Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interview with Niels Klar

This interview was originally posted on our website, but I thought it might be of interest to blog readers too. When we placed our first order with Klar Seifen, Germany's oldest soapmaker (and sometimes known as "Klar Hiedelberg", after their hometown), I was able to get an interview with the current head of the company, Niels Klar.

I was familiar with most of the brands in the store long before Kaliandee, but I have to confess that Klar's were somewhat under my radar until recently. While researching them in order to write the Press Release and product descriptions, they seemed to have become one of my favorite brands. Klar's have all the history and expertise as many of the big names from the UK, yet I feel that while they take advantage of this history, they don't rely on it to the same extent as other brands might, and strive to keep their image and products somewhat modern. More importantly, their products are excellent!

The Interview:

1) How different are the current Klar production methods from the methods Philipp Klar would have used?
Since 1840 the principle of soap manufacturing has remained essentially the same: Oils and fats are boiled with alkalise (sodium or potassium hydroxides) and create a soap base. Afterwards they are mixed with other selected ingredients, like skin nourishing ingredients or perfume. Today, we still use some very old moulds and presses from the end of the 19th century and machines that have been in use since the second generation of our family business. But there has been a big change regarding the ingredients: While many industrial soap manufacturers today still rely on animal fat (as Klar Seifen did as well in the 19th century), we only use pure vegetable oils for all Klar Seifen products today.
2) How "hands-on" are Klar Seifen's production methods?
We set great value on craftsmanship. Although we also use some new machines (newest from the 1960ies) within the production process, Klar's Shaving Soap for example is still cut and bottled by hand. For us it is very important to take a close look at each product that leaves our factory. 
3) Your website mentions "old and new recipes", and "preserving traditional processes". What is the oldest product recipe still in use, and what is your newest product?
The product that relies on the oldest Klar's recipe is Klar's Curd soap. The proportions are still the same but, as said above, the soap base has changed from animal to vegetable oils.
We like to combine the old with the new. That's why we recently brought the most successful recipes of Klar's soap history back to life for our newest product line: Old varieties such as peony, linden flower and lily of the valley, that Philip and Theobald Klar developed over 100 years ago, have been newly interpreted and combined with new ingredients flavors as basil, rhubarb or sage. 
4What is your most popular product, and what do you think accounts for that popularity?
Our most popular product is Klar's Shaving Soap Classic. With its masculine spicy leather note fragrance and nurturing ingredients it produces tremendously creamy foam and leaves shaved skin extra-smooth. Furthermore the soap comes in a convenient re-closable tin that makes it the ideal travel companion.
5) Klar Seifen has been around for over 170 years. What do you think has made Klar such a long-lived brand?
Part of our success is certainly based on our long tradition as a German family business. Our customers trust us because with the Klar family and Niels Klar in the fifth generation, there has always been a personal face behind the brand.
The long history also attests to the high quality and credibility of our products. On the other hand preserving traditional recipes and processes is as important to us as continuous innovation in terms of highly functional and, most of all, sustainable plant ingredients. As we continually engage in personal dialogue with dermatologists, customers and perfumers we are in touch with the latest trends at all times.  
6) Some of the vintage Klar advertisements on your website show shave sticks. Are there any plans to re-introduce this style of shaving soap?
Not yet, but never say never…
7) Do you have any plans to replace the discontinued Kabinett soap with a new product?
Not yet, but we don’t know what the future will bring.
8) The use of palm oil as a soap ingredient is sometimes controversial. Does Klar use this ingredient, and if so, how do you try to minimise the environmental impact?
We have intensively started to address the topic of palm oil use, the clearance of primeval forest in Indonesia and Malaysia and the threat to the habitat of the orangutan some years ago. To reduce the use of conventional palm oil, we only use Ecocert and RSPO (Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil) certified palm oil for our soaps. And we are working on high quality alternatives to avoid the use of palm oil long-term. Some of our soaps, like the Hair- and Body Soaps, are made of 100 percent olive oil. 
9) Besides co-operating with Mühle for your shaving brush, does Klar have any close partnerships with any other companies or organizations?
No, not yet but we are involved with some other German companies for partnership cooperation. Be surprised.
10) Do you have a favourite product or scent?
 Klar's Shaving Soap classic is my favourite product.