Dr. Bronner’s – soap with a universal message

Dr. Bronner’s – soap with a universal message

At Raft we believe in doing the right thing. And doing it yourself if necessary. We look out for people with the same ethic and, when we get a few moments, we ask them to share a few thoughts with us.

Dr. Bronner’s makes soap, hair and body care products - but with a real difference. Their ‘All-One’ ethic and commitment to being green make them quite unique. Here’s their fascinating story...

In the 1950s, Emil Bronner found that it was easier to sell peppermint soap than to convince people of his vision for the future of the world.

He was giving public lectures on the street, while selling his soaps on the side. More people wanted the soap than the lecture, so he abandoned his soapbox and took to putting his lectures on the side of his soap bottles and packets.

His All-One message remains on the packaging of Dr. Bronner’s soaps to this day, and the company’s ethos and family connections are still important.

Emil’s ‘magic soap’

The company’s founder was a man whose life mirrored many of the ups and downs of the twentieth century. Born Emanuel Heilbronner to a German Jewish family which had first started producing soaps in the 1850s, he learnt the family business.

In the 1920s, he moved to the United States and was known as Emil. He dropped the ‘Heil’ from his surname as a mark of his opposition to the rise of Hitler and later began to style himself ‘Dr. Bronner’. Many of his family who had stayed behind in Germany were killed in the Holocaust and the family’s property seized.

Emil founded his own company in the United States; his simple formula and pure ingredients began to win him customers. The fact that his ‘Magic Soap’ boasted dozens of uses, from washing clothes to camper vans — as well as his message of world peace — made it an ideal product for the hippie generation.

Dr Bronner’s today

Two generations on, Emil’s grandson David brought the company into the twenty-first century.

At first reluctant to join the family firm, David returned from his travels in Amsterdam and elsewhere to take over from his father.

David Bronner added hemp seed oil to the soaps’ mix. In order to do that, he had to take on the US drug enforcement agency and campaign to change the law. The campaign even saw David arrested outside the White House as he locked himself in a cage and pressed hemp seeds into oil. It wasn't until 2018 that hemp farming became legal across the States.

The evolution of Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t end there: the company is still campaigning on organic farming and a genuine commitment to Fair Trade that involves sourcing ethical ingredients from around the world.

And the company maintains its independence in the face of those who have shown interest in buying it up.

The magic soapbox may have moved on, but the belief that there can be change for the better persists.

See more about Dr Bronner’s and shop their soap and other products on their website.

At Raft we craft furniture from reclaimed teak and hand-make sofas in our own London factory. Read about our founders Mick & Heinz here.