Seven Questions: Portland General Store

I’ve been preaching the Portland General Store gospel for a couple years now, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Simply put, there is no other all-natural men’s toiletry-maker whose products are as varied, work as well, or smell as good. The brand is truly in a class all its own. I’ve joked on the site before about PGS founder Lisa Brodar being some kind of sorceress – how else to explain the seemingly magical properties of her potions and tinctures? – and I’m still not entirely convinced she isn’t one. Fortunately for us, however, she’s using her powers for good. Skin-softening, hair-thickening, fantastic-smelling good.

Brodar recently took some time out to discuss cooking toiletries in her kitchen, the pros of going all-natural, and breaking in to the home goods market. Here’s what she had to say.

Well Spent: Give us the Portland General Store origin story.
Lisa Brodar: Portland General Store started out of an interest in sustainable living. Back in the mid 2000s, we (Troy and myself) foresaw a changing world where people would be interested in making their own goods, getting back to farming, buying locally and living off the grid. After traveling the country looking for the perfect city, we chose Portland, Maine for its walkability, and more importantly, for it’s potential as an agriculturally rich area able to feed and heat itself.

Tell us about the products.
All of the products were originally made by me in our kitchen. Last year we moved to our new commercial space where I continue to make all of the colognes, soap, balms and candles. We also work with a lab who shares our passion for making high quality organic and vegan products, in order to make larger batches of certain products, and to make our SPF moisturizer, VICTORY, which has to go through strict quality assurance in order to be sold as a sunscreen.

Though all-natural, and crafted entirely by hand, your products are all extremely effective. How much testing goes into each one before it’s released?
The average amount of testing for each product is one year. Phase one consists of meetings and research; phase two is the initial formulation phase, which can take months to get right; and phase three consists of label and packaging design, which again, can take months to get right.

Honestly, what’s so great about being all-natural, anyway?
This is a great question. We never thought we’d be making natural skincare products for men. When we first started, right off the bat I had an interest in making top quality products that benefitted one’s skin while having little (negative) impact on the environment. Through testing the products on my own skin – skin that was acneic, dry and oily for most of my life – I found that by using less harsh ingredients and fewer unnatural additives, it became more balanced and started to repair itself.

I also discovered that using a shampoo that had no detergent in it helped my scalp become less dependent on the detergent, which in turn, led to less oil production and my once thin and limp hair having more life and shine.

Over time, we have learned more and more about why certain ingredients are not only bad for the skin and hair, but also bad for one’s health, and the environment. Examples are plastic beads found in many facial scrubs that actually kill sea life through suffocation (our solution: FACE BOMB), and paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process. Paraffin starts as a grey sludge that needs to be bleached and processed before being deemed suitable to work with. And, it releases toxins when burned similar to second-hand smoke, whereas beeswax actually purifies the air by releasing negative ions.

Your fragrances are fairly unconventional (whiskey, tobacco, wood). Where did the inspiration for them come from? Are people ever surprised at how good they actually smell?
The inspiration came from wanting simple, honest and American names to showcase a simple, honest, American-made good! Whiskey was our first fragrance, and that name came as a result of how our colognes are made: in small, aged batches, complex, spicy, and with organic cane sugar alcohol.

I would say many people are surprised by how good a real fragrance, as we like to call them, smells! Most men are used to strong scents that last up to 24 hours, and this is still something that is difficult to compete with. It can be hard to convince a man that it’s better to wear an all-natural cologne that lasts 1-5 hours (dependent on the particular cologne, essential oils used, person’s chemical makeup, activity level, etc). However, once we do convert someone, they usually never go back to the mass market stuff.

You just made your first foray into home goods with the new Whiskey Beeswax Candle. Was that always part of the plan? Any other home products we can look forward to?
Yes, we are very excited to offer such a pure, high quality candle! We do have plans to add more, including some unscented pillars and taper candles, because beeswax has its own wonderful, subtle honey scent. We have always had plans to add more home products, like room spray, diffusers, etc., and they’ll all be all-natural, of course!

What would you say to someone who’s still on the fence about buying from PGS?
Try it! We guarantee our products and will refund you if you don’t absolutely love it.

For price and purchase info, visit Portland General Store.

  • Becky

    I still miss French Laundry. Lisa is a genius with scent. This one smelled great and didn’t trigger my fragrance allergies.

  • Lisa

    You bring back such memories of when I was making products in my kitchen in our old Portland townhouse! French Laundry was lovely :) Be on the lookout — we are introducing a women’s line this Fall/Winter, and will have one perfume in our new signature scent!

  • Dan

    Lisa, I want to thatnk you for choosing my beloved home town of Portland, Maine as your base of operations. I spent 5 years studying Aerospace Engineering in Florida and 3 years (and counting) with the Air Force in Colorado and I miss it every day. I use your face bomb to try and keep my skin clear which is especially important with the low humidity here. If you ever need an Rocket Scientist on staff, let me know.

    Lt Dan Arey