As I write this it’s almost a year to the day that the Dr Bronner team last invited me out for lunch. Yesterday, we also went for lunch! I’m a bad blogger but am trying to get better at writing about things as they happen, and as I always say better late than never! There were a few familiar faces there yesterday, Tracey McAlpine of the fabulous blog Fighting Fifty who was at both lunches but I didn’t get to speak to, my new pal the surf-obsessed Linda Ohmstrom, the fabulous Spa PR Company team, and not forgetting Ryan Fletcher from Movement Media and Mike Bronner – fifth generation soap maker from the Dr Bronner family!
This time however there was also David Bronner, Mike’s brother. David has been the president of Dr Bronner’s since 1998 when his father passed away. His grandfather passed away the previous year. David is a board member of Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association. You may not know that it is illegal to grow hemp in the USA in all but 10 states, thanks to its fellow species the marijuana plant. Hemp for Dr Bronner production is therefore sourced from outside the USA, from Canada. But why are the Canadians allowed to grow hemp if in the US it’s banned, and why can they import it? Well hemp grown for uses other than smoking (and it can be used for many things other than just smoking! Paper, clothing, eating, cosmetics, building to name just a few) tends to contain negligible amounts of THC (Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) under 0.3%, whilst the green intended for recreational use contains anywhere from 2 to over 20% THC. The prohibition on the growth of hemp in the US dates back to 1937 and any hemp imported must meet a zero tolerance level! However with the gradual shift in the USA’s stance on cannabis (some states have created exemptions for medical cannabis, others have decriminalised cannabis possession and it’s now legal in Colorado and Washington to sell and be in possession of cannabis for both medical and non-medical use) surely it’s only a matter of time before these outdated laws are amended.
Now, Dr Emmanuel Bronner 3rd generation soap maker arrived in the USA in 1929 (if I remember correctly) from Germany, just before Hitler came to power and tried his best to get his parents to join him and his two siblings who had already left to go to the USA. His parents doubted Hitler would come to anything and even if he did it wouldn’t be a big deal or long term leadership. Sadly, Dr Bronner received a postcard from his parents from Auschwitz, all of it blacked out except three words – “You were right.” He never saw or heard from them again, they died in the concentration camp.
In the early 30s, there came about a change in the industry – “Better Living Through Chemistry” was the way in which things were moving. This phrase is a variant of DuPont’s slogan “Better Things for Better Living… Through Chemistry” which they used from 1935-1982. The former phrase was used by other brands at the time to get around trademark infringement. This movement saw increased use of synthetic materials in clothing, packaging, manufacturing, and alien chemicals coming into personal care products. Yes, my dear readers, this is where it all started to go wrong.
With the memory of his parents’ experience in his heart, Dr Emmanuel Bronner was on a mission to unite the world and believed that all religions, creeds and cultures should see past their differences and focus on their similarities. He started out standing on a soapbox preaching his message of “All-One-God-Faith” and “Moral ABC”. In 1947, whilst preaching outside the University of Chicago, Dr Bronner was arrested and sectioned. His sister was convinced by doctors he needed electric shock therapy so he underwent this awful treatment. Thankfully, he managed to escape and got as far away as Las Vegas with a driver before confiding in him the truth that he was an escapee. One trip to the bathroom and the driver had vamoosed!
Dr Bronner continued to give his talks and gave out a bottle of peppermint liquid soap to all attendees. He tired of people not staying to listen and only coming for the soap, so he took his all-one message to the bottle label and this is the reason behind all the messages on the bottle today. Dr Bronner’s messages were inspired by as wide an influence as traditional Jewish and Christian stories, through to poets such as Rudyard Kipling. Something else he put on the bottle was his telephone number, and one of Mike Bronner’s earliest memories is his grandfather sitting at home surrounded by red rotary telephones. He would receive telephone calls requesting product, he would receive some not so serious calls but one call he did take would have a massive impact on the life of the caller. The family received a letter from the lady in question, who described how she was in a black hole, suffering from depression. She had run a bath with the intent of ending her life and noticed the unmissable messaging on the Dr Bronner soap bottle. She called the number and explained how she was feeling, to which Dr Bronner simply said: “clean your house and call me back.” She was a bit bemused at first, wondering if he had heard what she was saying. Nevertheless, she cleaned her house and called him back. They talked through the night and the lady credits Dr Bronner in the letter for saving her life.