Forget GameStop and Bitcoin; if you really want to pad your portfolio in 2021 you should consider sinking your savings into safety razors and double-edge blades.
Last month, shares in Shaver Shop, an Australian retail chain specializing in "all things related to hair removal" jumped close to 20 per cent. A company spokesperson attributed the increase to the so-called lockdown beard slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. "When COVID ends and everyone starts going back to the office (demand for) electric shavers and being clean-shaven will grow," they said.
All of that is music to the ears — and chinny chin chin — of Jonathan Steinfeld, 45, a commercial airline pilot who, when he’s not flying the friendly skies, runs the Stone Field Shaving Co., an online shop (www.stonefieldshave.com) offering premium razors, straight edges, soaps, balms… even styptic pencils, in case you nick yourself. We know what you’re thinking: a person who established his own personal-grooming biz must really enjoy the act of shaving. Except in Steinfeld’s case, that wasn’t the case. Far from it.
"For the longest time, I flat-out hated shaving. The only reason I did it at all was due to a no-beards policy we used to have at work because of the oxygen masks," he says, seated in the dining room of the stylish Whyte Ridge home he shares with his wife Stav and their two sons.
In 2014 Steinfeld and his wife were vacationing in New York City. One morning while strolling through Manhattan they came across a combination store/barbershop called The Art of Shaving. He was initially drawn to its charming exterior. However, the second they stepped inside he was "absolutely blown away" by what he was staring at: hundreds upon hundreds of items associated with shaving, the majority of which he had no idea what they even were. (By the way, if he had a dollar for every time somebody has asked if he’s "related to Jerry," he’d be rich, Steinfeld says with a laugh, offering his stock response, "No, sorry, It’s STEIN-feld, not Seinfeld.")
A sales associate toured him around, explaining how to load a blade into a razor, what makes one brush better than another and the benefits of true shaving soaps versus a bar of Irish Spring. He left with a dozen items tucked under his arm. It didn’t take long before he began to notice a change.
"I almost always got a horrible rash from the disposable razors I’d been using for years, but after figuring out how to do a proper wet shave, all of a sudden my skin was no longer burning," he says.
Plus, the more he did it, the more it became less of a chore and more something he actually looked forward to doing — "almost meditative, really" — bright and early every morning.
It wasn’t until he was getting low on supplies that he realized there was nowhere in Winnipeg to replace much of what he’d picked up in NYC. He’d never run a business of his own — he took up flying at the age of 16 and never stopped — but that didn’t prevent him from thinking a store similar to The Art of Shaving could be successful here, too. Mind you, after doing his homework and ascertaining how much it would cost to get a bricks-and-mortar location up and running, he decided an online shop was probably a better way to go.
"The original goal was to come up with my own products — soaps, aftershaves, that sort of thing — but I quickly realized people would need more than just that. They’d want razors, blades, the whole nine yards; so, I started reaching out to artisans who make those sorts of things," he explains, noting 2021 marks five years since he registered his company and four years since his initial sale. "I focus on Canadian products as much as possible — probably 80 per cent of what I carry is made right here in Canada — and I can honestly say there isn’t one thing on my shelves I wouldn’t hesitate to use on my own skin."
Among the brands he carries are Cranbrook, B.C.’s Highland Springs Soap Company, Edmonton’s Karve Shaving Co. and Gatineau, Que.’s Henri et Victoria, the latter dealing in aromatic aftershaves.
To date the Stone Field Shaving Co. — Stone Field being a play on his surname — has fielded orders from customers from coast to coast, and from as far away as Japan and Israel. A career highlight occurred in February 2019 when Steinfeld, who introduced a line of "for her" products a year ago, was invited to send a mixed bag of goodies to Hollywood, to be handed out to celebs attending parties staged ahead of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony. (No word if Rami Malek, who won that year’s best actor Oscar for his turn as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, garnered a sample of North of 50, his signature shaving soap, or not.)
What’s also interesting is how he combines his two jobs. Swag such as denim-blue T-shirts boast an image of a De Havilland Beaver bush plane, the first aircraft he flew professionally. Additionally, he hopes a shaving soap currently in the development phase will serve as a homage to his love of flight. A couple of pilots he knows from Guelph, Ont. started their own coffee company in 2020. His plan is to introduce a soap infused with their ground-up beans, the idea being... oh, why don’t we let him tell the story?
"It’s early in the morning and you’re flying over the Atlantic. Everything’s going great and you reach down for a nice, strong cuppa joe. At least that’s the image I hope to convey with this new soap," he says, handing over a sample to sniff. (He’s right, we immediately pick up coffee notes. But please, can we go back to the soap he had us smell a minute earlier, the one called Sippin’ by the Fire that’s imbued with whisky?)
Another thing; if you’re new to wet shaving, Steinfeld’s website includes links to myriad how-to videos showing the proper way to avoid cuts and scrapes. He figures that will come in handy for his eldest, who at 14, will likely be the next person in the household to pick up a razor.
"It shouldn’t be long now till he’s shaving and, for sure, I’ll to do my best to make it fun for him, versus some chore, the way I used to think of it," he says.
Professional pilot John Kydd flies for the same airline as Steinfeld. Five years ago Steinfeld was visiting Kydd at his home in St. James when he noticed a wood lathe in a garage workshop. He let Kydd know about the shaving biz he was preparing to launch, then asked his host if he would be interested in using his lathe to craft wooden shaving brushes, which he would happily turn around and sell on his website. Kydd has always been handy, but because he’d never made anything remotely close to a shaving brush before, he said he’d have to take a pass as he didn’t want to promise anything he might not be able to deliver.
Last summer, with time on his hands due to a reduced flight schedule owing to COVID-19, Kydd thought back to that conversation. He got busy fashioning a shaving brush out of a block of cocobolo wood he had kicking around. He added a knot — the part used to apply lather — and voila, he’d made his very first shaving brush. After fashioning a few more, he posted pics of the finished products on his Facebook page. An hour later a pilot friend of his who lives in Calgary messaged him, asking how to get his hands on "one of those brushes. "What do you know?" Kydd told himself, "I might be on to something."
The 48-year-old, married father of two founded Erebus & Terror Shaving Company — named for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the last two ships in Sir John Franklin’s command, both lost during a 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage — in December. Besides selling brushes through Steinfeld’s website, he also markets his one-of-a-kind creations on his own Etsy store.
"I do enjoy wet shaving but as you can tell, it’s not like I do it every day," he says, running his hand through a neatly-trimmed, grey-and-ginger beard. "But what’s been really interesting to me since starting my business is dealing with guys who are super-passionate about the process, who post shave-of-the-day videos, during which they discuss what soap or brush they’re using. The first time I heard Erebus & Terror mentioned I was like, whoa... how cool is that?"
Now and again, Kydd fields a custom order from a wet-shaving enthusiast who lets him know what type of wood they prefer for the handle, as well as the specific height, down to the micrometre, they want the knot to be. Last week he heard from a shop owner in Fort St. John, B.C. who would love to carry his brushes on an ongoing basis. He isn’t sure he wants to take that step just yet.
"It’s flattering to be asked, no doubt about it, but I don’t want to get too big, too fast," he says. "It’s true I have some extra time on my hands these days, but hopefully things will get back to normal soon and people will be able to travel again, at which point I’ll be flying more often. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person looking forward to that day."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.