State of The Varlet
June 19, 2016
I'd like to reach out to those on the reserve list as well as current and future patrons and communicate on the state of The Varlet after a year in business as well as things to come this summer of 2016 and beyond. Since June 2015, when The Varlet's shaving brushes were first announced publicly, The Varlet has gained a reputation for excellent craftsmanship, consistently great performance, impeccable quality control, dynamic design, personable and attentive service, and a dedicated commitment to philanthropy. It's my goal for The Varlet to continue to exemplify these qualities and become a leader in the industry in these respects.
One of the pillars on which The Varlet was founded is a commitment to exceptional quality and genuine craftsmanship. It was important for me, while conceiving the idea that would become The Varlet, to not only gain a reputation for knowing my way around a lathe, but to also make hair knots that rivaled the best in terms of construction, performance, and visual appeal. With regards to the lathe, I'm proud of the handles I've turned in these last 11 months. Turning on a lathe is labor intensive and requires attention and diligence, aside from proper technique and skill. Invariably, as The Varlet grows, the arrival of CNC-turned handles will be a reality, but for the foreseeable future everything will still be turned by hand.
Given that The Varlet's handles are some of the most intricately designed in the industry, with details such as the Beehive's very fine beads or the Mega's bold curves, the fact that they are all hand-made is a testament of The Varlet's commitment to craftsmanship. It is a legacy which will carry the brand for many years to come, long after it grows out of this shop of one. Alumilite continues to be my material of choice, in brilliant Somerset Ivory™, and it exemplifies everything that I could hope for. Despite this, Alumilite is not only incredibly difficult to cast, but requires extra care to polish properly. While I respect other brush-makers' abilities to offer sparklingly finished polyester resin handles, the diligence required to polish Alumilite is a notch above. Is the effort worth it? In my experience it is, because the ability of this material to withstand impact is simply astounding. I've bounced handles like tennis balls on the shop's cement floor, only to catch them in my hand unscathed. To top it all off, Alumilite continues to be manufactured in Michigan, USA. I couldn't be more proud of these handles.
In regards to knots, I could not be more satisfied with the work that has been put forth this past year. Out of all brushes sold since July 2015, I have not received one single email reporting of shedding or any other manufacturing defect. In fact, virtually every email from an owner of a Varlet brush reports that the knots don't shed a single hair after the initial shedding phase which lasts for four to five shaves at the most. I will continue to stand behind The Varlet's great knot warranty if a contradictory report so happens to reach my inbox. Nevertheless, for me to achieve this in my freshman year of brush-making is pretty special, considering I had no one to teach me this craft. Of course, The Varlet's sales numbers are nowhere in comparison to the big brush-makers with decades-old ledgers, but nevertheless a reputation is being established. In the works are what I am calling XD ™ knots, which I'll keep mum about for now, and adding bulb shaped knots which I am hoping will be ready by the holidays.
The Varlet's goals for performance characteristics were crystal clear from the outset. The goal was, and still is, that every single brush that leaves the shop should perform admirably, which is defined as an ability to create lather of superb consistency and apply it to the face with ease, without encumbering the user. This is not easy to do consistently, especially with 2-band hair and the density which high-end shaving brushes are expected to have. The Varlet's knots achieve this consistent performance through a combination of strict adherence to knot specifications and diligent and careful construction processes which are done entirely by hand as well.
Of most importance in the construction phase of knots is the need to apply enough adhesive so that every hair in the knot is adhered, but not so much that the adhesive overflows and creates what Simpsons of old Somerset used to call a brush that is "corked". Lather is created when shaving soap, air, and water are mixed and agitated amongst and in between the hairs of the knot, and when adhesive overflows and binds the hair too high, it can hinder their lather-making ability. Furthermore, when the hairs are effectively shortened due to excessive adhesive, they have less ability to flex and give, which could result in the brush being too stiff, hampering lather release. For The Varlet's knots, the firmness and plushness is a result of the density of the knot and the resiliency of the individual hair shafts of high-quality 2-band hair, and the lather application qualities are a result of the careful adhesion of the hairs and the diligent installation of the resulting knots in their handles. Knot construction like The Varlet's is becoming rarer and rarer in the industry, but I've determined the performance advantages are worth the extra care.
