Trendsetter: Sebastian O’Malley

Sebastian O’Malley knows well the issues men have with facial hair. After trying a few other beard oils, unsatisfied with the result, O’Malley created his own from a combination of jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil. He added other essential oils for scent. “Not only was it moisturizing, non-greasy, but it felt really good on my face and it lasted for a long time,” he says.
Although he has no formal business training, with the encouragement of his wife, he decided to start a business and sell his beard oils. “I started asking around and I found out not only am I not alone, but the majority of men have the same problem,” he says. “So I decided, ‘Okay, I am going to start making this.’”
The result is Beast Beard. O’Malley makes two oils, Selkie and Ikuchi, both named after mythological creatures. He sells his products wholesale to stores such as Pete’s Frootique, Sievert’s, Local Source, Put Me On and Balsamea House in Mahone Bay and Humani-T café.
Halifax Magazine recently talked to O’Malley about his product, trends in facial hair and his thoughts on local entrepreneurs.

I notice there is a trend toward facial hair now. Do you worry about a return to the trend of clean-shaven faces?

No. I actually have a blog I keep as part of Beast Beard and what I am in the middle of writing right now talks about this, about beard trends over time, over history. It was the Greeks and Egyptians that had this idea facial hair was a sign of not only of masculinity but wisdom as well. It was the Romans that started this idea of clean-shavenness. It goes through these periodic changes, all the way from the Vikings to the hippie movement. Beards come in and out of fashion, but it’s starting to come back with triple force. It seems like beards all over North American are taking over, not just in wild bushman style but close-cropped beards are peaking. Actually on the BBC, a bunch of scientists got together and discussed this and it comes down to economy; they say the worse the economy is doing the more prevalent beards become.

How big is the market for beard maintenance?

I really think men have been shorthanded in the departments of products to take care of themselves. I think there’s something missing. Not just dressing well, but looking good. And I think this is something that’s really important. But it’s something men won’t admit to enjoying, but they do.

Do you feel like you’re an early adopter?

I feel like I am. I think it’s something really important, too. It sounds funny, but there are beard competitions around the world, whole social structures are built around beards, and I think a beard is a great sign for a man of his masculinity. I think that’s really an untapped market. There are a lot of men’s care products that focus on shaving or focus on conditioning. But there’s an untapped market on the one thing a man can call part of his masculine image, which is his beard.

What’s it like building this kind of business in Halifax?

There are a lot of services… but because there are so many rules…it seems like in order to get funding from them, you have to fall into a very specific category. And there are other places that will lend you funding but the interest rate to pay it back is high. I wish there were a place that had free workshops and you could go in and speak with someone…I’d love to sit down with someone who has accounting experience. There really isn’t that here. But I do find people have been very responsive. Customers have been responsive to the product, but businesses have been very open as well. Speaking to some businesses they will actually say, “Do you want to sit down and talk about this?” And when I say I don’t know what that is, they explain it. It’s nice because there is a very community access to business here; it’s local businesses supporting other local businesses.

What advice would you have for an entrepreneur starting out?

One of the things is to plan carefully what you want the end goal to be and then work backwards from that. For example, if you say I want my product to be or where I want to market it, make the image first of where you want it to be and work backwards to where you are. I did it the other way around; I have the product now and let’s work to where I want to go. You realize you do a zig-zag to get there.

What do you see is the future of Beast Beard?

I see it expanding quickly. The thing that’s nice about beard oil, in the city especially, it’s such a new idea. Places like Portland, Oregan, New York, places where beards have taken over, beard oil has become very prevalent there. Here it hasn’t; in Canada it hasn’t. There’s a place in Montreal that makes it; there’s a place in Vancouver that makes it. But it’s few and far between here. I see it expanding in growth quickly, not just in the city, but also in knowledge of beard maintenance in general. Of course, I want men to buy my beard oil, but essentially in the end, if men can just learn that there is a way to take care of their beards…then really wherever they get it from is helping to spread beard knowledge.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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