PRODUCER OF THE MONTH FEATURE: January 2024 by Ruth Garbus
When Emily Schwerin-Whyte and Rebecca Hamilton took over from their father as co-CEOs in 2018, the Badger Company was at an inflection point. They knew they needed to make some changes to point themselves towards the future. With arguably the best ingredients of any skincare or sun-care brand on the market, and a strong business foundation built with generosity, intuition, and cooperation, there was so much good to bring with them into the future. But they needed to evolve. Now, a few years later, a groundbreaking new sunscreen formulation and new, heartfelt artwork are the fruits of that intention.
Since the beginning of Badger, when Bill Whyte started making the first hand salve in his home kitchen (from ingredients purchased at our co-op!), the packaging has been significant. One of the defining decisions Bill made in those early days was to invest in printed, enameled tins instead of the cheaper option of putting branded stickers onto generic containers. He also hired a professional artist at a considerable cost to create the Badger logo – a cute, furry, smiling badger holding a glowing, golden orb. The sense of quality the painted tins conveyed was important enough to Bill that he put his young family’s scarce resources towards them, even though the minimum order was well over what he had ever sold. It was a leap of faith into the possibility of future abundance.
Echoing the significance placed on the packaging in those early days, Emily and Rebecca have guided Badger to take a new leap. They recognized that the artwork needed to change in order to align with what Badger has become over the last twenty-five years. If nothing else, badgers don’t need sunscreen, after all! The decisions around this change were made collectively with the family, with a lot of thoughtful discussion not just about what would do well in the marketplace, but what would align with their core mission to create a healthier world, and speak to their North Star dream of having Badger products be a net positive for the environment.
Ultimately, they partnered with a number of illustrators who are aligned with their vision, including an artist named Rachel Hudson. She works with conservation organizations to build awareness and appreciation of our natural environment, particularly endangered animals and ecosystems. She created designs celebrating turtles, frogs, pelicans, undersea creatures, and more (including badgers!). Also, the text on the new packaging is actually derived from Bill’s hand-drawn rendition of the Badger text, or word-mark. In fact, the team created an entire font called Badger Apothecaria based on his sketch!
Recent advances in chemistry and Badger’s unique ability to take advantage of them have led to the creation of a remarkable new sunscreen formula that was, up to now, impossible. They’ve developed an SPF that is invisible, easy to put on, silky smooth, and water-less, and contains only four ingredients.
Until now, Badger’s incredibly high-quality sunscreen was only possible in the form of a thick, balm-like cream. It’s a fantastic product that so many of our customers have sworn by for years, and for intensive sun exposure, it’s perfect. However, it’s quite thick and doesn’t blend all that well into melanated skin, both of which make it a more difficult addition to a regular, daily skincare routine than a typical water-based SPF.
So, why hasn’t Badger made a thinner, easier-to-use sunscreen? Well, when you add water to a product, preservatives become necessary because of the potential for bacterial growth. And once preservatives get involved, it’s much harder to make a product with clean, healthy ingredients, which Badger is totally committed to doing. They experimented briefly with a water-based formula, but ultimately, they couldn’t make it in a way that aligned with their mission.
You’ll notice that with almost every water-based sunscreen (pretty much all of them except for Badger’s), the list of ingredients is an entire paragraph. There are always at least a dozen, and often twice that, and often, some of those ingredients are unhealthy for humans and damage precious coral reefs. Also, water usage is much more intensive, the heavier weight of the products adds to the fossil fuel used for shipping, and the weaker potency means people have to buy more of them more often, which results in more packaging and plastic waste. Water-based products are more drying, too. Ironically, water dehydrates the skin, as opposed to oils and waxes such as the ones found in Badger’s offerings.
Pretty much all skincare has been water-based until very recently, but now, waterless (or anhydrous) skincare is all the rage. But Badger has been doing it for 25 years. They are perfectly and uniquely positioned to take advantage of these innovations in chemistry and create formulas based on the new research long before anyone else.
You see, most big sunscreen companies don’t have the ability to control their products as much as Badger because they don’t actually make them. They partner with large “white label” manufacturers, add some ingredients, and spend a lot of money on branding. You could think of them more as sales and marketing engines rather than actual sun care businesses. Changing from water-based skincare to waterless would be a tremendous (and tremendously expensive) undertaking for them, like turning a giant container ship in a different direction. Compared to them, Badger is a small, agile sailing vessel. As of 2018, 100% of their sunscreen manufacturing is done in-house in their solar-powered facility.
Badger Company is too good and too interesting to pack into one short article. Videos and blog posts on their website illustrate the innumerable fascinating facets of their business. From actions big and small to get to Net Zero by 2030, to the Bulgarian rose farm and family-owned olive oil estate in Spain where they source ingredients, to the advocacy they’ve done for the Family Medical Leave Act and other political efforts, and the wonderful programs they’ve instituted for their employees like Babies at Work, it’s simply an overwhelming amount of wonderful, impactful, inspiring stuff.
For our purposes here, it’ll be enough if you come away with two things:
First, an appreciation of their new label designs as they are unveiled over the following months—the depth and intentionality behind them and their beauty.
And second, that after many years of thoughtful decision-making and honorable, intelligent actions, they’re on the verge of releasing what might be the best daily SPF on the market. Look for it this winter in our Wellness department.
Over the last quarter century, Badger has built a business and a collection of products that are second to none, and their success seems to be directly related to the fact that they operate with a bigger purpose in mind. We at the BFC are so proud to have been a part of their beginnings, and all of us are lucky to have their offerings in our midst.