Designs have mostly gone unchanged since The Varlet's launch, with some natural evolutions being seen from handle to handle and from batch to batch. The biggest change has been the recent Mega revamp, which saw the Mega go from 47mm to 50mm in height, with more rounded contours and slight improvements in ergonomics. The Varlet's designs take cues from centuries-old woodturning contours and traditional shaving brush handles and expand their visual and ergonomic appeal with dynamic modulations, eye-catching contours, and added details. It was my goal from the beginning to respect traditional shaving brush history while introducing unique designs to the marketplace. With such a rich history of shaving brush designs already in the books, it was a challenging but rewarding task to be able to offer four incredibly beautiful and original shaving brush designs in The Varlet's initial year. There are still plenty of incredible designs that haven't left the shop, but I'm excited at the prospect of revealing them to the public in the coming year. Of note is the Cambria™, which is at the moment 73mm tall, and with such bold curves that I might just require FCC approval to even post photos.
With such incredible interest and demand in the industry it has been a real challenge to offer the service that a small boutique shop should be able to offer when compared to companies many times my size. I've done my best to provide a personable purchase experience and similar correspondence, along with some help from automated systems such as the reserve list, which automatically uploaded each request onto a Google spreadsheet, and social media avenues like Twitter and Instagram. Nevertheless, being a one-man shop, some emails, tweets, and comment responses are unavoidably cut short in hopes of getting back to making what people really want… actual brushes.
With this in mind, I'd like to release some details of the reserve list numbers and what that means for the summer of 2016. There are currently just over 200 reserve list requests still unfulfilled, which is a number that can definitely be achieved by summer's end. There will be some challenges, as the summer heat does pose some issues during production, so I am currently on a somewhat nocturnal cycle and working mainly at night to mitigate these effects. I do realize many of you have been waiting many months for your brushes, but I hope my commitment to fulfill the reserve list by the fall will give you some reassurance.
If you are on the reserve list and would like to know your current place, please feel free to email me from The Varlet's website contact page at thevarlet.com/contact.
The Varlet's commitment to philanthropy was set in motion before the first batch of brushes was sold. For the July 4th holiday last year, The Varlet's Independence Day Ranger auction raised over $1,000 for charity before The Varlet had earned $1,000 in sales. Proceeds were donated to the Semper Fi Fund, a charity dedicated to helping returning veterans of our armed forces from overseas, many of whom have suffered life-altering injuries in the service of our country. The Varlet's commitment since then has been ongoing behind the scenes, but will hopefully, for our veterans' sake, be in the limelight again this winter. I hope to do a special sale of unique brushes ahead of the holidays in December 2016, with all proceeds going to the Semper Fi Fund.
I'm mindful of The Varlet's lack of promotional content during these past few months, with posts on The Shave Nook, Twitter and Instagram being few and far between. I understand in today's consumer world it might give the wrong impression, giving The Varlet an air of elitism or secrecy; but the truth is, with demand so overwhelming, I've purposely kept the promotional side of The Varlet quiet. While this is counterintuitive in the short term, in the long scheme of things my aim is that The Varlet will be known not only for great brushes, but also for being magnanimous in its business dealings. If I take care of those two things, the profits will come on their own. It does me no good to amp up The Varlet to astronomical demand only to tell guys they can't have one. But this really puts things in perspective, The Varlet has been selling brushes for 11 months. In business, that's a unit of Planck time.
I want to thank you all for your continued patronage and support, and for your attention. A special congratulations to all the dads out there on their special day.
All the best,
Proprietor / Craftsman