Dec 12, 2012

Posted by in Front Page

The 11th Essential: Dr. Bronner’s and 6 Reasons Why It’s the Most Amazing Thing Ever

The 11th Essential: Dr. Bronner’s and 6 Reasons Why It’s the Most Amazing Thing Ever

If you’ve never entered the church of Bronner’s, you owe it to yourself to sit down in one of it’s pews and listen to what the good doctor has to say. It’s the soap of the outdoor community. First, it’s all natural, so you can use it outside without worry that you’re harming the environment. Second, it smells great, especially the Peppermint flavor, and only a few drops produce a fearsome amount of lather.

Finally, there’s the hippyish writing on the bottles, which gels with the hippyish lifestyle of most outdoor heads. The rambling small print text that wraps around those small blue bottles is a manifesto, the sometimes-incoherent opening salvo in a war against the lack of spirit in modern life. I’m a convert. The bottle’s broken English arguments, which I read in the mornings while taking my shower, make me pump my fist in time to their bewitching cadence: “Eternal Father, Eternal One! Exceptions Eternally? Absolute None!” Amen!

Reading a bottle of Bronner’s is a strange experience, and the history surrounding it is even stranger.

Bronner’s Was Invented by a Crazy Guy
First of all, Dr. Bronner wasn’t actually a doctor. Emanuel Bronner was a university trained chemist in Germany, but he never received his M.D. Nor was he actually a Rabbi, like he claimed to be. Bronner was, however, an expert soap maker, born into a family of master soap makers in Germany.

Reading the labels of his soap bottles, you might think that the man who wrote them was a little crazy, much in the way that religious prophets are both brilliant and batshit. Well, the good Dr. Bronner was actually crazy – like crazy crazy. In 1947, he spent time in a mental institution, before escaping and moving to California, where he later began his soap business.

His parents died in Nazi death camps during the war, which led him to create a spiritual system upon which humanity flourish and find peace. He called it ‘The Moral ABC,’ a patchwork quilt of different pseudo-religious and philosophical thought. He unleashed his Word on a lecture tour, where he sold soap on the side. In Youtube videos, Bronner sounds like Christoper Walken attempting a German accent: “It vill unite ze whole human raze, lightning-like, by a new birsh.” His soap bottles give us a glimpse of how crazy his lectures must have been.

Eventually, more people showed up to buy soap than listen to his lectures, and Bronner realized that his philosophy could reach a broader audience on a soap bottle. Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure Castile Soap was born, complete with the bottle’s small print rants.

Bronner’s Has 18 Uses, Really
Every bottle of Bronner’s says “18-in-one soap.” 18 different uses? Really? Someone told me they use Bronner’s to wash dishes, and I had heard whispers that you could use it as toothpaste. But I was skeptical.

Well, the Bronner’s website has the completed list of all known uses. And there are really 18 of them, including using it as massage oil, deodorant, denture wash, mouth wash and pest spray. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the myriad uses of Bronner’s continued to proliferate. I mean, why not use it as a dietary supplement as well? It’s just vegetable oil.

Bronner’s Doesn’t Spend Any Money On Advertising
Most cosmetics companies spend about 10 percent of their income on advertising. The company that makes Dr. Bronner’s, of course, isn’t like most companies. Not one penny has been spent on airing TV or radio commercials about this miracle soap. No ads have graced the pages of magazines. Simply through a well made product and word of mouth, Dr. Bronner’s has grown into a successful company – $44 Million in sales in 2011 – whose soap is sold in stores all over the globe.

Bronner’s Spends 10 Percent of its Revenue on Activism
The 10 percent that they save on paying for advertising? They use it on activism. “Filing lawsuits is now a semiregular part of business at Bronner’s,” writes Tom Foster, who profiled the business in Inc. “Instead of spending 10 percent of our revenue on advertising, like a regular cosmetic company, we’re spending it on activism” says David Bronner, the current CEO and grandson of Emanuel. (When Emanuel Bronner’s wife died, he placed his children in foster care, because in his mind what was more important? Achieving world peace or raising a family? It’s a long and complicated family drama, but eventually Bronner’s two grandsons took over the company.) The younger Bronner is renowned for his activism. Recently, he was arrested on the lawn of the White House for possession of marijuana. Locking himself in a cage with hemp seeds, Bronner attempted to press enough hemp oil to make a hemp spread for his toasted bagel in order to protest the US government’s classification of hemp as an illegal substance.

Bronner’s Is Bringing Peace to the Middle East
David Bronnner and the rest of the Dr. Bronner’s company are committed to good labor practices. (The company caps David’s and other executive’s salaries at five times greater than the lowest paid employee.) So in 2005, they decided to make sure that the places where they buy their ingredients were treating their employees fairly, as well. The problem: there was no where in the world to buy fair trade versions of some of their ingredients. The solution: they created their own farms in places like Ghana that would be fair trade.

One of their more audacious plans was to purchase free trade olive oil from both sides of the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict and combine them – a symbolic olive branch made of it own oil. The stunt “has become a symbol of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence,” Foster says.

Bronner’s Makes Your Swimsuit Areas Tingle
The first time I used Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Castile Peppermint Soap, I felt a little… well, I’m not sure how I felt. There I was in the shower, lathering up my body and enjoying the soap’s minty-fresh aroma, when I felt it – a tingling in my body’s secret garden. Faint at first, then more and more potent. I wasn’t sure if it was pain or pleasure, if I should stop or use more of it, or if I should call my girlfriend and tell her to come over and try it with me. It was like an angel had shocked me with a defibrillator – I felt a little more alive, like my body was clean for the very first time.

Part of the improbable success of Dr. Bronner’s soap, I can’t help but think, is due the Bronner tingle. Other soaps bore me now. None of them make me feel special in the way that Bronner’s does. It’s more than just soap.