FREDERICTON – Kevin Leboeuf started growing his beard when he began transitioning out of the military about two years ago. The search for effective, organic products led his holistic nutritionist spouse, Alicia Phillips, to make beard oils and balms for him.
They’ve since turned that into a business called Educated Beards, which has signed a deal to supply CANEX, a retailer owned by the Canadian military that’s attached to bases around the country. Educated Beards’ products aren’t on CANEX’s shelves yet, but Phillips and Leboeuf have shipped out products ordered by the store.
“We’re pretty excited about it. It’s our first national deal,” Phillips said. “And being a veteran-owned company, I think it’s nice to be able to sort of still have that attachment with the military.”
Educated Beards makes oils, balms and beard and body washes using organic essential oils, without parabens, alcohol or “anything toxic,” Phillips said. They range in price between $10 and $30. They use glass bottles to be more environmentally friendly and because they eliminate the risk of leaching, the company says on its website. The company also sells brushes, combs, shears, hoodies and t-shirts.
Leboeuf said CANEX is a “perfect fit” for Educated Beards because members of the military “are very aware of what they put inside their bodies.” It’s great timing, too, since the Canadian military in September loosened restrictions on beards, albeit with some caveats related to the length, and safety, among others.
This means, over the next few months, the number of products they supply retailers will grow “dramatically” from around 1,500-to-2,000 currently, Phillips said.
Phillips started making the products at home in 2016 when Leboeuf would use products with chemicals in them to ease the discomfort that comes with growing a beard. They couldn’t find organic products that effectively ease that discomfort. But with a newborn son at home, the couple wanted to make sure any products they use is safe for the whole family.
“We started doing some research and started trying different formulations. Kevin started noticing a difference in his beard and friends started noticing, wanting some products,” Phillips said.
They gave away some products to friends, but the ingredients were expensive. So they decided to start a business a little over a year ago that aims to not only provide quality products and quality experience, but also educate customers on what should or shouldn’t be used on the skin, and why they should read labels, Leboeuf said.
“We don’t mind if you don’t purchase from us. We really want you to leave the conversation knowing that you should be aware of labels,” he said.
That’s why they have a 29-page document to help retailers train salespeople on their products.
Aside from CANEX, the products are sold online, and in 44 stores and retailers across Canada.
Last year, Educated Beards completed UNB’s Summer Institute program. The company is also one of six selected for the third cohort of Ignite Fredericton’s Ignite Exporter program, an accelerator that helps businesses break into international markets.
“It’s another step that’s going to help us export to different markets. So our plan is to export in the U.S. and into the U.K.,” Leboeuf said.
The company’s growth is thanks to their “hustle,” Phillips said. It’s also thanks to word of mouth from people who have had good experience using their products, and their staff, Leboeuf added.
Two employees help the couple manufacture the products from their home. One of those employees was hired through the federal Return to Work program for military members transitioning out of the forces because the couple wanted to get more veterans involved.
Leboeuf himself has served in Afghanistan, and later, the high-risk search unit at home. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2016 and has been in the process of transitioning out of the military since then. He still attends therapy sessions twice a week.
Having a business pushes him to do better, he said. It has also kept him busy as he moves into civilian life, “because a lot of guys don’t have anything to fall on to” once they leave the military, he said.
Looking ahead, Leboeuf and Phillips plan to open a manufacturing site for Educated Beards as production expands.
“We have talked to a manufacturer in Moncton and we’ve started looking into possibly opening a manufacturing site, but we’d like to keep everything being handcrafted, so we’re sort of playing with that right now,” Phillips said.