AK: Local start-up leverages social media to bring beard oil to Alaskans

Kyle Reading prepares a batch of Flintlock beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Kyle Reading prepares a batch of Flintlock beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

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Two local musicians in Anchorage are diving beards-first into the business of male grooming products.

They’re going for a style reminiscent of Don Draper mixed with well-groomed mountain man.

I spent an afternoon at company – or apartment kitchen – headquarters to find out a little bit more.

Kyle Reading pours a fresh batch of beard oil into one-ounce bottles. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Kyle Reading pours a fresh batch of beard oil into one-ounce bottles. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

“Basically, now we’re just stirring up the carrier oils that we put in,” Kyle Reading, a co-founder of Cut & Caliber, said.

Right now he’s whipping up the base for a fresh batch of “Flintlock,” the company’s signature beard oil in the tiny kitchen of his business partner’s apartment.

“Make sure all of them are blended together before we start adding our essential oils, which will be the fragrance,” he said.

Kyle originally met his business partner, Steven Cornfield, through Anchorage’s music scene.

Newly-labeled bottles of Flintlock beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge)
Newly-labeled bottles of Flintlock beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge)

“He was in a local band; I was in a local band,” Kyle said. “And we hung out, and we both had the same kind of style and vibe.”

Eventually, Kyle moved to Seattle with Steven’s band, “Thera,” to test the Lower 48’s musical market, where they ended up roommates. That’s when the pair decided they wanted to start a business. But what kind of company?

“Once I moved back up to Alaska, we’re just like, you know, hanging out, going to coffee, talking about stuff, talking about ideas,” Steven said. “And, like he said, we finally narrowed on having a product-based company, a grooming and lifestyle company, a supply company, really.”

At first, ideas ranged from a clothing line featuring t-shirts and hoodies, to accessories and socks. But, none of those ideas struck quite the right chord – until, Kyle says, one of them floated the idea to create their own line of hand-made men’s grooming products.

“We kind of just took off from there and, I mean, as soon as that idea came forth, we were 100 percent on board for that from that moment,” Kyle said.

The men’s grooming product industry is booming nationally, but Kyle says it hasn’t quite taken off in Alaska – yet. So he and Steven decided to get ahead of the curve, establishing themselves in the local market.

Essential oils and scents you can find in the Cut & Caliber "vault." (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Essential oils and scents you can find in the Cut & Caliber “vault.” (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

Fast forward past dozens of failed recipes and Cut & Caliber is about three months in to its soft launch – selling a variety of items online.

So far, their flagship products include things like a solid cologne, mustache wax – and, of course, beard oil, which Kyle is putting the finishing touches on right now.

“So once you get it stirred around, see, it’s the nice golden color that we kinda aim for. And then next we go on to our scents,” Kyle said, digging through a box filled with small, glass vials of assorted scents, searching for the right combination.

“Tea Tree is up in our vault of scents,” he said. Well, actually, it’s really just a cabinet over the kitchen sink.

After grabbing a couple more scents, adding a drop of this, a touch of that, Kyle takes a sniff.

“Lemme check the scent, just to make sure we’re kind of close,” he said, smelling the mixture of carrier oils and scents.

Cut & Caliber's "Kinley" candle. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Cut & Caliber’s “Kinley” candle. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

While Kyle pours the new batch of Flintlock beard oil into each one-ounce, black bottle, Steven is sitting at a small table in the kitchen, checking out a new product they are preparing to launch.

“See, the notebook, I’m really stoked on too, we just got these today,” Steven said, flipping through the pages.

Kyle and Steven are gradually expanding the Cut & Caliber brand into things like notebooks, combs and candles.

As Kyle is bottling the beard oil, Steven is figuring out how to pitch the new pocket-sized notebooks on Instagram.

Because Cut & Caliber is an online company, so far, social media is critical to getting both their products and company name out into the public eye.

“Using pen and paper give you a timeless quality that our generation is getting away from – and, give me another reason,” Steven said, brainstorming for the post.

A lot of time at Cut & Caliber headquarters is spent pondering Instagram posts. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
A lot of time at Cut & Caliber headquarters is spent pondering Instagram posts. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

Some ideas are not so good.

“I feel things that I write down are more important than just the ease of typing it in my phone,” Kyle pitched.

But, as they continue throwing ideas around, Steven comes up with one that could be Instagram gold.

“Oh, and the battery will never run out. There ya go. Boom, copy, done,” Steven said.

“That’s definitely getting 12 likes on Instagram, maybe 15,” Kyle said, chuckling.

Since social media will play such a big role in whether Cut & Caliber ultimately succeeds or fails, they agonize over each post.

Steven Cornfield puts new labels on the new batch of beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Steven Cornfield puts new labels on the new batch of beard oil. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

And it may be working. According to Kyle, a handful of local companies, like Dos Manos in Anchorage and a few local salons have already taken notice.

“It’s been pretty humbling, just to think we started two months ago and people are like how much can you get us and when,” Kyle said. “And it’s like, oh…whatever you want.”

And, as Kyle and Steven finish sticking new Cut & Caliber labels on the bottles of freshly-brewed beard oil, they say supplying those stores – rather than only being available online – is their next step. Though they hope the work can be done from a new, bigger space, rather than in the cramped kitchen of Steven’s apartment.

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Josh is the web producer for alaskapublic.org.

He has been a part of the web team since his internship during the summer of 2010.

Besides maintaining the website, he also reports for the Alaska Public Radio Network, gives occasional live news updates on KSKA 91.1FM during All Things Considered, runs camera and directs programs for Alaska Public Television, and has taken numerous photos and videos that appear on alaskapublic.org.

Prior to graduating from the Journalism and Public Communications Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage in December 2010, Josh worked at The Northern Light student newspaper where he and his staff won two Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker Awards.

He has also been an adjunct instructor for the JPC department at UAA.

Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Josh enjoys being outdoors, so when isn’t at work, you can usually find him out fishing, camping, hunting, four-wheeling, or snowmachining.

jedge (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8455 | About Josh