This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
Those numbers haven’t gotten the same attention as some other single-use plastic items – especially straws – but they did get the attention of Vancouver-based entrepreneur Amy Mitchell, who calculated that the average individual generates 22 pounds of plastic waste over the course of a lifetime by shaving with disposable razors.
That’s about the weight of an average car tire.
Of course, the figure varies by person and cultural expectations around body hair. And it’s not a hot take to say those expectations are often extremely gendered. It’s all very complicated with no one-size solution.
But Amy believes the solution starts with a classic safety razor – namely the zero-waste, non-toxic, cruelty-free Lisse Shave brand she’s been marketing for the past year.
With a single, replaceable steel blade encased in a metal handle, the safety razor can look primitive compared to the multi-blade plastic contraptions we’ve been seeing since the 1970s. Its classic design, largely unchanged since 1904, has maintained a small fan base among men, but it’s practically unknown among women.
Lisse Shave is out to change that. In just one year of sales, Amy estimates she’s helped divert 15,000 plastic razors from landfills. And thanks to the razor’s durable design, the environmental benefit continues to grow over time. “If each customer looks after their razor and it lasts for the next 10 years, that’s 150,000 plastic razors diverted from landfills,” she notes.
“Stripping” Out Toxins
The daunting material impact isn’t the only significant ramification of disposable razors. Notably, toxic chemicals have become commonplace in this corner of personal care. According to Amy, moisturizing strips are the culprits.
“It blew my mind the more I looked into it because the strip is part of a product that falls into this weird category,” Amy says. “Technically, razors are a tool and not a product. So, a lot of companies don’t need to legally disclose what’s in the ingredients.”
Given those looser disclosure requirements, it’s not uncommon for razor manufacturers to use toxic polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds in moisturizing strips. PEGs can contain chemical contaminants in their own right, but greater danger rests in how they increase the permeability of skin, allowing greater absorption of chemicals.
“When you’re talking about some of the parts of women’s bodies that razors come into contact with, like armpits and the groin,” Amy says, “that’s rubbing toxic chemicals near lymph nodes.”
While the lifetime risk of contracting any form of cancer is high for anybody, oncologists say the risk of recurrence is higher across the board in patients whose cancer starts in, or moves to their lymph nodes. By any reasonable estimation, it’s a problem that a common consumer product could contain carcinogens that elevate that risk.
Creating a Kinder Shave
Plastic waste and the lurking threat of toxins were just two of the issues Amy wanted to address with Lisse Shave. Creating a cruelty-free product was yet another major mission.
Lisse Shave products are Leaping Bunny approved, which means the entire supply chain has been verified for animal testing. Making something start-to-finish without harming animals sounds like a low bar, but Amy’s experience suggests it’s not easy to make that grade.
“I severely underestimated how hard it would be to find a manufacturer to work with who would pass the test,” she says. “There are some certifications that only require a written statement saying they don’t test on animals, and it’s not audited.”
Still other cruelty-free certifications only look at the post-consumer testing, which doesn’t account for any testing of raw materials. Another indicator that production isn’t cruelty-free is simply if a brand sells in China, where consumer products legally have to be tested on animals.
Mitchell’s determination to make a responsible product in a space where it’s neither easy nor rewarding might astonish some from a traditional business perspective. But it will surprise nobody who knows Amy, whose paramount concern is making a positive difference. “My fight is not converting people to my brand; my fight is converting people to more sustainable options.”
Image and Impact
Rather than reaffirm western standards of beauty, Amy wants the Lisse Shave brand to be part of destigmatizing different kinds of hair. “Something I want to highlight is different women and folks being loud and proud about their body hair,” she says. “I have friends with facial hair, and they like using a safety razor on their face but they grow their armpit hair out.”
That’s one reason why Amy refuses to push Lisse Shave, or even the conventions of shaving as imperative. The other is that she doesn’t want the upfront cost of a particular product to deter people from exploring more sustainable options in general.
“When anyone DMs me and says they love what I’m doing but can’t afford [a razor], I do actually try to help them find responsible brands at a more affordable price point,” Amy says. “I’ve never gone into this wanting to make money and sell products. It’s always been, ‘how can I make a bigger impact and give back?’ Sometimes it feels very small, but of course, if all businesses approach their work this way, it adds up.”
Plastic waste, toxic chemicals, animal cruelty, body image – Amy has spent a lot of time rethinking the products (even if they’re legally classified as “tools”) we use for something as common as shaving. But there’s one more element of purpose in the Lisse Shave brand, and that’s supporting one of Amy’s long-time favorite charities.
In East Africa, where girls miss up to 20% of the school year because of menstrual taboo, Femme International educates women and girls about menstrual health and body confidence. Every time you buy a razor from Lisse Shave, 2% of the gross sale goes straight to the women’s health charity.
Spend for good: Visit Lisse Shave’s online store to browse all products. Orders over $50 ship free in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to supporting Femme International, safety razor purchases currently come with a deal on Lisse Shave’s Sweet Citrus Shave Oil.
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