Female body hair is so taboo that, looking at advertisements and branding for shaving products, you could almost believe it doesn’t exist. That notion and the pressure to always be clean-shaven is something that Georgina Gooley, founder of direct-to-consumer shave and body care brand Billie’s, wanted to change. With her brand, she showed beautiful images of women with body hair, reimagined the shaving experience, and launched messaging that shaving or not shaving were equally acceptable. I spoke to her about growing her brand with the help of a Series A investment, and why she saw the importance in changing how we think of female body hair.
Can you give me an overview of Billie’s as a brand? What products do you sell?
We’re a female-first brand providing quality shaving and body care products through an affordable subscription model without the pink tax. Essentially what we found was that most shaving companies were very much tailored to men to give them a better or more affordable shaving experience. We wanted to create products that were designed specifically for the way women shave. There’s this notion of a pink tax where products and services that are marketed towards women are more expensive than those towards men. It was important for us that even though we made women’s products, we were pricing in line with the affordable men’s razor subscriptions out there.
What are the biggest differences between how men and women shave?
First of all, women shave approximately 10 times the surface area of men. We often shave in the shower versus in front of a mirror. We’re going over more curves, more bumps and tighter spots depending on where you’re shaving. What we wanted to make sure of was that we were providing the most comfortable shave for the way women shave. It was important that we surrounded our five blades with extra lubrication and protection so that when you’re dragging a blade over your skin you have extra protection. We designed our handle so that it has grip for the way women hold it with your index finger and your thumb. Lastly, we asked women if we had a holder for your razor, would you use it? And they said “We’d love a holder, but those holders with the suction cups never work.” We talked to our industrial designers to come up with an elegant solution to store your razor in the shower. We created this magnetic holder which attaches to the wall with power putty so it just sticks there. Then the handle actually attaches to the holder with magnetic force, so it almost looks like it’s floating in your bathroom. It’s so minimalist and a really elegant solution.
You mentioned the pink tax before. There’s been some discussion of it, but I think many women don’t realize how pervasive the pink tax is in their body and beauty products. Could you tell me more about that?
We actually found that razors and dry cleaning are two of the worst offenders. When you go into a dry cleaner, your shirt as a woman is probably smaller than a men’s shirt, but you’re paying a premium to have it dry cleaned. The same was happening with razors—a pink razor was more expensive than a blue razor, for no reason other than they felt that they could charge women more for it. When you really start digging this happens across many, many categories. This happens when babies are born and there’s a pink toy and a blue toy—the pink toy for some reason is more expensive. It happens in fashion, in personal care, and in beauty. These are the pricing strategies that companies feel like they can get away with, but it’s discriminatory pricing and very unfair. We actually launched the pink tax rebate as an initiative to raise awareness of the pink tax. If you can spread the word of the pink tax we’ll reimburse you and give you a rebate on all those views. We don’t require you to buy from us in order to get this rebate. We just ask that you share the news and if new people sign up for the pink tax rebate, we give you money back and then you can use that towards your next purchase.
In recent years many women switched to just using men’s blades because they realized it was more affordable to use men’s blades. What is Billie’s unique appeal to keep women from buying men’s products?
We’re a brand for womankind and we’ve designed our products for women but at half the price of what you would find for women’s razors in a drugstore. We’re priced in line with men’s products and wanted to provide an option where women didn’t have to compromise by paying a premium or forfeit the comfort of their shave.
Your message is, “If you want to shave, then shave.” How does this motto differ from those of other brands?
We noticed that the category refused to acknowledge that women have body hair to begin with. If you think about all of the razor commercials you’ve seen in the past, you have women shaving a shaved leg because they’ve already removed the hair and have already airbrushed it. They just refused to acknowledge that women had hair. We found that the category was kind of shaming women into thinking that body hair was not okay, to the point where you can’t even acknowledge that it exists. We wanted to say this is your body, it’s up to you what you do with it. It’s your choice to shave or not to shave. If you choose to shave, we have a great razor for you. If you don’t want to shave that is completely fine as well. We as a brand are not going to tell you how you should be grooming your own body.
What is Project Body Hair?
