NEIL ERNST Edwin Jagger will import four tonnes of badger hair from China this year. Each to his own, you may say...
But this is no eccentric aristocrat indulging a strange whim.
Edwin Jagger, as the world knows him, makes good use of the animal hair after the Chinese have eaten its meat.
He makes shaving brushes, some costing up to £200 each.
Not the ones you might find in any chemist or supermarket but the kind you only get in high-class shops and elite department stores.
Despite a worldwide recession Edwin Jagger’s luxury shaving equipment sales have more than doubled in the past five years with turnover up from £1million in 2007 to £2.5 million this year with 70,000 brushes in 1500 designs and roughly the same number of razors sold. All hand finished and the majority exported to 24 countries.
That’s a lot of badgers and blades. But, like many of legendary manufacturers’ names, it all started with one man in a workshop in a Sheffield cellar.
Neil grew up near Ollerton in Nottinghamshire and moved to Sheffield as a 17-year old and went to work in management in the high-end silver industry he was fascinated by.
Then in 1988 on a whim, he made himself three silver safety razors and customised one of them with a metal badge from his Armani jeans. A friend saw it, asked him to make him one and a brand was born.
“I had an order before I had a business,” said 52-year-old Edwin who lives at Rivelin with his wife and daughter and still has his Armani razor.
“A friend asked me to make a dozen for him and another asked me to do 300 so I quit my full-time job to do it. It was a bit of a leap but sometimes you just have to take a chance, you don’t know if it will come again.
“I could see there might be a market, I had control of the project from design to sales and I was really enthusiastic about it. I started working on them in the cellar in my house near Ecclesall Road and I was putting out work to some of the little mesters in the city.”
Over time the Jagger brand grew and widened in range and sales territory.
Edwin moved his business from his house to a rented workshop of 700 sq ft and now he’s in 7,000sq ft in S3 with 22 staff and full books.
So full that during the Christmas rush last year he reluctantly had to close his order books for a few weeks. The factory itself - away from the CNC lathes, polishers and tumblers - is a glue and polish-scented warren of shelves, workrooms and storage areas stacked like Harry Potter’s wand shop with boxes marked Fortnum and Mason, Penhaligons and DR Harris containing endless razor designs and finishes, brushes, creams, lotions and colognes.
So what’s the big attraction for this stuff worldwide?
“When people realise how good a shave can be with natural shaving cream and preparation and a good blade they want to buy into the heritage of it all,” said son of a headmaster Edwin, in an accent with vowels and tones as finely finished as his cut-throat razor.
“There is that aspect but we also want to get into the fashion side of it too. People like to have a nice watch or pen by a designer and I like to think we can get a similar status for their shaving brush and razor. The range starts with a £20 brush and a similarly priced razor all the way up to sets at around £300.”
Edwin Jagger accessories are available in Sheffield at Savill’s barbers - where you can get a shave with a Jagger brush and razor - Formosa in Crosspool then Fortnum and Mason, Harrods and Selfridges in London as well as independents in Jermyn Street and the West End of London, boutique stores around the world and at edwinjagger.com
So where did Edwin Jagger get his upper class accent? #
Certainly not at High Storrs school where he finished his education.
“Actually it’s just a case of my not picking up the local accent from where I grew up. It does tend to help too when I’m at trade fairs and people like to meet the name behind the company, the accent is an advantage. The Americans love it.”
It’s perfect for a man who lists racquetball and fly-fishing among his hobbies, and there is a link to James Bond.
“Aston Martin have asked us to look at doing a design for their range,” says Edwin.
Of course he’ll take all that in his calm and measured stride as he has all the other changes.
Shaven but not stirred, you might say.
Synthetic substitute competes with the real thing
JAGGER’S are thinking the unthinkable.
For centuries badger hair has been the material considered by generations of chin-strokers as the essential filling for a gentleman’s shaving brush.
This use of animal by-products to create luxuries smacks of a distant era which to some is a huge selling point but to to others a distinct turn-off.
There may be an alternative. Jagger’s have just gone into production on a new range of brushes that use newly-developed synthetic fibres that look and feel just like badger hair - almost.
“We are sure of the ethics of our current badger hair suppliers but that may become more difficult in future,” said Edwin. “We have just sourced a new synthetic fibre that feels like the real thing. We have sent the new brushes out to the cognoscenti of the shaving world, journalists and experts and asked them to express their opinions to me and in which ever forum they like.
“I think the traditionalists might not like it because they are traditionalists. I have been using one since January and though I can tell the difference, it is an excellent substitute.
“If you aren’t used to a badger hair brush I don’t think you could tell. We want to have a shaving brush that ticks all the boxes even for vegans.”
Heaven knows I need a shave now
WHAT do you do when Morrissey calls at three in the morning when you’re on holiday in France and says he must have two razors by next day?
If you’re anyone but Neil Ernst Edwin Jagger you smile, turn over and hope you can still remember your bizarre dream in the morning.
But if you ARE the man behind Edwin Jagger you get on the phone to Sheffield and arrange for two razors to be couriered to the former Smiths front man.
Even though he’s in Los Angeles.
That’s what actually happened to Edwin a few years ago and though it was, er, a bit of a close shave, they did it.
“We were staying in a caravan in France and I got this call at two or three o’clock in the morning from someone in California to say he needed two of our razors sent to him for Morrissey of all people in Los Angeles by the next day.
“It was bit of an odd one but we did it. We got them to him from Sheffield by next morning Los Angeles time,” added Edwin.