Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Progress Vulfix and Simpsons Shaving Brushes

As is probably obvious, we've been doing a lot of interviews lately with some of our top brands. Our most recent one, which we featured in a press release and  posted in full on our website today was with Mark Watterson, Managing Director of Progress Vulfix and Simpsons. Mark officially joined the company in 2004 but his Father, Phillip, had been with the business for over 40 years, and Mark essentially grew up around the business.

Instead of re-posting or summarizing the whole interview here, I'll instead briefly introduce both brands, for the benefit of any interested wet-shaver who has yet to discover them.


"Vulfix Old Original" and "Simpsons Brushes" logos

Vulfix are well known to most wet-shaving enthusiasts, and many have started out with a Vulfix brush. Strictly speaking, Vulfix's niche is actually "mid to high quality", but I would argue that, since their cheaper brushes are both affordable and good value, anything cheaper probably isn't worth buying. Hence, I have often thought of them and occasionally described them as being strongest in "entry-level to mid-range" brushes. Vulfix in fact produce a complete range of brushes, from a very basic nylon fiber model all the way up to Silvertip badger.

Vulfix 2006bk Pure Badger shaving brush
Vulfix Pure badger shaving brush

Simpsons* make probably the best quality shaving brushes in the world. There are a couple of brands that come close, but both are hard to find, and one has a rather murky recent history. Most traditional shaving enthusiasts, at least ones participating in forums, either end up buying a Simpsons brush, or at least aspire to own one. Their reputation is largely built on four factors:

  • The sheer amount of handwork that goes into their brushes
  • Excellent customer service 
  • The unusually high density of their knots
  • The care with which they grade their hair
Simpsons Duke 3 Shaving Brush in Best Badger
Simpsons Duke 3 Shaving Brush in Best Badger

As with bespoke tailoring, handwork isn't just about prestige. Even the most high-tech machines still can't perform tasks with the same skill and complexity as a master craftsman. Until that changes, a knot of badger hair tied by hand will outperform one made by machine; it will have better density, and only hand tying can achieve the optimum shape for the brush without resorting to cutting the hair to shape, which compromises the softness of the hair tips.

The downside to working with a material like badger hair is that even with careful hand-tying and gluing, there will be the occasional brush that sheds too much (a few lost hairs in the first few uses of a brush is normal). This is where Simpsons customer service matters- they have an excellent track record of replacing the occasional "shedder". 

The density of Simpsons knots and the care with which they select hair go hand in hand. Careful grading means that only hair exhibiting the best qualities of each grade are used, whether it be "Pure", "Best" or "Super" (Silvertip). 

Simpsons Chubby "1" in Super Badger (silvertip)
Simpsons Chubby "1" in Super Badger

Where the density of their knots really matters is in the Best and Super grades. Normally, if you want a brush with good stiffness and "backbone", you would have to buy pure badger. Pure badger is the coarsest grade, and with the stiffness comes a more exfoliating lathering experience- loved by many, but certainly not everyone's choice. The density of Simpsons' knots gives even their best and super badger brushes the kind of backbone normally found in a pure badger brush, while retaining the soft feel of those grades. This means a Simpsons brush can be luxuriously soft while also being a workhorse of a shaving tool, able to quickly lather up even the hardest of shaving soaps. 


Vulfix were founded in the 1930's, in Manchester. In 1954 they moved to the Isle of Man, a British Crown Protectorate in the Irish Sea, known for it's Tourist Trophy Motorcycle event, which was experiencing a period of industrial development at the time. One of the few traditional shaving brush manufacturers to survive the decline of the shaving brush, they are now benefiting from the increased interest in traditional products and have recently moved to a new facility on the Island. In addition to the Vulfix and Simpsons brands, they also produce many "white label" brushes for other companies.

Simpsons were founded in London in 1919 by Alexander Simpson. They quickly built a reputation for quality and moved to a larger factory in Clapham (which back then was technically in the County of Surrey, but is now part of London). Their Clapham  location was destroyed in the Blitz, after which the company moved to the West Country. By the early 2000's, the then-owners were having difficulty finding new staff willing to learn the traditional hand skills involved in shaving brush manufacture. As their more experienced craftspeople retired, the owners were faced with ending the historic brand, or just as bad, compromising on quality. Luckily for wet-shavers everywhere, they offered to sell the company to Progress Vulfix, who had the skills needed to maintain the Simpsons standard. In 2008, Simpsons were bought by Vulfix, and are now made in their new facility on the Isle of Man.

*Who I've seen spelled both with and without an apostrophe. I currently favor without, as their logo doesn't have one, though I'm sure I've spelled it both ways in the past.