label changed over the years and what did you do for the current refresh?
Not a lot about the label has changed, and yet it is better than ever. We call the latest refresh “Old and Improved” because it still maintains the purpose for which my grandfather intended it (see that story below), and yet it has become more legible and more durable and in general more useful to consumers.
My grandfather’s labels were paper. Imagine what that did in the shower. After a week or so, the paper was dissolving into a soggy mess clogging the shower drain. Worst of all, you couldn’t read it anymore.
We tried silk-screening, but that required too much lead time and a whole lot of inventory. The latest bottles are back to stickered labels, but they are a plastic, thereby impervious to water. The font is very cleaned up: we tried a serif font for a while and went back to sans serif. We have also streamlined the usage information on the bottle, although if you are brand new to the product, you’ll have to take my word for it that it is streamlined!
Clearly, we have never followed proper graphic-design recommendations for our labels. There’s not enough blank space and way too many words to satisfy any prescribed design technique. However, the label drives so much of what we do. It is not a contrived marketing gimmick. It is at the core of who we are as a company and very much governs the decisions we make.
What is the significance of the messages on the label? Why did Dr Bronner put them on the label?
The label and the product were inseparable to my grandfather. He saw the label as the message and the soap as the messenger. The story of his message, which he called the Moral ABC, takes some time to tell. His family were German Jews living in southern Germany. They were very successful soapmakers, owning three soap factories. Although my grandfather had already decided for personal reasons to immigrate to the U.S. in 1929, his family was still in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. His sisters recognized the danger of the time and both left Germany, one to Israel and the other to the U.S. However, his parents refused to believe that their homeland would betray them. Unfortunately, they were wrong. The factories were Aryanized and they perished in Hitler’s concentration camps. This background of personal and national tragedy profoundly impacted my grandfather.
Instead of spurring him on to bitterness and hatred, however, it fueled a passion to spread a message of world peace. This is the core of the label – uniting “Spaceship Earth” and encouraging each person to see his or her value and connection with each other. He would speak on his philosophy in Pershing Square in Los Angeles to whomever would listen, and to thank people for coming, he would give them a bottle of soap. Eventually he noticed that people were taking the soap and not waiting to hear him speak. So he wrote the message on the bottle, and that is how the label was born.
Why are Dr Bronner products more relevant now than in the past?
I think consumers have been the ones to catch up to what Dr. Bronner’s has been doing for decades. My grandfather was tremendously ahead of his time. He was passionate about environmental issues long before anyone else was. One of his hottest topics was fluoridation of the water supply. He would speak against this in the 1940’s, and everyone thought he was crazy. He was even arrested after a particularly impassioned speech about it and put in a mental hospital. However, in the 1960’s, he was moreorless “discovered” by the counter-cultural movement, who realized he had been saying what they believed, but for a whole lot longer.
One of his hottest topics was fluoridation of the water supply. He would speak against this in the 1940’s, and everyone thought he was crazy.
He became a bit of a hero to them and the soaps took off. As the general consumer market has become more and more aware of the need for purity in personal care products, Dr. Bronner’s has emerged as the preeminent trustworthy source.
Is the formula the same as it was in the beginning? If not, how has it changed?
The fundamental formula and the process has not changed one bit since my grandfather’s day. The only changes we have made have been a slight alteration in the ratio of coconut to olive to palm oils, and the addition of hemp oil around 15 years ago. Hemp oil greatly mimics the naturally occurring oils in our skin, and so when it became available, it paired beautifully with the jojoba oil to give a fabulous afterfeel to our soaps. Also, we replaced the preservative in our soaps – taking out the rosemary extract, which had a very dark color, and adding tocopherols (vitamin E), when they became available. Tocopherols are clear and more effective.
How often does Dr Bronner launch new product lines?
Not very often –about every four years. We are very careful in launching new products and really don’t respond to market trends quickly. It takes a lot to keep our product line going at the caliber of excellence we demand of ourselves – the organic and Fair Trade sourcing of materials, as much as possible. We want to be very sure that whatever we add to our product line maintains the integrity and excellence of the product line and Dr. Bronner reputation.
Toothpaste had been a customer request for years. You’ve always been able to brush your teeth with our soap, and you still can. If you’re going backpacking and want to bring along as few things as possible, our Pure Castile soap is still the bar-none best option out there for keeping body and gear clean. However, it does taste like soap.
What makes Dr Bronner toothpaste great?
The toothpaste feels and tastes better than any toothpaste on the market. The Peppermint has that iconic Bronner tingle, and the Anise and Cinnamon are awesome additions to our flavor line-up. It is also SLS and fluoride free, making it an excellent option for adults and children alike.
Why is Dr Bronner’s so great for sensitive children’s skin?
The ingredients in Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap are simple and easily recognized by our skin. This is why it makes such a great option for children with sensitive skin. Sensitive skin can easily be set off by harsh or strange ingredients.
Our Castile contains the exact blend of oils – especially the jojoba and hemp oils – that soothes skin. In particular, hemp oil has a fatty acid profile that most closely resembles the natural fatty acids in our skin that keep skin soft and nourished. For children with sensitive skin, who suffer so much with body washes that strip out much needed oils, this is a huge help.
For a child with eczema, what Dr Bronner’s soap do you most recommend?
Skin that is experiencing eczema is very sensitive and compromised. The body is going to be on high alert for anything that might irritate it or cause further harm, and if something does the skin becomes even further inflamed. The Dr. Bronner’s oil blend, as I mentioned above, is very soothing. In particular, the
Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby-Mild Castile soap is the best option for eczema. It contains twice the amount of olive oil in ratio to the coconut and palm oils, which makes them even more soothing. Plus, with eczema, we want to keep things as simple as possible, with nothing unneeded that could possibly exacerbate compromised skin. To this end, the Baby-Mild contains no essential oils. It is an exceedingly pure and gentle soap at its simplest.
What is your hope for the natural beauty and personal care industry in the coming years?
I hope customers continue to educate themselves by grassroots movements – word of mouth, bloggers, third party research organizations. For too long we have trusted “others” to make decisions for us with no oversight and no questions asked. Now we need to ask the questions, to find out what is in the products we use daily on and in our bodies, what is best for us and our families. We can’t trust corporations, governments, or anyone else to be making the best decisions for ourselves. That is our responsibility. I hope to see greater transparency in the consumer/manufacturer relationship.
Now we need to ask the questions, to find out what is in the products we use daily on and in our bodies, what is best for us and our families. We can’t trust corporations, governments, or anyone else to be making the best decisions for ourselves.
What are your favourite Dr Bronner products and why?
I could maintain my entire beauty regimen with only the Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap (Citrus is my current favorite) and the Dr. Bronner’s Coconut Oil. The soap keeps me clean from head to toe. It keeps my adult-onset acne well in-check and makes my hair very soft and healthy. The Coconut oil is what I use for nearly everything else – a moisturizer, a shaving gel, make-up remover, hair masque, deodorant ingredient, sugar scrub ingredient. And you can eat it. I could probably be stranded on a desert island with it and do just fine.
Find out more at www.drbronner.com.au