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A Tour Of Van Der Hagen

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[Update: Van Der Hagen was purchased by United Beauty and the assets moved to Chicago, IL in 2016] The small town of Liberty Hill, Texas is home to a big player in the wet shaving world: Van Der Hagen.  I recently got a chance to tour the facility (caution: this article is image-heavy).

A nondescript industrial park at the edge of a small Texas town might be an unlikely spot for possibly the best-known wet shaving name in the US but it’s the home to Van Der Hagen.  They have become ubiquitous in the mass-market, value-oriented traditional wet shaving niche’, found in such large retailers as Target, Walgreens, Walmart, HEB, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Wegmans, Bed Bath and Beyond, Meijers, Fred Meyer, Food Lion, Weis, Giant Foods,  and Albertson’s.  That they’re so prevalent without having done any advertising is also impressive to me.

Van Der Hagen’s Start

Van Der Hagen in it’s current form began in 2001 but their history goes back a bit further than that.  The Van Der Hagen family previously operated a soap and fragrance manufacturing facility (under a different name) for some years, blending products for other brands.  But they got restless making products for others so they decided to “close shop” and start anew under their own name.  Their choice of product was driven largely by circumstances: one member of the family was sensitive to many of the shaving products on the market, so they decided to start with a shaving soap.

Making Soap On A Large Scale

Sharpologist has discussed making a shaving soap in the past.  Van Der Hagen’s shaving soap “recipes” are based on the the melt-and-pour style familiar to many soap-making artisans, with some minor changes to make it softer and cleaner to rinse off the skin.  All their soaps do not have preservatives but are refined to the point where they will essentially last forever anyway.  Their premium (“Luxury”) shave soap’s ingredients include over 40% humectants, more glycerin, and a cologne-quality fragrance that’s 4-5 times the cost of similar products (there is a scentless version as well).
I’m sure artisans get their ingredients in relatively small batches and make their soaps perhaps a few hundred pucks at a time.  Van Der Hagen does it on a much bigger scale: their ingredients come in 55 gallon drums and they make thousands upon thousands of pucks…every day.  Huge stainless steel kettles are used for mixing.  Their “small” kettle makes about 3000 three ounce pucks or about 4200 2.5 ounce pucks per batch.  The “large” kettle makes enough for 9000-13,500 pucks at a time (depending on size)–and is only at about half capacity.  The daily soap-making run depends on what is needed to fill pending orders since most of their large customers use a “just in time” ordering philosophy.
From the kettle the soap is in liquid form so it is piped to a machine that fills plastic puck “cups” and then held for curing.  Then they’re packaged as needed (either as just soaps or in kits with other products) and shipped.
And the packages are everywhere….

Boxes Boxes Everywhere

Pictures do not do the scope of the operation justice.  The manufacturing and warehouse facility is about 12,000 square feet and in places is filled floor-to-ceiling. Some large shipments are sent via tractor-trailer, while other shipments destined for regional distribution centers (Target and Walmart for instance) go out via the United Parcel.  Shipments to Amazon are special–they’re packed differently to accommodate the way Amazon “pick” items in their warehouses.
Along with the soaps, the shaving brushes are assembled on-site: the brush hair is imported but the handles are made by a company not far from Liberty Hill (badger hair brushes are imported fully assembled).
But the whole place runs with only about a dozen people (increasing slightly during the holiday gift-giving season).  The day of the visit they were doing a run of the “green box” shaving kits.

Value Philosophy, Growing Company

How did they get to this point?  A “value” philosophy: very low overhead, no advertising (though they do use a PR firm to send samples to media outlets), and growing the company slowly.  They are under no illusions about their products.  The base products are “good enough” for a great price and available widely enough for “the average Joe” to give traditional wet shaving a try.  Speaking of availability, they have been able to demonstrate their value to the big retail corporations as well.  The bottom line is that giving Van Der Hagen shelf space is more profitable than giving the equivalent shelf space to a competitor.
And within the last few years their growth has allowed them to start branching out into upgraded or related products.  Their premium shaving soap (scented and unscented) performs competitively with many of the glycerin-based artisan soaps while still being a great value.  The “orange box” kit has been selling extremely well and offers an upgraded experience (Amazon even has a version with a badger brush).
They also just launched a “shave butter,” a brushless (though it can be used with a brush) shaving lotion.  I have tried it and it performs well.  A double edge razor they import has sold much better than their expectations and they are considering offering more razors.
For Van Der Hagen, customer attitude towards traditional shaving was “meh” 15 years ago.  But it’s “done a complete 180” over the past few years, with kids remembering how their grandfather shaved, and they’re ready to ride the wave….


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

12 thoughts on “A Tour Of Van Der Hagen”

  1. i started out using van der hagen supplies. got me addicted real fast, i still use the soap and its one of my fall backs and in my regular rotation. i did not know the soap was made in the USA. very nice, i can feel good about buying it. their boar brush is ok, but good for someone new. the badger i purchased had the knot fall out before i even used it, contacted them, and got a replacement sent out ASAP. they are good with customer service, over all its a great starting point.

