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Jarrett Blackmon

What is your official title?

I am the Owner and Creative Director of Damn Handsome Grooming Company.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

It depends on the season, but typically I’m up pretty early. I like to get up and take care of my dogs and my wife, and then go to the gym. I check in with social media profiles pretty early on in the day, and then I make it a point not to check email until mid-morning. Mid-morning to early afternoon is all in the studio creating and manufacturing the product. After that, it’s the logistics – finance, shipping, wholesale, emails, and design. I try to save the not so fun stuff till the end of the day.

I found out early on, when you first start your business it’s like, oh this is great, I can do whatever I want, but the fact of the matter is, you have to have some kind of structure to your day. The worst thing you can do is shut yourself in a studio and only create, because the truth is you have to get out and meet people; the best thing I can do is to get out for awhile, go to the gym, get some coffee, and be social.


What is Damn Handsome Grooming Company?

We are a men’s grooming company that is literally fueled by craft beer. We’re also very sustainable. We partner with breweries in Michigan and other parts of the country, and we reuse their products because of their benefits. We’ve also started a charity, for every purchase we give one bar of soap to a family in need. In impoverished communities, that can cut the mortality rate by 50-60%. Even simple hand washing can cut mortality rates by up to 60%. We’re really excited – it’s something we’re just launching this month.

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We really want to give; that’s always been something that we want to have be a part of this, so whether that’s our labels being eco-friendly, or our products, or the methods by which we get the nutrients, we wanted every part of what we are doing to be sustainable. We wanted to create a company that does more, yet does not harm more – does more with less. That was the premise behind it. The company is my wife and I – she does the finance piece of it, and she definitely helps out with a lot of other things as well, like keeping me in check.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

Right now we are working on a women’s line, which we hope to have out this summer called Damn Fancy. We’re starting out with face soap, face serum, hair serum, a shave bar and a shampoo bar. We’re also doing some candles. For the guys we’re doing some aftershave, and we have t-shirts and tote bags which are fun. We have a Farmer’s Market tote bag that’s going to be very beer-centric. We want to branch out and we also want to carry some other merchants. We’ve had an opportunity to partner with some awesome people who are creating great things. We want to get into selling shave brushes, straight razors, pocket squares and ties – all of those kinds of things. We want to be a curated store online with those types of partnerships.


Can you tell us about your background/passion?

I went to college at Western for Behavioral Psychology, and graduated and went to school at Columbia. After that, I found out that I needed a job, so I somehow stumbled my way into a visual merchandising career with Restoration Hardware. Through that I had to assemble a team, and that lead me to recruiting. That was around the time that social media was just coming into the mainstream, so I was using it to recruit. That was my strength, and did social media consulting for the next five years. I worked on a few campaigns with some companies here in Michigan and in Chicago – Whirlpool, Adidas – and got burnt out really quick. It was kind of like Mad Men, but instead of alcohol, it was iPads; I just got burnt out.

After living in Chicago and Portland, my wife and I moved back to Kalamazoo. We wanted to start a men’s company for a long time, but didn’t really know what that meant. We are avid craft brewers, and there is so much waste that happens in that process, so we started to talk to people at Bell’s and Boatyard and Arcadia, and quickly found out that all of that stuff is really good for your skin and your hair. We looked into it more and were trying to figure out how we could use these resources without doing more damage. After a lot of trial and error, we came up with our first products. Everything that I learned from Behavioral Psychology, to visual merchandising, to social media has all played into starting this business because you have to be a jack of all trades. It’s really hard to do that if you haven’t experienced it all first hand.

The first thing we made was a cedar porter soap; literally our house smelled like cedar for three months. People thought I was crazy. It was the same thing with this charity – people thought I was crazy when I told them we were going to give away our soap, but I ignored it. You have to have that vision and show people that what you’re trying to do is going to work.


How did you come up with the company name?

No one has ever asked us that, I swear. We went through a wide range of names. One was going to be South Street Soap Company, because I lived on South Street through college. I can’t remember what all of the others were. Completely honest, here’s where the name comes from: Our dog’s name is Sampson, and we have two nicknames for him: Handsome Sampson, or Damn Sam. We were struggling for about three months, what are we going to call this thing, and one day it just hit me – we are going to call it Damn Handsome, and that was it. No questions asked. We got it trademarked, and that was that!


Tell us about your different products!

Everything we do is beer-centric. That’s basically because the best after products of beer, being spent grains and hops, are super beneficial to skin with their B Vitamins and Riboflavin. Hops have antioxidants that are literally 100 times green tea. Coming from Portland, we were craft brewers, and we were invested in the community, wanting to start a men’s company. We thought we were going to be making ties, but it was a perfect storm of events, and decided alright, this is what we are doing, how are we going to make this work.

It also doesn’t hurt us that we have doctors in our family, so we could ask what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to be tested, what does the pH need to be for the products. Those things are so important, because the cosmetic industry isn’t very well regulated.

We started off with soap, and the beard thing came from me, trying to grow a beard. It was really itchy and really miserable, so we looked at beard oil and beard balm – how can we improve it and make it fun and useful. That’s the principle behind our products; it has to be useful. Some of our products are dual purpose, like the shampoo and body bar. Beard wax and hair wax; guys don’t need a medicine cabinet full of junk that has a lot of chemicals, so we created something that could be used for both.

Our first test was the Farmer’s Market a year ago. We were kind of unprepared, and didn’t know how to talk to our consumer at that point, but we had the benefit of figuring it out right there. We had the flexibility to say “I don’t know, but next week I’ll have an answer for you!” We were trying to figure out how to communicate to the consumer what we were doing.


