By Wes Kerrick
A couple years ago, David Conrad made himself a beard oil, and a brand was born. He named the brand Beargrass, and today his company is cranking out a line of unisex skincare products available for purchase online.
There’s a charcoal-based face and body cleanser; a skin, hair and beard oil; a multi-purpose room and body spray; and a skin and hair serum made from hempseed and goldenrod. This is all produced in a rented space in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood.
Now 35, the ever-curious Louisvillian had seemingly ventured into the delicate art of blending plant oils and extracts on a harebrained whim. It had little to do with the fine art he’d studied in undergrad at UofL or with the information technology job he was working at The Learning House.
But the venture hadn’t come completely out of the blue. Conrad had been tinkering with a few product ideas and contemplating how he might start his own business. Skincare products happened to be the idea that stuck.
“I just always have, like, eight different ideas going in my head and eight different directions I want to go in,” Conrad says. “And I think the core thread is just being creative.”
Conrad drew inspiration from his late grandfather, who founded a shipping company, a funeral home with an ambulance service, a thoroughbred farm and an automobile dealership.
“Having that exposure definitely gave me confidence that I can do it too.”
With experience in writing and website development, it wasn’t too difficult for Conrad to develop his new company’s packaging and internet presence. Developing the products themselves was a bit more of a challenge, but he didn’t shy away.
Having always had sensitive skin, it was essential that Conrad’s creations be gentle. He resolved to use nothing but natural, plant-based ingredients.
It took countless hours of research to figure out just what ingredients he would need and where he could get them. After that, it was just trial and error, and then more trial and error, until four unique, effective and artisanal products emerged.
The company’s name, Beargrass, is also rich in meaning.
“I wanted something that represented Louisville,” Conrad says, “but not in an obvious way – like a subtle reference.”
The name refers to the creek that runs through many Louisville neighborhoods. Growing up, Conrad lived near Beargrass Creek and fondly recalls playing in it as a kid.
“I wanted it to convey that we’re a natural brand,” he says.
You might expect an entrepreneur to be fixated on the bottom line, but Conrad is anything but that. For him, other things are more important – like doing his best to find suppliers that pay their workers a fair wage.
From the beginning, Conrad knew he wanted his company to give a portion of proceeds to charity. So along with researching products and suppliers, he’s been researching worthy organizations.
Once Beargrass crosses the line from paying off startup costs to pulling in a profit, Conrad plans to give away 10 percent of annual net profits.
One recipient will be AMPED Louisville – Academy of Music Production Education and Development – a West End program that teaches kids about music composition and recording, along with video, photography, web design and marketing. Another beneficiary will be YouthBuild Louisville, an education, job training and leadership program based on Preston Street.
“The way to alleviate poverty is through education, through getting new skills,” Conrad says. “And I felt like those two organizations were going about it the best way.”
A third recipient will be the Beargrass Creek Alliance, a group that works to clean up and preserve the creek for the community to enjoy.
In the next two years, Conrad hopes to hire two or three employees as he expands the business.
“Part of being an entrepreneur is just having kind of a rational overconfidence,” he says. “So I wholeheartedly believe in the products, and I think other people are going to really enjoy them.” VT