Shaving to most men is a necessary evil; nothing can halt the androgen-induced sprouting of facial hair, which, if allowed to continue unabated, would lead to a thirty foot beard! To remain fresh-faced and fuzz-free the average adult male needs to shave daily and most, even the most metro-sexual of modern men, do not relish the task. Bathrooms the world over begrudgingly house flimsy blue plastic cheap contraptions of daily drudgery at worst or mediocre non-descript implements of tiresome torture at best…
However, allow them to perform this perfunctory preening practice with an instrument inspired by the classic Aston Martin curve, in dramatic colours coaxed from Italian sports cars or the mighty Alps, in masculine materials like rubber, lacquered metal and silicon, found normally on fast cars or extreme-sports equipment, suddenly the mundane and mediocre becomes stylish and substantial. Scandinavian design influence meets British manufacturing resulting in the ultimate gentleman’s grooming product, the Bolin Webb razor, which has become ‘razor sharp’ in terms of aesthetics, ergonomics and utility.
Bolin Webb’s X1 and R1 razor collections have taken male grooming and skincare to another level, winning design awards and securing a place within some of the most prestigious retailers in the world. Marina Bolin, the feminine half of husband & wife team Bolin Webb, explains the rapid rise of their razors and their relevance within the modern-day masculine market…
Firstly, for those readers who aren’t familiar with Bolin Webb, please can you tell us what you do?
Bolin Webb makes grooming products for men – principally razors and shaving accessories. We are a young company, building a British brand based on excellent design for products that are both attractive and give a performance shave.
What was the impetus for you to launch the Bolin Webb razor brand and your original ambition?
Derrick Webb, my partner and husband, looked for an appealing razor handle and could not find one. He was tired of facing the plastic razors that stood in our bathroom at the time. His idea – we were living in Switzerland then – was to use design cues from the world of cars and apply these to shaving, thinking “let’s enjoy what we use”. That was the conception of the original R1 razor.
Derrick sketched the first razor design using the kids’ pencils, but we quickly needed the help of a capable industrial designer to define a handle with the right look, and that could be manufactured. We have since used UK product designers to find other distinctive solutions that are innovative, look great and perform, such as our razor case and stands. It’s part of our business model.
We have proven as a start-up that we can take an initial new product idea from concept to market. It has been a challenging journey, and our success so far is measured through our customers, as well as the design awards over the past year – in the UK, Germany and the USA. There is a lot more to do.
We need to build on our initial success. We will grow our business by adding new products to our range of razors, both accessories and skin-care products. A shave cream and a face balm will be launched this summer.
Do you have a particular customer in mind when designing your razors?
We bring a contemporary look to the grooming world. It’s new. It’s fresh. Bolin Webb razors are hand built in the UK to a high standard and sell in some of the most prestigious stores in the world. Our razors make a great and affordable gift for yourself or someone else. They are fitted with Gillette blades, which is important for our customers too as replacements are readily bought in many places.
Bolin Webb appeals to people who appreciate distinctive as well as good design. Good product design has international appeal. Our customers are in the UK, and across Europe, Asia and North America. We sell mostly through prestige and speciality retailers.
We want our products to be elegant and admired, to be modern and fun, to be inspired and distinctive. It’s about design – not about age. Both young and old appreciate a good product both in terms of how it looks and how it works. And Bolin Webb appeals to women as much as men, making our razors and accessories a great idea for a present as well.
From where do your razors take their design cues, in terms of their distinctive form and colours?
Sports cars were a main design cue for Bolin Webb razors. I remember at the early design stages the mood boards showing some great car images, which we used as visual cues. We all appreciate the appeal of a great sports car – classic or modern – through shape, colour, reputation, excitement and emotion. There is a lot to look at and admire. There is a lot of inspiration to be found.
Several car models inspired us. The 1960s AC Cobra has a distinctive front wing that captures the shape and movement used to form the original R1 razor. The curve and detail of Aston Martin cars helped us form the X1 razor. These are prompts only: the design process is not about replicating an exact shape, but about ultimately finding a form that works in terms of the balance, curve and the “energy” it projects.
Colour is very important too. We take time to select and trial different colours for our razors. We seek to choose paints that are distinctive, striking and that capture a spirit and aspirational appeal. We take colour cues from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche among others, and adapt these to our handles to really narrow down to a product we are proud of.
The names we choose for our different colours also come from the car world, but not always. As an example, the name R1 Blue 3000 comes from the Austin Healy 3000, while the R1 Ferrara Yellow refers to the home of the Lamborghini marque. But the X1 Eiger Grey refers to the iconic Swiss mountain.
The minimal design, clean lines and bright colours also appear to borrow from a Scandinavian design aesthetic, which is perhaps not surprising as you’re from Norway originally. Is this intentional?
I was born in Norway, and Derrick has lived and worked there too – also in Denmark. We remain close to Scandinavia and love the purity and simplicity of product design we find across the region, old and new. For us, Scandinavian design projects a clean line and natural form. It is neither embellished nor elaborate.
There are many ways to describe the Scandinavian design ethic: strong colours, robust build, quality, innovation, using the right materials. And Scandinavia’s design heritage speaks for itself through the brands many of us recognise: Georg Jensen, Bang & Olufsen as well as more every-day names such as Volvo and Ikea.
Scandinavia also projects other visual cues that give the region its distinctive look and feel: clear skies, intense colours, space, purity, contrast. I believe Scandinavian designers often use these to give form to new products, and not least to architecture, which are oftentimes in harmony with their setting.
It’s interesting that your razors are inspired by the smooth lines of classic British cars, as the production and assembly of your razors is carried out in Birmingham, the home of luxury British car brands such as Aston Martin and Jaguar. How important is it that your razors are made in England?
