We consider ourselves a values-driven company. We believe that ethical business practices and profitable business practices don't have to be in conflict with each other.
When we started Outlaw Soaps, Russ and I didn't know much about values-in-business outside of what we saw in companies like Dr. Bronner's and Ben and Jerry's. But those companies are kind of "hippie" companies. Ain't nothing wrong with being a hippie, but we just wanted to run a regular company with a peripheral attachment to our values.
We have a pragmatic approach to being a values-driven company, where our values intersect with economic wisdom.
It's a different idea, and we've struggled to articulate it in our business. I didn't want to make the business about the values, but I did want to live by them in a quiet, consistent way. I want you, our customer and friend, to count on us to do the right thing as a matter of business ethics.
I believe this should be the standard for all new businesses who establish themselves in this new economy.
Value #1: The Best Customer Service
When we started the business, we wanted the kind of company that attracted incredible, interesting customers with a great sense of humor. "Life is too short to be taken seriously," as Oscar Wilde says.
And because we were building this business for awesome and amazing customers, we knew that:
- You're pretty damn forgiving of our foibles.
- You're worth the extra effort.
Because we're a new company and incredibly small, we do make mistakes. We also know that our products are a bit of a gamble, and that not every scent is for every person. We want to make sure that you know that no matter what, the Outlaws have your back.
Value #2: Incredible Products
About that "our products are a bit of a gamble" bit... we know our products aren't for everyone. And that's ok. There are a thousand (ten thousand, probably!) companies making other stuff, but we're the only Outlaw Soaps.
You can't get products like ours anywhere but from us.
We use the highest quality ingredients we can find (and afford to create reasonably priced products with) to make the outstandingly unique scents, and then we take those unique scents and put them into fantastic-quality products, most of which are made from scratch.
It's a fine tightrope we're walking, though, since there's a trade-off: people will pay for exceptional products... to a point. If there's a cheaper option that aligns with what they value, they'll go for the cheaper option. So we have to figure out where that line is. Some people refuse to use any artificial ingredients at all (and for them, they'll have to find other products). Some people are a little more forgiving, and trust us to source safe and ethically produced ingredients. And some people don't care, they just want to smell awesome.
And we're dedicated to serving you awesome-smelling products that are safe and well-made.
Value #3: Ethical production
The other day, my friend put it perfectly:
"There's the ingredients you need to make your product, and then there's the ingredients you need to make it possible for you to sleep at night."
He meant that we have to have a keen awareness of our ingredients and process. We take care to make sure that our ingredients are ethically sourced and responsibly produced.
This means that no rain forests were decimated in the creation of any of our products. No animals were treated with cruelty in the service of your badassery. Most of our products are vegan, and the only animal products we use are beeswax in our lip balm and solid cologne.
And in addition to our ingredients, we also are emphatically dedicated to the environment. We use recycled and recyclable packaging whenever possible. We generate so little waste that we throw away about one household's worth of garbage and recycling per week. Not much for a workshop that produces thousands of products per month!
We use reusable production equipment, including cloth rags. Even though it takes a little more time to wash and dry them, we think it's worth it.
It's one of those things we don't talk about a lot -- again, we kind of hope you'll take it for granted from our type of company. But it does bear saying right here in our "Magnificent Seven Outlaw Values" section, right?
Value #4: Kindness is King (and queen, and all the other royalty)
You might think this falls under Value #1: Customer Service, but this goes far beyond just being kind to our customers. In my early employment days, I worked as a clerk for a greeting card company in Seattle. The owners were sweet as pie to customers, but cruel and kinda catty to the employees. I didn't have insight into how they treated their suppliers, but I can't imagine it was great.
When we started our business, I knew we had to be kind. Not just to people who were giving us money, but to everyone. We treat suppliers with the same kindness and respect that we extend to customers. We have a friendly and direct -- but always kind -- method of communicating around the workshop.
Sarcasm and snappiness aren't tolerated, and if there's a conflict (because there's always going to be conflicts in open-communication environments), we talk it out. We ask for what we need. We apologize when we're wrong. We're kind.
Value #5: Made in the USA, supporting real people in local jobs
We live in a global economy, and because of that, we're awash in imported goods. Everything from packaging to t-shirts to soap noodles. Presidents can raise and lower tariffs to try to control the flow of products, but the best way to impact the economy is to vote with your own dollars, voluntarily.
We do that by buying American-made products whenever possible.
For example, we contract with a friend's business in Vancouver, Washington to make our lip balm and solid cologne. There are cheaper places we could private label lip balm (and we're eventually bringing ours in-house), but we like Bar Maids and like the quality of product they make, and they're made in the USA. When Russ and I drove to Seattle earlier this year, we made a stop by Bar Maids to say hello.
Our recycled chipboard packaging is made by a company called Guided, just outside of Seattle, Washington. They've been making our packaging since our second year in business. I had ordered business cards from them, got on their mailing list, and then saw that they also made custom packaging. A couple years ago, I took my mom to visit their plant. After talking with the workers, she "got" what we were trying to do: work with American-made and values-aligned companies to produce the highest quality products and create the most American jobs.
When we ordered our t-shirts, we had the choice between a cheaper Chinese version, and a more expensive American version. Even though we knew the shirts were going to mostly be giveaways, we spent the extra money to get American-made. (for the record, Whole Foods actually footed most of the bill for that, so thanks to them)
We're not doing this because we don't like other cultures or countries -- hell no! We're very in favor of other countries! It's just because we believe in building our little slice of economic development.
Value #6: Responsible employers
We only have two employees and they don't work full full time, so this isn't something we really deserve to hold a parade about, but we believe in treating our employees with respect and following Henry Ford's model of paying more than average wages, with the additional perk of being flexible about working hours and situations.
We hire real humans, and real humans have real human stuff to deal with. We don't treat our employees like robots. We listen to what they think, and involve them in decision making. We're a very democratic company, and we believe in running our internal operations that way too.
As we grow, we will continue to be committed to being responsible employers.
Value #7: Conscious commerce
Finally, I'm always going to encourage you to make the right decisions for yourself. If our values are aligned with yours, we hope you'll vote with your dollars to support our little operation.
We trust that if we run our company in alignment with our values, you'll see the value of paying a couple dollars more for something unique that we have made.
I saw a meme the other day that said something like if you buy a vegetable at the grocery store, some mega-farm won't even notice your contribution, but if you buy a vegetable at a farmer's market, you're supporting that farmer specifically.
Well, that's fricken' ACCURATE. When you buy Outlaw Soaps, no matter where you buy our products, whether it's from our website, from a gift shop, from a grocery store, or from Amazon, you're supporting a little company with big dreams and a lot of values.
Thanks for doin' that and for being our customer and friend. We're proud to be your aromatic sidekick on a life of awesomeness.