Hands Behind the Art: Rod Lovan, soapmaker
Here at West Coast Shaving we pride ourselves on finding the most unique grooming products on the market. We go to great lengths to find interesting artists and companies founded on good quality, good craftsmanship, and good ingredients. We want to introduce you to some of the people who go out of their way to make your grooming experience exceptional by revisiting a series on our blog called, "Hands Behind The Art."
Today we focus on artisan Stirling Soap Company co-founder, Rod Lovan. Together with his wife, Amanda, Rod is crafting some exceptional shaving soap. Founded with the notion that it is time to bring something that can be properly called “soap” back into our grooming routines, this team is creating fantastically scented, natural soap. So, WCS picked Rob’s brain about shaving, soap, and Stirling.
- WCS: How did you get into Wet Shaving?
- Rod: I started wetshaving when I was still on active duty in the Army. It was really rough on my neck and jawline having to be clean shaven before showing up for formation in the morning and then having to go run a few miles. I had learned from research that shaving with a double edge razor might help with the razor bumps and ingrown hairs, and hopefully lessen the irritation that I would get from going for runs or working out right after shaving. It did work on all fronts, and I’ve never looked back.
Tru dat! This is a common story for so many wet shavers – particularly those whose job requires a clean-shaven mug. Many military members have embraced the classic shave because of the constant wear and tear on their sensitive skin. They might not be able to control irritating staff sergeants, annoying bunkmates, vexatious living conditions, or irksome billets but they (insert military level expletive) CAN control their shave!
- WCS: What is your shave routine like?
- Rod: I don’t really have a routine. One of the great things about not being in the military and being my own boss is that if I don’t feel like shaving. . . I don’t. I don’t really have a set time of day or a set routine. I fly by the seat of my pants. Everything from soap to brush to razor and aftershave is almost random on most days. I have about 10 brushes and 10 razors, and anywhere from 10-15 soaps out at any given time, and probably 20 different aftershaves in the medicine cabinet.
Are you a wetshaving free spirit, too? One of the things that we love about this gig is that the options are endless. From blade to razor to soap to aftershave, you can mix and match to fit your mood or the season or your significant other or special event or. . . That is one of the reasons we love to share a SOTD (Shave of the Day). There is no reason to get bored with your shaving routine.
- WCS: What time of day?
- Rod: No set time of day, but I prefer to shave right after I have showered.
Morning, night, or any time in between, shaving after a shower has definite benefits. The warm water soothes the skin and softens the hair, allowing for a smoother, easier shave. By opening the pores and raising the hair, you get a closer shave too. Well-moisturized skin will be less irritated as well.
- WCS: Open vs closed comb? Straight Razor?
- Rod: I have both and use both. I use a closed comb more often. No straights yet, but that is something I aim to do soon.
- WCS: What type of brush: Boar? Badger?
- Rod: Badger mostly. Finest grade. I love gel tips. I also use synthetics as they are fool proof for lathering. I stopped using boars a couple of years ago. Too much time to completely break in most of them, and then they break down in a few years and stop lathering at peak efficiency.
- WCS: Any preferred shave creams or soaps?
Rod: I use my own soaps 99 shaves out of 100, although I am starting to branch out and use other soaps to support other artisans and try new things. I currently have Piacenza, Ben Franklin, and Stirling Gentleman out on the counter in my front bathroom.
- WCS: Aftershave: alcohol or no alcohol?
- Rod: Alcohol is preferred. I use witch hazel from time to time as well, but I still will splash on some alcohol based aftershave to follow it up.
- WCS: Blade of choice?
- Rod: Feathers, although I’ve learned that I can get a great shave out of just about any blade.
- WCS: Any tips for someone new?
- Rod: Don’t give up if the first few shaves aren’t the closest or you get a few nicks. The manual dexterity needed to wet shave properly is not something that everyone is naturally equipped with, and it will take time if you aren’t one of those blessed with supreme manual dexterity. Everyone can benefit from wetshaving though. It is a better way to shave, if you are willing to take the time to learn to do it right. Also, get the right equipment. You can get fabulous shaves on the cheap, but not all cheap shaves are going to be fabulous. Use this new thing called the internet to research your gear before you buy it (and don’t just go by Amazon reviews – they are patently worthless for 90% of the wetshaving gear). The best technique in the world won’t save you from bad shaves if you’ve bought terrible equipment. The sad part of wetshaving is that, as it has grown, some companies have thrown their hat in the ring with garbage products looking to make a quick buck on the backs of inexperienced wetshavers. You have to be able to weed them out or you are doomed before you start.
- WCS: How did you get into making soaps?
- Rod: It was something that Mandy and I had started looking into in 2011 as a way to get rid of some of the questionable ingredients (detergents, sulfates, etc.) in our household products. We started with bath soap, and shortly thereafter in 2012, we moved into shaving soap as I thought I could make a better soap that what I was using at the time. I was right. My first batch of shave soap was better than what I had been using. That said, our first batches of shaving soap were still hot garbage compared to the artisan soaps on the market today. We spent years tweaking and improving our formula to get to where we are today. Now I wouldn’t use one of our 2012 shaving soaps for anything other than throwing at our neighbor’s dogs.
- WCS: Did it start off as a part time gig?
- Rod: Yes. I was still on active duty in the Army and Mandy was still employed full-time for the first two years we were in business. It was October of 2013 that it became a full-time job for both of us. We nearly didn’t make it through 2015. Those first two years we were barely scraping by, and we nearly quit more times than I can count.
- WCS: When did you know that you had something special on your hands?
- Rod: Special is tough to define. I’m still not sure that we do have anything special on our hands. I’m paranoid. I always worry any time we have a slow day that we’ve peaked and we’ll be out of business soon. That said, the weekend of Black Friday 2016 was the first time I’ve legitimately thought that this would be something that could grow into a well-known business. I’m proud of how far Mandy and I have come, but I’m also hopeful that the future holds even more.
- WCS: Anything exciting coming from the Stirling lab in the near future?
- Rod: I am so ready to get our stainless steel and titanium razor handles on the market. They are beautiful and we’ve been sitting on them for 6 months now waiting to have enough of them polished to release. We’ve also got top shelf handmade leather and canvas dopp kits that we’ve been working on for quite some time. Just need to the space and time to build up stock.
Yeah, we’re pretty sure they have something special on their hands. Their soaps consistently sit on our top creams/soaps bestseller list. We’re happy to carry their soaps and aftershaves – so you can check out their scents to find the one just right for you!