If you’re thinking, “soap–WTF guys?!” we urge you to read on first. Also, the irony is not lost on us that the Tactical Hippie is discussing soap. Mad Duo
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Don’t Be Nasty – Maxwell’s Soaps
There’s so much bullshit happening around us today that some times you just need to read a story that inspires your faith in humanity. A story that includes a man who saw some dark shit across the pond and how it left him scarred yet inspired. When he returned home he realized he wanted to help people but also wanted to help himself navigate through some tough times. I got the chance to interview veteran, vetrepreneur and American Jedi Maxwell Moore of Maxwell’s Soaps about starting a business as a veteran using philanthropy and the challenges he has had to overcome. Enjoy and “don’t be nasty”.
What drew you to soap making?
My grandma explained how soap was made to me as a kid in Tennessee, and it was a skill taught at the Appalachian Living History Museum outside Knoxville. In Afghanistan, after a near-miss I had this moment of clarity: I don’t want to be dead and smell like sweaty balls and feet. So getting clean began being an obsession while I was in war meditating on my own mortality. Later after the wars and my mother’s passing, soap-making became a meditative hobby in California that kept my hands busy and kept me out of trouble. I made a LOT of soap.
When did you make the decision to take it from hobby/therapy to business?
I was rebuilding my late mothers burned down house, and I’d sunk all my deployment cash into the build. So I started making soap as holiday gifts for friends, as I was broke. By the following year, the demand had tripled and I couldn’t afford to give that much soap away. So the business came accidentally following the organic demand.
Who or what would you say has been your biggest influence with regard to your decision to start a business and embrace a philanthropic approach?
My PTSD lead me to put a gun in my mouth 4 years ago. Then I immediately figured that was dumb, that there was a ton of work to be done, and I didn’t wanna be remembered as a quitter. I went down to the VA for my share of fuckery and saw veterans living around skid row in downtown Los Angeles living nasty on the streets. I was sick of feeling like a crybaby, so I got to work on the first problem I could. I figured I could give soap to the homeless; they’d recover a little dignity and I’d have a purpose.
What has been the most rewarding part for you during this journey?
There was a couple living outside on the street in San Francisco. They had a baby girl and all their gear stacked up on a stroller. I was in the city making connections with a homeless hygiene program called Lava Mae. The couple had packed their diaper bag to the point of splitting, and it finally did. All their stuff had scattered on the pavement where some jerk had crapped on the sidewalk. It was awful. Anyway, we hung out and talked, watching the dawn sun rise beautifully over the fog on San Francisco Bay. I stitched the bag back together with a leatherman and some 550 cord. It was the same tinkering you’d get up to on deployment. Getting them clean and back up and moving using soap I made with my own hands and skills I’d learned in the field was a really rewarding moment. But more than that, it showed me that the people living in our streets are really no different than refugees or soldiers living in the dirt. We’re all just humans trying our best with limited resources. At the end of the day, everybody would rather be clean and warm than dirty and cold.
What are some of the challenges you faced starting this brand and how have you over come them?
I knew core values had to come first, as it’s what was drilled into my brain in boot camp. So I committed my company to honorable, common-sense solutions to real-world issues. Part of that was taking a philanthropic approach from the beginning, instead of growing a conscience later, when the profits are already spoken for.
I had real challenges figuring how I could afford to give soap to the homeless every time I sold a bar. The simple trick was to find a homeless non-profit and then deduct the donation come tax season. I’d encourage other brands to try to build something that is simple and inspiring, but makes the world better. Build that story, and profits will follow. You’re going to be stuck working on something anyway, it might as well be your own beautiful dream that will leave the world better when you’re dead and gone.
What words of advice would you give to other veterans looking to start their own business?
Use your military network. It’s priceless! Surround yourself with smarter people than yourself and seek counsel. Learn from others mistakes. Then set your mind to it and just go. Don’t hesitate. Everyone has self-doubt. Fuck it. Listen to that drill instructor in your brain. Enjoy the challenges. Smile. Keep going.
Do you find the mindset that you developed while serving helped you prepare for business and helping others?
Yes. Absolutely. I never went to business school. I just learned as I went along. Before I was a Corpsman, I started my Navy time as an Intelligence Specialist. So the military taught me how to critically think, pattern recognize and reverse engineer problems early on. I learned a lot from observing these different cultures and those with less. Which means I made my soap business a trainable, scalable, portable operation. I approached the business model like I was planning a mission. Seek weaknesses to exploit while pushing with your strengths. The military was like caustic rocket fuel for my brain. The trick is learning how to focus that intense energy in the civilian world. If you can focus that energy, you’ll nail it.
In your experience, what can people do to help those less fortunate?
Begin by understanding that you’re no better… Maybe just luckier. Life sometimes beats the hell out of you. Surviving in America requires luck, brains and strength. Not everyone is lucky, strong and clever. So for me, I think empathy came first, philanthropy came immediately after.
Tell us about what is coming in the future for Maxwell’s Soaps?
More soap to more places. Liquid soap and a shave soap. Lotions. I dream of soldiers in the field and the VA carrying this brand nationwide. With a 1:1 donation policy, using my brand and that grand scale, we can wipe out hygiene deficits in our homeless populations permanently. This lowers disease and sickness for everyone in an urban area. That’s the dream. We have gotten our donated soap to an orphanage in the Philippines and we’re working on plans to get soap to Syrian refugees by Christmas. I want to live in an America where you’re never too poor to keep your self clean.
If there was one message you hoped to deliver with this venture what would it be?
Don’t be Nasty! Don’t be greedy and selfish. Be the inspiration that’s so sorely lacking in America. You. You go do it. Don’t wait for anybody else. Start something that makes a difference. Set your mind to a righteous task that seems impossible. Then beat the living hell out of obstacles until you accomplish your objectives.
To learn more about Maxwell’s Soaps visit their FaceBook Page.
Here’s a video from a recent fund raising campaign (campaign is closed).
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author: Craig Metzger is some sort of evil creative genius who enjoys everything from Billabong to Zev Tech. He’s one of those dudes who mountain bikes, hikes and snowboards with the same enthusiasm as he does spending time on the range, offroading in Moab and attending Ren Faires. He’s definitely our first minion so far to have a subscription to Thrasher magazine. Kyle Lamb (the Viking Tactics Kyle Lamb) really does call him the Tactical Hippie, that’s a true story. Although we cannot confirm rumors that he played the role of Everett in Delta Farce, we can advise you to check out some of his work on his website or on his blog.