Happy 23rd Birthday, Badger: A Founder’s Story

Starting a new business isn’t for the faint of heart. But, twenty-three years ago, our founder Bill Whyte took a fantastic leap of faith, embarking on a journey without any idea of how it would end, knowing only that he wanted to make a natural balm that would heal his dry, chapped hands, rough from working outside as carpenter during harsh New England winters.

We see our business as a tree, deeply rooted in our community, bringing healing to the world through our products, family-friendly practices, and acts of kindness.

But we didn’t get to where we are without a few challenges along the way.

Thankfully, Bill (and his family) didn’t give up, and today, we’re proud of the roots we’ve planted and the way we do business—valuing honesty, kindness, generosity, and being a force for good in the world, above all else.

Here’s our founder Bill Whyte, affectionately known to many as Badger Bill, talking about some of the obstacles he faced during those early days. Enjoy!

The Vat

The Vat is made of stainless steel. It held about 10 gallons of heated liquid Bear Paw Balm.

In 1993, it sat on our kitchen counter doing nothing. I had spent about $700, a substantial portion of our meager savings to buy it, and it sat on the counter doing nothing. Nothing…

Every day it spoke to me of unfulfilled potential and reminded me of my fear and inaction. “Come on Bill, do something! Let’s make and sell some balm.” But I am slow to start.

I plugged away at design and planning. For years. I was held hostage by my desire for perfection and surety. I made small batches in tiny pots on the stove. I even hired an artist, mocked up tins and a display box, and finally, in early 1995 (3 years after purchasing the vat) I placed an order for 10,000 tins. I was ready to roll.

But the day before the tins were to be printed, I walked into Hamshaw Lumber to buy some supplies, and Jodi walked out of the accounting office and held up a tube of Bear Paws Hand Cream to show me. I had done my best to do a trademark search and had failed. The name was taken.

I called the owner of Bear Paws and asked if he would write a release allowing me to use the name. He said no. I asked if he would like to buy my beautiful artwork to use for his product. He said no. I was lost.

All that money and time and artwork wasted. An empty vat. A failed idea.

But when I awoke the next morning and sat up in the bed, I thought, “You know, this is still a good product that people want and need. The “universe” was telling me to find a new name. A better name.”

My attachment to Bear Paw was strong. I felt the sadness and loss, and I didn’t fully believe that a new and better name could be found, but I accepted fate and endeavored to find out. Bear Paw is like my ancestor. Bear Spirit helped me to start. Bear is beautiful and most often slow moving. Bear eats berries and twigs and soaks up the sun. But I needed more.

I needed persistence, fearless toughness and unwavering courage in the face of mistakes, obstacles and often, insurmountable odds.

After weeks of trying on, sketching and contemplating Panda, and Golden Bear, and Mountain Bear and Sleeping Bear, and snake paw, fish paw, weasel paw, I resolved to abandon both Bear and Paw and open myself to universal guidance. And a new name came to me. Badger! A force to be reckoned with. In-depth knowledge of the earth and herbs and of the Medicine Way. Originally, my family was opposed, but I said I had no choice. This was the name I had been “given.” The Totem. The Spirit Guide.

When I arrived at my carpentry work with the artist’s new rendition of the packaging, this time with a Badger paw print, my friend Rick said, “A bear paw print is friendly looking. That Badger print is medieval and skeletal. It’s kind of scary. It looks like a weapon.”

 

Top to bottom: Early artwork for our Healing Balm for Hardworking Hands
including the infamous medieval badger paw.

I said, “So what?” And Rick said, “Nobody will buy that stuff.” I said, “So what should I do?” Rick replied, “Get your artist to draw a picture of a Badger. You know, like Catamount Beer or Mole Hollow Cider.” I said, “But I can’t afford to hire an artist to do that.” And Rick folded his arms, shook his head in disapproval and said, “Well, nobody will buy that stuff.” And then he turned his back and walked away.

So I scraped together the funds, and I hired an artist to draw a Badger. We put the little guy onto the packaging, and that’s how Badger Healing Balm came into existence in its eventful and eventual form! Not exactly a straight path or a logical process. More of an odyssey, a warrior’s quest, filled with mystery, unknown obstacles and benevolent guides.

I spent many a night filling tins from that one humble vat. One by one. Listening to music, building possible futures.

I give deep thanks to my friends and family, along with the myriad spirits and invisible forces that helped me to shepherd this idea into reality.

Thank you so much!

And this is how the Badger journey has unfolded. Every day a gift or a challenge. A door closing and another door opening.

The mundane. The unexpected! The exalted! Simple blessings.

Whatever the morning brings, this is what we have to work with. Whatever the morning brings, Badger responds with fierce kindness, generosity, and gratitude.

Badger Bill in the early days at the Natural Products Expo tradeshow

From everyone at Badger…

Thank you, Bill, Katie, Emily, and Rebecca, for persevering, never wavering, and creating a company that treats everyone like family.

To all of our friends and fans across the world…

Thank you for helping to make our 23rd birthday a reality, and here’s to celebrating many more!

Badger Bill

Bill Whyte is the CEO and Head Badger. He started Badger back in 1995 in his kitchen when he made some balm for his carpentry cracked hands. In addition to his continued work here at Badger, Bill is a black belt in Aikido, an avid gardener, an artist, and a delighted grandfather.

Bill's favorite Badger products: Ginger Massage Oil, Cheerful Mind Balm, Seabuckthorn Hair Oil, and Navigator Class Man Care (all of it!)

12 comments on “Happy 23rd Birthday, Badger: A Founder’s Story

  • Happy 23rd Birthday !! Many more to come as well, so truly happy I found Badger. I’m someone who also enjoys dabbling in creating products with similar ingredients. Lately my world is so busy, I have no time to make my balms. So badger has been quite the life saver for me. Glad I can go to the local grocery and pick up a quick Badger item too! You all did the dang thing !!

    Best wishes,
    Katelyn

    Reply
  • Happy Birthday Badger Balm and the entire Badger family! Thanks to Katie’s introduction of some Badger product a few years ago at our CIYO women’s group, I’m now a dedicated fan and happy customer. Mostly I applaud the values of your business model and the care taken in all aspects of your products, supplies and for the people who make it all possible. What an amazing role model for the rest of the corporate world.

    Reply
    • Emily Mason

      Thank you for your kind words, Liz! And what a wonderful introduction to Badger – thank you for sharing. All the best, Emily

      Reply
  • What a great article, truly heartwarming. I am so grateful that I found Badger brand, I would never go back to any other brand of skincare products. Not only for the superb quality of products, but because I appreciate the genuine thoughtfulness that goes into each item and the business as a whole. This article just makes me love Badger even more, and inspires me to go forward with creating my own brand that I’ve been dreaming up for years. Thank you Badger, for spreading kindness and inspiration to the world. Happy 23rd birthday, and wishing you all at Badger the very very best in the years to come!

    Reply
  • I always find stories like this one so inspirational. I really admire your perfectionism, and if it helps, I think the badger is way more of a fitting mascot for this awesome, scrappy company!

    Reply

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