Hands Behind the Art: Soapmaker Darron Barnes
At West Coast Shaving, we are always amazed at the artisans crafting exceptional products under amazing circumstances -- garages, apartments, home kitchens often figure prominently in these fledgling companies. But, oh, how quickly they can grow when they hit on that magical formula. Wickham Soap Co has its own unique twist on this story. We were blessed to pick the brain of soap and balm maker, Darron Barnes. Check out the hands behind Wickham in our interview.
WCS: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get interested in this crazy business? :)
WCS: Tell us about Wickham. How did it get started, where are you located, what are you passionate about?
Darron: So first, a brief history. Wickham is a quaint old village in Hampshire, in the south of the UK. I was living there at the time, so it seemed logical to me to adopt its name for my business. It also has another meaning for me. In 1332, William of Wykeham (the old English name for Wickham) was born there. He was famously quoted for saying “Manners maketh man”, a term which has now become popular as a motto and is used today in local schools and universities. How true is that, right? It might seem a little strange, but I would love that motto for Wickham Soap Co. – the idea of being polite and a true gent. Instead my motto is “feel refreshed, feel your best” which I think also works. Something tells me my motto won’t have quite the same impact as William’s but I can certainly try!
The soap making itself started by accident. I had been producing film emulsion developers for a niche market but was struggling to find success in the photographic industry. So I turned my attention elsewhere and settled on something close to my heart. I suffer from psoriasis which made shaving a real pain – my skin was often extremely sore and irritated. I knew I could improve on commercially available soaps; it was just a question of how. I did a bit of experimenting and along came my first product: Super Smooth cream soap. The feedback from friends and family was very positive so I set about looking for ways to market it. I stumbled upon the UK TSR shaving forum and handed out samples; quickly, my product gained momentum. The rest, as they say, is history!
On top of all that, I’m very passionate about life in general. However clichéd that may sound! I didn’t have a great start in life but I’ve learnt from my experiences and always try to focus on the positives and encourage everyone to follow their passion. I’m also dyslexic which has brought its fair share of difficulty. Though very frustrating at times, it has driven me to push myself harder and harder to learn. I love reading, learning new skills and a good old challenge. I embraced the internet for this purpose way back in the 90s. The internet is a very powerful tool for someone like me; just sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day! Though it’s not uncommon for me to work one night a week through the night. I did this a couple of nights back and built myself a new blog. I’d love for you to have a read – I hope you don’t mind me plugging it! http://bestshave.co.uk.
WCS: What makes your products stand out, or what do you feel like your products do really well?
Darron: There’s a saying I have that really inspires me: “You can only do your best, so don’t be hard on yourself”. For me, living by this phrase means you remove frustration and avoid beating yourself up. You give yourself the ability to keep ‘chewing the fat’ until you know you have nailed your goals because you’re always giving 100% effort.
The Wickham Soap Co. 1912 shave soap took many years to develop (maybe more than I’d care to admit…) but I kept at it! It started with an old Victorian formula that I was playing around with as I thought it would be cool to reproduce. Unfortunately, due to small-scale production problems, I had to change the formula until it no longer really resembled the original. The project’s working name – 1909 – stayed. And then Phil, a good friend and TSR forum member, made a reference to it as 1912. 1909 was being used by another business so 1912 just felt right. At the time of launch, many businesses were ‘inventing’ fake history to give their products a story. I decided against this; it just wasn’t me. Against other people’s advice, I went with an old name and matched it with a modern label design. It’s this combination of unique branding coupled with a great shaving soap formula that works well, I think. It helped to put Wickham Soap Co. back on the map after I was unable to continue with Super Smooth.
WCS: Anything else about wet shaving, soap, business?
I’m glad you asked, actually. There is something I’d like to add about the online wet shaving community. When I first started, I had little resource to fall back on. At the beginning of 2015, my personal life took a shocking, unexpected turn and I found myself homeless and jobless. I was left with two carrier bags of clothes, a push bike, a mobile phone and around £200 in the bank. And a box of Super Smooth which I left with my neighbours (and now good friends), Simon and Annette.
It was like having the carpet pulled from under my feet while juggling very expensive Ming Dynasty vases! I was forced to put Wickham Soap Co. on halt and sort my life out. The response I received from well wishers was extremely humbling and really helped me to focus on a return to the business. It also lifted me through some very tough times.
One particularly incredible person, my American brother and dear friend (you know who you are – huge fist bump to you), offered me a loan to buy a cheap car. He said “It will help you and it can be paid back as and when, interest free. No hassle.” Wow! Seriously, wow. If that doesn’t instill faith in others, then I don’t know what will. This kind gesture coupled with the forum support reignited my fire. Wickham Soap Co. was to return, and now at a much faster pace.
It took me 12 months to rebuild my life to have enough stability to get Wickham Soap Co. back to market with the 1909 project. The day I paid back the loan was a really special moment for me. I will always be indebted to the wet shaving community for the love and kindness I was shown. It’s a truly amazing thing to be part of and I feel very lucky to be where I am in life. Thank you all! :)
I would also like to thank two other people. Mem, a brother and dear friend. He has been a huge contributor to Wickham’s success behind the scenes. I really can’t thank him enough – cheers buddy! And Erik, whose support and trust is truly unbelievable. Again, I can’t thank him enough. ;) Looking forward, I’m really excited about West Coast Shaving stocking Wickham Soap. I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews from everyone I’ve spoken to about your unrivalled service.