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Gillette owner Procter & Gamble is acquiring one of its razor startup competitors

Just like rival Unilever did with Dollar Shave Club.


Procter & Gamble has acquired Walker & Company — creators of Bevel, a grooming line marketed to men of color, and Form, a hair care line marketed to women of color — Walker & Company founder Tristan Walker announced Wednesday morning.

Though the amount of the acquisition is undisclosed, Recode estimates it’s between $20 million and $40 million. Walker also said the company headquarters will move from Silicon Valley to Atlanta as a cost-saving measure, and to be closer to its largest customer base.

The interesting tension at the heart of the acquisition is the fact that Bevel’s raison d’être has always been contextualized in opposition to Procter & Gamble’s Gillette, which owns 54 percent of the global razor market; as Recode put it, Walker & Co. was “aiming to build the Procter & Gamble for people of color.”

Founded in 2013 with $33 million of venture capital, Bevel was focused on single-blade razors, which it says cause less skin irritation for people of color, or anyone with curlier or thicker hair that can easily become ingrown as the result of a multi-blade approach. (Triple-blade or five-blade razors, which Gillette focuses on, are designed to pull facial hair up above the surface of the skin before cutting it, so when the hair snaps back down below the surface, a curly hair is more likely to spiral into the skin, instead of growing back out.)

In fact, when Vox spoke to Walker a few weeks ago for a feature on the absurdity of the razor industry — published just Tuesday morning! — he said, “None of our consumers can use [Gillette] products.”

Asked then about his plans for the coming year, and whether he feared drawing ire or legal threats from Gillette, in the manner that Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s did, Walker said, “We are well-positioned. I can’t really speak toward how excited or fearful Gillette is about the future, but I can’t personally use their products, nor can our customers.”

As Recode’s Jason Del Rey points out, Walker & Company will benefit from Procter & Gamble’s massive research and development ($1.9 billion) and advertising ($7 billion) budgets, as well as its firmer positioning in global supply chains. This will be particularly important given the 25 percent tariff President Trump has placed on imported steel, which so far only razor makers Gillette and Schick have procured an exemption on.

From the other side, Procter & Gamble is swallowing a competitor (as it did by buying the Art of Shaving in 2009). It’s also getting a toe in the door with an underserved consumer base — as Walker said, his customers can’t use the company’s existing products.

More broadly, an acquisition like this is yet another sign that the conversation about how direct-to-consumer brands flush with cash from huge rounds of startup fundraising are changing the retail game forever is overblown. Procter & Gamble is acquiring Walker & Company after its DTC phase — the startup’s products have been in Target since September 2015 — and two years after its archrival Unilever acquired DTC pioneer Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion.

Harry’s, the grooming startup co-founded the same year as Bevel by Warby Parker’s Jeff Raider, went from DTC darling to more traditional industry giant (valued at $1 billion), buying up its own blade factories in Germany, opening a brick-and-mortar flagship, and securing retail deals with Walmart, Target, and Barneys.

“We have retail partners [like] Target,” Walker told Vox a few weeks ago. “That’s going to expand very soon. We want to make money with the products we sell, as opposed to relying on fundraising.” Cash, for sure, is not something they’ll have to worry about now.