Behind the Brand

Behind The Brand: Dr Bronner's

Dr Bronner's Pure Castile Soaps

Dr. Bronner's has such a fascinating history, with roots in Germany and a long family history of soap-making that spans more than a century. Can you give us a rundown on how and why Dr. Bronner started the business?

Born in 1908 to a Jewish family that had been making soap since 1858, my grandfather, Emanuel Bronner, was the third generation certified as a master soapmaker under the guild system of the time. In 1929, he brought his formulas for high-quality liquid and bar soaps to America. After his family perished in the Holocaust, Emanuel spent his life renouncing hate and war on a personal mission to unite mankind. His strong views and lectures landed him in a mental asylum in Chicago, but eight months later in 1948, Bronner escaped and continued with his message in California, starting the soap company as Dr. Bronner’s in its current form. 

Your Pure Castile Liquid Soap boasts an incredible list of multi-purpose applications (18 to be exact!). Which use do you think surprises people the most?

I love the head-to-toe simplicity in the shower of being able to use one product and not have to think about it. It’s how I wake up every morning. When people realize that not only is it a wonderfully versatile personal care product, but can also help get your house clean (and a little goes a long way!) people are amazed in a way that changes their perspective on not only what they consume, but how they consume it.

Dr. Bronner's famous inimitable labelling is instantly recognizable, what was the inspiration behind the design?

When he made it to California, he began making peppermint liquid soap under the “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” brand. He gave the soap away during his lectures on his manifesto, the “Moral ABC”. However, he noticed that people weren’t all that interested in hearing about his ideas, but they were interested in the tingly excellence of his peppermint soap. So he printed his ideas in tiny script on the soap label, knowing that when people were a captive audience in the bathroom, they would be more likely to read it. He was right! That is how the eccentric label was born, which is still used on Dr. Bronner’s packaging today.

We love Dr. Bronner's admirable All-One ethos and steadfast fight for a fair and organic world, pioneering manufacturing processes and implementing progressive business practices. No doubt the list is extensive, but can you give us some insight into some of the ways in which Dr. Bronner's advocates sustainability and social responsibility?

Our “Cosmic Principles” define our most important relationships, and guide us in everything we do, from soapmaking to peacemaking. Through them we are able to carry out our mission to make socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest quality, and dedicate our profits to help make a better world. They are: 1. Work Hard! Grow! 2. Do Right By Customers, 3. Treat Employees Like Family, 4. Be Fair To Suppliers, 5. Treat The Earth Like Home, 6. Fund & Fight For What's Right! There is a deeper explanation on our website here. Some of the causes that we support that are closest to my heart include the Boys and Girls Club of Greater San Diego, the TERI Center for Autism, and the YMCA, along with all the Fair Trade practices around the world that empower people and communities through business.

Dr Bronner's Cosmic Principles

Dr. Bronner's has achieved so much since its inception; are there any major goals for the future?

Dr. Bronner’s as a company is moving forward with a huge Regenerative Organic Agriculture education campaign and is committed to having our main ingredients Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) within three years. Along with other like-minded businesses, like Patagonia, we are seeking to revolutionize the way America and the world farms in order to replenish the soil instead of depleting it, improve the living conditions of farm animals, and sequester carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the soil, reducing Greenhouse Gasses in our air. We are looking to have our Virgin Coconut Oil be ROC by 2020. These are all part of our efforts to leave the Earth better than we found it.

Dr Bronner's Regenerative Agriculture

Dr. Bronner's invented the first liquid castile soap, pioneered 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, implemented a generous compensation cap to promote fair pay, have been named "Best for the World" by B Corporation three years running, and so much more. With so many achievements behind you, what would you say has been the biggest so far?

This is a tough one with so many to choose from! The business has transformed policy in America and shown a better way to do business.  I love explaining to people how we can engage in “conscious capitalism”, as my grandfather termed it, to be an ethical and generous company while still being profitable. My work has been on a more individual basis, speaking into people’s homes and daily lives. What I’ve built in the “Going Green” blog itself has been my greatest achievement. I have had a lot of help from very talented people to do it. In the blog, I try to get to the root of matters that affect our every day, finding scientific basis for claims, breaking down complex chemistry, and presenting it to busy consumers in easy to digest ways, so they understand why what we do matters. I’m glad people use it as a resource, and I love it when people ask me completely random questions because it indicates they trust me, even on topics not directly related to Dr. Bronner’s. That is very humbling.

What's your advice for anyone looking to switch to natural and organic skincare? Why is natural skincare so important for overall health and wellbeing?

Keep it simple. Our skin is our body’s largest organ. On average, a woman who wears makeup daily can absorb over 2 kg of cosmetics in her lifetime. We better make sure that what’s in those cosmetics is something we want in our bodies. Steer clear of some of the worst ingredients like Parabens, Phthalates, Ethoxylated, and Quarternium compounds. Parabens are a common preservative that is linked to endocrine disruption. “Fragrance” in the ingredient list can conceal a proprietary blend of over 3,000 possible chemicals, the worst among which are Phthalates, a substance that has been linked to everything from male reproductive issues to autism spectrum disorder to Type II Diabetes to breast cancer. Ethoxylated ingredients – known by their “-eth” endings (laureth, myreth, oleath) – carry a high risk of contamination of a carcinogenic by product called 1,4 Dioxane. Quarternium compounds release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, into products the longer they sit on the shelf.  Most importantly, make only one change at a time. If you start too big, you’ll get overwhelmed and stop. Making one change at a time adds up to a transformed life.

Which Dr. Bronner's product can't you live without?

I could maintain my entire beauty regimen with only the Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap (Citrus is my current favorite) and the Dr. Bronner’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. The soap keeps me clean from head to toe. It keeps my adult-onset acne well in-check and makes my hair very soft and healthy. The Coconut oil is what I use for nearly everything else – a moisturizer, a shaving gel, make-up remover, hair masque, deodorant ingredient, sugar scrub ingredient. And you can eat it. I could probably be stranded on a desert island with it and do just fine.

Are there any new products in the works? If so, can you give us any hints 😉?

We are launching a new Peppermint scent of our Organic Hand Sanitizing Spray in the U.S. this spring. We are not sure when this will be launched in Australia, but we hope to know more soon!


Lisa Bronner, the granddaughter of Dr. Bronner’s company founder Emanuel Bronner, is based in San Diego, California, near Dr. Bronner’s Headquarters. As a writer, and consumer advocate, she produces a blog, “Going Green with a Bronner Mom” and speaks to a variety of audiences about transitioning to greener lifestyles and using healthier products for food, body, and home. 

Sarah Vercoe

Article by Sarah Vercoe

Sarah is a freelance writer and award-winning photographer with a special interest in health, travel, and fitness. Based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, she can be found hiking the trails of Noosa National Park, or, more likely, chasing after her one year old daughter, Illyana.

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