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Grooming masculinity’s roots

Scotch Porter, a men’s personal care brand with a message

Calvin Quallis, CEO and founder, Quallis Brands and Scotch Porter.

Calvin Quallis, CEO and founder, Quallis Brands and Scotch Porter. – PHOTOS: AARON HOUSTON

Calvin Quallis is driven, but humble.

He started his men’s personal care brand, Scotch Porter, from his kitchen in Newark four years ago while working full time in finance at a global market research firm, a job he describes as akin to a prison sentence. (“I felt like my soul was dying,” he said.)

He’d recently opened up a barber shop in a Newark brownstone as a creative outlet, inspired by a childhood spent in his mother’s beauty parlor.

People would walk out after a service with what he saw as “a whole new step.”

“Kids are very intuitive,” he said. “I’ve always known that grooming has the ability to make people feel better about themselves.”

Dry hair and dry beards were common at his new shop, and right off the bat Quallis spent his free time concocting natural remedies at home. He tested his remedies like beard conditioner and beard balm on clients, largely cross-cultural men whom the market wasn’t serving.

They liked Scotch Porter products. In fact, they loved them. Quallis started an online store six months later and within a year, grown by word-of-mouth and social media, the brand had done over $1 million in business.

Now, with a company that runs out of an East Orange production facility instead of his home kitchen, and over 750,000 units sold to customers in 87 different countries — now including skincare and haircare products — his humble nature shows.

“There’s so much more work to do,” he said. “I share with the team, I look at the success that we have but I know on the horizon is much more work to do. It’s about humility and staying grounded.”

Organic growth

As exciting as growth is, it’s created a few snafus.

Scotch Porter products.

Scotch Porter products. (Photo by Aaron Houston) – AARON HOUSTON

“You initially invest in equipment and inventory for x amount of orders, and you make predictions that you’ll do x this year. You blow those projections out of the water and it’s very difficult to try to scale things up relatively quick,” Quallis said. “If you need to scale up very quickly in a month or a month and a half, it’s difficult to find really good team members.”

He calls rapid growth “a good problem to have.” But just because it’s a good problem to have doesn’t mean it doesn’t need quick fixing.

“There’s always going to be a set of circumstances that are brand new to you, especially if you’re not a traditional CEO,” Quallis said. “Now it’s like, okay, we need to contact contract fillers. We’ll make it here and then contract them to fill it. We’ll have to invest money quickly to get packaging. It’s involving the team and finding how we can quickly get raw goods and send stuff to a filler. It’s about putting on your problem-solver cap.”

Scotch Porter moved to a new 10,000-square-foot warehouse on July 31 to mitigate scaling issues, a leap up from the 3,000-square-foot warehouse it’s worked out of for the past two and a half years.

The new warehouse is better equipped for large volume shipping and production, and Scotch Porter’s office plan is more integrated with manufacturing, shipping, and receiving, intended to lead to more efficient business and better collaboration.

Broader message

Quallis is now using his platform for an even bigger message: To show that one of the most masculine things a man can be is caring.

Scotch Porter’s Dare to Care campaign aims to show the different dimensions of manhood. Sure, it’s a skincare and hair care brand, but it’s not just about looking good.

“I want to reshape the usual portrayal of masculinity. It’s okay for men to grill but it’s also okay for men to cry. In my opinion, men can be beautiful, and it’s really important for us to be compassionate and care,” he said.

Scotch Porter isn’t the first personal care brand to make commentary on masculinity. Gillette got in social hot water with its “The Best a Man Can Be” campaign in January, a campaign addressing toxic masculinity, which has defined as a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health.

Critics said the campaign unfairly stereotyped men and ostracized its main audience. Eight months later, its short film on YouTube has garnered 1.5 million “thumbs downs,” nearly twice as many as it has received “thumbs ups.” And despite strong sales across other brands, parent company Proctor & Gamble took an $8 million writedown on Gillette in July.

Quallis has gone about it differently. Rather than taking aim at toxic masculinity, Scotch Porter’s Dare to Care campaign embraces the different aspects of manhood.

“We’ve always tried to put a positive spin on it,” he said. features articles addressing emotional health like “How to Win at Couple’s Therapy” and “It’s Okay to Hug ya Bros.” A new commercial, released this summer, features real men talking about their relationships with their own masculinity.

“We’re finally opening up as a society to be able to recognize [toxic masculinity]. I think for so long we hadn’t and that’s what starts oppression and suppression and the realm of destruction a lot of times,” said Vibe magazine Editor-in-Chief Datwon Thomas in the commercial.

“I look at it as something that’s like a sickness. For so long you’re taught, you know, you can’t cry, you play ball, that’s a hard foul,” Thomas said. “It’s just understanding when you need to step up into a position and also knowing when to be empathetic to other people and yourself.”

How did Quallis come to such a dynamic view of masculinity? Flashback to his business owner mother and the explanation is clear.

“I was raised by strong women and I think that had a huge impact on me with how comfortable I am with my emotions and sharing them,” he said.

Gabrielle Saulsbery
Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at [email protected].

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