  2. Tried their safety razor for a while but found that it just wasn’t aggressive enough for my beard. I found that I had to do 3 full passes plus quite a bit of touch up to get a BBS shave. The razor is a little on the light side as well (weight) but, as always, YMMV

    1. But that’s what probably makes it a good starting razor. A mild razor is a pretty good place to start learning how to DE shave, IMO. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be the razor you use for the rest of your life

  3. I saw the how to shave like your grandfather and started looking into wets having. I found a DE at a flea market that was claimed to be from Elvis’s uncle. I made a shave bowl out of a soup bowl at one of those paint your own pottery places, and baught some Swords at WM. All I needed was the soap, and what better place than WM to look, and I found a VDH puck for under $2. Add in a tweezerman badger and I have been hooked the since. I like their regular and luxury level soaps.

  4. Back in April, I bought their Badger brush and it was terrible! Shed like crazy and had no backbone. I sent them an email letting them know why I was unhappy with my purchase. They said there had been a problem with their gluing machine and sent me a new brush, which I have been very satisfied with.

  5. All these years living 30 minutes from Liberty Hill and did not realize that’s where VDH is from…
    Maybe I will stop by next time I head towards hill country.

  6. There may be critics of the sets as not being high quality, but I would ask: where can a neophyte experiment with wet shaving by simply stopping by the local drugstore? I had bad experiences with the brush, but my junior shaver got lucky and his brush is remarkable soft and effective after 3 years daily use (YMMV).

  7. I have only been doing the wet and DE shaving for about two months. I ran into the VDH Green Box (green ceramic bowl, boar brush, and deluxe soap) at Walgreens for about $11.00. Love the bowl, the brush is OK, but hated the soap because of the fragrance. I upgraded to the VDH Unscented Luxury Soap which although a larger puck than the deluxe, still fits in the green bowl. I am quite happy with the combination but truth be told, I am something of a wet shaving cretin. I am sure more discerning wet shaving enthusiasts would find VDH products rather spartan, but I like the almost zero fragrance and it rinses off my face cleanly with no slimey after residue.
    I also switched from a Gillette Sensor to a Merkur 38C Barber Pole and have a Merkur 510 Progress on order. So I can thank VDH for inspiring an interest in DE shaving as well, although I was not interested in their razor.
    I do like their blades (I suppose I am a blade cretin as well). I hacked myself up with Feather blades, and I returned to the VDH blade while I healed up. I think at this point Wilkinson Sword will be the blade of choice for the 38C, but if I over do it, the VDH blade provides a gentler shave for the recovery. I intend to try the Feathers in the Progress but with the adjustment set very low.
    My experience with the world of wet and DE shaving can be attributed to a chance encounter in Walgreens with VDH. While I am sure that there are many better products available (at considerably more cost), VDH is right there on the big box shelves near the Gillette Foamy. I am sure that I am not the only person who can thank VDH for an introduction to the very interesting world of wet and DE shaving.

  8. Thanks for the article, Mark. As a fellow Texan (Go Rangers!), I love reading about the contributions Texans make to the wet shaving world.
    Keep up God’s work!

  9. Effective, cheap, and widely available. What’s not to like. I am not sure of their ingredient list but it always worked well for me.

  10. OOPS.
    Above I said the VDH brush didn’t increase my shaving enjoyment. I meant to say IT DID increase my enjoyment, and improve the shave itself.
    Still on my first coffee.

  11. Pretty impressive, Marc. Thanks for the story.
    A VDH badger was my very first brush. Before I plunked “real money” down on something I had never experienced, I picked up one of their older badger brushes and a puck of their soap. While I didn’t use either for very long, the products were just good enough to convince me to give a better brush and some quality shaving soap a try.
    The brush was nothing special, really. But it didn’t increase my shaving enjoyment—and I think helped the shave, too. Had my first experience been with a Tweezerman, I can’t say I would have moved forward and bought better/more expensive replacements.
    And though I had already been using quality creams (such as Art of Shaving), I might have no hard soaps at all, had the VDH puck been a total dud—but it wasn’t.
    Sounds like VDH is a company with no illusions. No preposterous marketing or ad campaigns. No celebrity pitchmen trying to pry more money out of the consumer via subscriptions or inflated shipping charges. Fairly priced and widely available. What’s not to like?
    Yes, I’ve moved beyond from (I’d like to think up a notch) the VDH products, but I credit them for doing a nice job and getting me started in traditional shaving, without costing me a fortune. In a pinch (let’s say traveling and losing a bag with shaving gear) I would pick up their razor, brush and a puck of their soap to get me through a vacation. At the end, I’d try to gift it to a friend, to get them started along the path of traditional shaving.
    Finally, the success of VDH at convincing retailers to give them some shelf space should open up things, a little bit, for other traditional shaving products. I wish them much success.

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