Our close connection to the UK is important to our brand. “Made in England” is a quality endorsement, and speaks of innovative design. British manufacturing has a strong heritage, an emotional appeal, and has been part of Britain’s distinctive and aspirational lifestyle. We like to play our small part in this British story.
Our razors are made in Birmingham, and working locally has benefits in terms of product development, flexibility, lead-time and relationships. Different suppliers make different components, and we bring these together at one point for assembly. We do not rely on one point of manufacture. We make a unique product that cannot be copied by others, but it also requires a high degree of coordination and quality control.
How important is the choice and quality of materials in creating your razors?
Material knowledge is very important to us. The right choice of material makes a difference across a large number of dimensions: form, weight, colour, durability, grip, hygiene and cost of production. We do not use unique materials, but bring distinct manufacturing processes together in a different way – for example applying automotive paint systems to razor handles.
We are especially proud of our silicone razor case. The design is again distinctive and unique. Its form and detail is well thought through, and our compliments go to our designer for this. Silicone is a robust material that is perfectly suited to a wet environment – similar to the world of diving: belts, clasps, masks and so on.
Aesthetics aside, Bolin Webb razors are slightly longer than average, but ergonomically, fit well in the hand, are very comfortable to hold and feel extremely well balanced. Not only that, but functionally they’re easy to clean as there aren’t any edges and there’s no opportunity for dirt to collect. How long did it take you to go from original design concept, thinking through materials, design and function, to then prototype, and then onto market, and can you give us some insights into this process?
The development process is long and there are many steps to take from a design concept to prototyping, through to finding manufacturers and making a quality product. We don’t have one supplier making every part for us. We have had instead to find process specialists within their respective fields, and to have them assembled separately.
Finding the right design concept is of course the starting point. This is a creative exercise, when we join with our designers to innovate and select ideas that are inspired yet practical in terms of manufacturing and cost. Prototyping is important to test for look and feel as well as feasibility. 3D printing has made this a comparatively easy stage in the design process
Finding the right suppliers was very time consuming, but we have now built up a network of reliable and capable partners who understand our quality expectations. We rely on them to modify tools or suggest alternative production methods to make the best product we can, and to secure the quality levels we need to protect at every stage.
You have launched two families of razors – the R1 & X1 – but can you also tell us about the range of accessories you have created to complement them?
We are proud of the accessories we have designed. We want these to be different, functional and attractive. So our razor stands, like our razors, are design-led, tactile and eye-catching. The X1 razor and magnetic stand won Germany’s prestigious iF product design award within its category last year in Munich, and we attended the award ceremony alongside some big names in design. Quite a surprise for a small UK start-up
Our silicone razor case is fun and practical, and is a unique design too. Derrick was inspired by this flexible and durable material, remembering how he wore rubber shoes to protect his toes when rock combing in the south of France as a child, and to the diving products on sale in the local store.
You have a prestigious list of stockists in the UK including Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges and the Conran Shop. Are you solely focussed on the domestic market, or is it your intention to market your razors internationally?
Prestige, or premium, retailers are found in many countries, and many show interest in Bolin Webb. They like the distinctiveness of our products – contemporary design and strong use of colour, and their appeal as great gifts. In fact, our strongest growth markets are abroad, in continental Europe, Asia and North America.
We originally launched our brand at the Pulse trade show in London in 2011. Harrods was one of our first customers. We have also attended the Spring and Autumn Fairs at the Birmingham NEC, making contact with a broad range of customers across the UK. We won the Gift of the Year Award at the 2014 Spring Fair.
Ambiente is a pre-eminent trade fair on the international stage, held every February in Frankfurt. This is where we have made contact with our growing list of distribution partners in Europe and Asia. We have not built Bolin Webb stands in Asia and North America as yet, but do appreciate the support of UKTI to visit and showcase our products in these more distant markets.
Traditional wet shaving is on the rise, with men sharing shaving techniques on blogs and YouTube videos followed by millions. What do you put this wet shaving revival down to?
Men are increasingly aware of the wide range and application of skin care products, and they are spending more time and money on themselves. At the same time, the number of new grooming products grows in store and on-line, while social media reflects the wide diversity of shaving techniques in use.
We believe strongly in the appeal of wet shaving. It’s the best way to get a clean shave. There are of course many different ways to wet shave: from the blade you choose to the products you use. Skin condition is important, as some people are more sensitive than others. Time is also important – some men like to take longer than others.
Bolin Webb aims to provide a shaving experience that is enjoyable. In our view, our products are functional and beautiful. But they also offer utility – we do not aim or claim to take shaving to a new level of perfection. Shaving should to be practical too. Holding a Bolin Webb razor in your hand shows you that. And Gillette blades give a great shave. They are quick and safe to use, and are readily available.
One of the biggest challenges for any niche design brand is to keep developing and bringing out new products to satisfy resellers. With this in mind, what other products do you have in the pipeline to broaden your portfolio?
We need to keep focussed on growth. Building our product range is an important part of increasing credibility in front of the retailer and the consumer, and we are working on a new range of design-led and quality wash bags for men. We are also launching our first skin care products this summer, including a moisturising shave cream and face balm. Other skincare products are ready to follow in 2016.
Our shave cream is an oil emulsion-based formulation, rather than soap-based. This helps to moisturise your skin while you shave. Active ingredients include Vitamin E and pro-vitamin B5 to nourish and protect, and rose-hip oil and aloe vera to sooth and calm. Our face balm shares the same distinctive fragrance as the shave cream. The balm contains organic cactus and antioxidant-rich hops extracts help calm, restore and protect your skin, while essential oils and shea butter smooth and moisturise.
Both products are developed and made in the UK. They will be released initially at Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, as well as via our online store.
Thanks to Marina Bolin for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. All images © Bolin Webb.