Where do you get your brand inspiration?

We took inspiration from things that were hand lettered and hand stamped, as well as things that were environmentally sustainable. That all came together when we were assembling the products. We also wanted everything to have an element of style. We took inspiration from great designers, like Michael Bastian, who is amazing and works for Gant. We wanted it all to feel like something hand made in a booming, urban community. I think we achieved that, and I think that’s what Kalamazoo can represent; it’s urban, and hip, but it’s all artisan.




Who does your design of products and packaging?

I do that all in house. It takes me 20 times longer than it would an agency; we were looking at some agencies to outsource that to, because it’s kind of impeding on our development time, but it all goes back to knowing who you are. We have an inspiration board in our studio, that any time we want to change our packaging or introduce a new product, we go to that board and ask ourselves if it’s on point. Once you get into business cards and websites and packaging, you can really quickly lose who you are as a brand, so you have to have a core and a focus to go back to.

So that’s what we’re trying to do with some design teams for our new packaging that will come out next year. For us, it’s hand made, hand pressed, hand stamped, but it has an urban, Greenwich Village kind of feel to it – and we never want to lose sight of that.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I really like the downtown community. I think it’s weird and creative and it never has lost sight of what it has been. I think it can compete with not only the other cities in Michigan like Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, but neighborhoods in Chicago, and Boston and Portland; we’ve lived in those places and we came back here.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I think logistics aside, the biggest learning moment for us is knowing who you are. That goes beyond a business plan and a mission statement. It goes into knowing the persona of the company and the brand, and how to humanize that. What can happen from a digital handshake, to a business card, to a website search to someone landing on your Facebook page can get really muddled without having that brand clarity. All of that sets you up for a competitive edge, and if you don’t have that you essentially become another business.

You have to know who you are and what you want to do. That goes across all mediums – in person, print, digital. If you were to say, ‘I have a brewery, and we brew beer.’ Well, so do a lot of other people. What makes you different, and what is the purpose behind what you’re doing. In the age that we’re in right now where everything is so transparent, what better way to establish your company, brand, or business than to say, here we are, and here’s how we do it. It’s a golden age for small businesses, and the double edge sword is that you can sink or swim pretty quickly depending on how genuine you are.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

I’m a big music guy. I have everything from really good punk music to really good jazz music. Right now, I’m really loving The Head and the Heart. My wife and I got married out in Portland, and our reception was on a rooftop, and they were playing a show four stories below us, so they have a sentimental place in our hearts.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Yeah I spent a lot of time at Waterstreet downtown back in the day. Now that Black Owl has opened up, I’m really digging that place too. I take my coffee black; absolutely.


What is your favorite app?

Instagram – it’s the main way we communicate to our customers. It’s very visual, and if you look at our account, we have 1400 followers on Instagram, and 200 on Facebook. We found our social space, and for us, Instagram is huge for a business point of view. From a personal perspective, it’s texting; here’s what needs to get done and let’s do it. I’m really heavy into social media, but the more I can get off my phone and my computer the better. I’m a creative person, and I need to be able to take a step back and see things. It’s how we can reach people from our core out; we want to be visual, and social, and open up dialogue. For us, that’s using a photo.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

I love London Grill; I’ve been coming here since college. I just love the space. I grew up Catholic and went to private school, and it’s the perfect mix of tradition and Kalamazoo rebel for me. I also really like Food Dance and Olde Peninsula. O’Duffy’s is also a great spot.


What is the last book you’ve read?

The last book I read was recommended by Kevin Romeo, and it’s called The Accidental Creative. It’s an amazing book for people who are very creative and very business oriented at the same time. It confirms and helps you deal with all of the things going on in your life; if your work is creative, you totally know what I’m talking about. He recommended it, and it was perfect.


When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A rockstar! I played guitar and I sang and wrote songs. We went on tour and had a record. This was around 1999, and we were a ska punk band and toured with Blink 182, Something Corporate, and Newfound Glory. I went to Western because we thought we were going to get signed. That’s where the whole social media thing started for me. I would get on AOL chat, at age 16, and be like, ‘Hey, we want to play a show in Chicago at the Fireside’, and that’s how we booked shows.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Go with your instinct. Absolutely. For me, it was going to school at Western for psychology instead of going to UCLA for audio engineering. Through the course of Damn Handsome, I’ve always trusted my instincts, and people have laughed and shunned it, but I’ve always moved forward with it. I’ve learned after about 10 years that it’s better to fail, like completely go down in flames, than to have second thoughts – what if I did this or that? It’s better to go completely through the rafters and fall down on your back than to waddle your way through life.


What is your dream for the future of Damn Handsome?

We want to grow, but we want to grow smart. Right now, our Michigan base is probably about 10% of the business we do, so we want to grow within Michigan, but we want to also grow out of soap and beard oil into men’s provisions. The ultimate goal is to set up a brick and mortar shop in Michigan where we’re serving beer, but we’re also giving badass haircuts and shaves. You can come in and get a pint and a great haircut. The final goal is to open up a shop, but it has to be downtown, and we want to do it with style.


Where can people find Damn Handsome?

Urban Cottage downtown Kalamazoo, Beer and Skittles, and our online store is much larger than our wholesale stores. And the Farmer’s Market starting mid-May! I’ve also added a 15% off code to our website for the readers of Kzoo Uncaged. The code is KZOOUNCAGED and will be good through the end of the month (May, 2014).


Jarrett, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Jarrett and Damn Handsome on instagram, facebook, and twitter. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.