We launched Project Body Hair in the summer of last year. We thought we would look good as a women’s razor company to actually show women with body hair and shaving actual body hair. And we were the first women’s razor company to say shaving is a choice, not an expectation, and what you do with your hair is completely your call. We launched a video and an image library showing some women with body hair and some without, making sure that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer in either scenario. We were portraying women in a really beautiful way, regardless of whether they had hair or not. We went into stock photography sites and found that this shaming of women having body hair wasn’t just within the shaving category. It’s really in mass culture. You’d be looking forever until you actually found a woman with body hair, so we also did a photo shoot where we showed body hair in a really beautiful way. We donated those photos to Unsplash and said please share them far and wide. It was always the intention of making the Internet a little bit fuzzier, and just having a more balanced representation of women on the Internet. We had hoped that it would get attention but didn’t anticipate how much attention it would get. Our video has gotten around 22 million views now and we were covered in the press in 23 countries. We were getting over a million likes, comments, and shares. We were getting messages in all different languages on our social media and people sharing on Twitter and all of that.
You use good-for-you ingredients, what are some of those?
We’re looking at premium and healthy ingredients and we’re very transparent with our body care products. When you go to EWG Skin Deep, we want to make sure that the ingredients have a top rating so that they are healthy for you. I think a lot of it is focusing on what’s not in the product. No parabens, no sulfates, vegan, cruelty, non-GMO, and gluten-free. We found that it was quite hard to create premium, healthy, clean products at an affordable price point. A lot of products today are still made with fragrance, for example, which causes irritation. We wanted to make these products built for your everyday routine so you can feel good about putting them on your body every single day, but then pricing them in a way that you can actually afford to use. Sometimes you get these more premium products and they’re great as a gift, but it’s hard to adopt into your everyday lifestyle.
How did you ensure that the products were as innovative and good as you envisioned?
The category has been pretty stagnant for many decades. We wanted to find out what women were particularly frustrated about and wanted them be clearly heard. We obviously heard about the holder always falling down with the suction cup. When it came to the blade, we knew that razor burn was often a frustration. The only way that women had their razor burn alleviated was when there was extra protection and lubrication around the blade. We knew that most women liked four to five blades so that they could really get a clean close shave. We had endless surveys and focus groups as we were developing our handle. We made 3D prints getting them into the hands of women so that they could hold them with the right level of grip. We had multiple touch points with the consumer while we were in our product development stage.
You recently secured $25 million and a Series A investment. Who invested in you?
We grew a lot quicker than what we had initially thought. By day two we had shipped to 50 states. By month four, we had reached our 12-month projection and throughout the year sold out of our product multiple times. As we were approaching the end of the year we had been speaking to investors thinking about the next phase of capital required to take you to sustain growth. We were fortunate enough to partner with a great investor and think about the next phase of growth for the company, building out our team and making sure that we can satisfy demand. Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing Group is the lead on our Series A.
How will you use your funding? What products are you looking to launch or will you maybe expand overseas?
I think we’re exploring both of those things at the moment, but we’re not disclosing anything specific except this point. We’re looking at other ways we can bring innovation to women’s personal care. Then other markets that will make sense as a next step to move into.
Where would you think is a logical next step in terms of markets?
I think we still need to do a bit more research. We’ve only been in the market for one year and are still very focused on the US market, but definitely always looking at which other markets would be great to enter.
My last question: how do you anticipate our approach to body hair, especially women’s body hair, will evolve?
The idea of normalizing body hair, it wasn’t just a campaign for us—this is something that we committed to. We want to make sure that shaving always feels like a choice and not an expectation. What was really interesting was that the women’s razor category was over 100 years old. We launched last summer and a few months later, we’ve seen other companies, market leaders and newcomers, follow suit and actually show body hair in some of their communication which is pretty incredible. Billie as a young challenger brand, changing the way the 100-year-old category is showing women. I think the conversation around body hair is shifting and I think, brands who just continue to perpetuate the expectation that women have to be hairless all the time—that’s an outdated view. We’re super proud to be leading that conversation and that narrative, but seeing the market leaders and newcomers come on board, I think this will just become the norm at this point. No one should be telling women what they should do with their body, especially not a razor brand. For me, I liked that freshly clean-shaven feel but, in saying that, I don’t appreciate anyone telling me that I should have hairless legs. Other women might choose that they like the feel of having hair on their legs and they shouldn’t feel ashamed about it. All women should be confident in their personal grooming choices.
Photo: via Billie