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Cutting Edge

“There wasn’t a reason shaving with a straight razor should have been taken over by shaving with disposable razors.”
 

Company: Portland Razor Co.
Owners: Hunter Lea, Scott Miyako, Alex Pletcher
Launch: March 2014
Headquarters: SE Portland

Eliminating facial hair shouldn’t require reams of metal and plastic. But the modern shaving market encourages wastefulness. Most men throw away razors after a few uses, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2 billion razors are discarded annually.

Enter Portland Razor Co., a manufacturer of handmade straight razors and strops (a strip of leather used to straighten and polish the blade) that pair age old practices with modern-maker sensibility. Crafted by hand out of steel and a choice of scales — maple, walnut or ivory acrylic — the company’s flagship product is rooted in the maker movement, says co-founder Scott Miyako.

“There wasn’t a reason shaving with a straight razor should have been taken over by shaving with disposable razors,” he says. “People hate throwing out cartridges.”

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The former owner of a Los Angeles-based custom guitar-cabinets business, Miyako and his girlfriend, Alex Pletcher, a co-founder, moved to Portland in March 2014. Drawn to the city’s small business culture, the founders pitched their idea to the owner of incubator ADX, Kelley Roy, who set them up with space to develop their prototypes and business plan. A few months later, “we got some buzz on the Internet,” Miyako says. “By month six, we were officially back ordered and making as many razors as we could.”

Historically, European companies have dominated the straight-razor market. Portland Razor does have a couple of American competitors, “but they’re charging two to three times what a German- or French-made razor could be bought for,” says Miyako. The low markup and handmade element give Portland Razor the edge on the competition, he adds. Prices range from $120 for a standard model to $400 for custom orders, a price point thousands of customers, newbies and collectors alike, are apparently eager to pay.

In lieu of a marketing budget, Portland Razor reaps the benefits of straight-razor discussion boards — Badger & Blade, Straight Razor Place — where enthusiastic members sing the company’s praises.

Once you’ve tried a straight-razor shave, it’s hard to go back, suggests Miyako, who says he got the idea for Portland Razor when he was living in L.A. and “was really into straight-razor shaving. The idea felt like it fit in Portland. I was surprised there wasn’t a company like this here already.”

Money trail

Miyako and Pletcher bootstrapped Portland Razor by selling tools and a classic-car collection before leaving Los Angeles. They plan to seek outside funding next year.

Tinseltown vs Stumptown: 

“When people [in L.A.] found out I was making my product they said, ‘people buy that?’” Miyako says. “But, if you’re making things for a living in Portland, it’s a cool thing here and people want to know more.” The Southern California traffic was also a downer. “I was tired of driving around so much. Now that I’m here, I know how much I was missing.”


Vanity, Thy Name Is Man

Guys get dry skin too. Yet when it comes to natural skin care, men “get the short end of the stick,” says Lisa Dolezal, co-founder of Fieldworks Supply Company, a line of chemical free grooming products for men.

Men’s personal care products lag behind women’s grooming by about 15 years, Dolezal says. “We can’t see the waves from the beach yet. But it’s coming.” The men’s category does

have one advantage, she allows. “Men, once they find something they like, or something that works for them, they’re a consumer for life. Whereas women are fickle, you know?”

Fieldworks products — shaving creams, cleansers and balms, all made from bentonite clay — are for sale in about 300 retail locations nationally and on the company’s website. Founded several years ago, the startup has benefited from the Portland mystique, Dolezal says.

“If we started this company in Oklahoma, we probably wouldn’t have been reached out to by Sunset magazine and Popular Mechanics. Portland is enjoying a cool factor of handcrafted that we’re riding.”

Other local grooming businesses embrace the male of the species. Spruce Apothecary, a two-year old retailer located in downtown Portland, sells unisex personal care items, including otter wax beard oil and herbal mint toner, an alcohol-free astringent for men made with cucumber extract.

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