If you ask most military service members to name a must-have item they always pack when deployed, their choice might surprise you: baby wipes. In fact, there are multiple Reddit threads with thousands of active-duty members dissecting wipe brands, debating which is strong (and refreshing) enough to endure combat. Wipes are also one of the top products recommended for care packages.
“That’s because they don’t know when’s the next time they’re going to have access to a proper shower or bathroom,” explains entrepreneur Benjamin Bernet.
But there are issues with the average baby wipe: They are often too flimsy, and packaging proves problematic (once the seal is broken, the wipes quickly dry up).
To better serve military personnel—as well as consumers craving high-performing grooming essentials—Bernet and beauty executive Justin Guilbert cofounded Bravo Sierra. It’s the very first military-native performance wellness company, selling an entire line of “military tough” cleansers, moisturizers, lip balm, deodorant—all crafted with clean ingredients.
Their star product? Sturdy, 100% biodegradable cloth wipes made with antibacterial agents that can clean an entire body. Each wipe is individually wrapped.
Not only was the line developed with soldiers—it was also tested with 1,000 members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders). The brand’s name is even rooted in military culture: Bravo Sierra is coded lingo (first letters “B” and “S”) for “I call bullshit.”
“The idea of wellness [combined] with purpose seems like a good definition of the military lifestyle,” says Guilbert. “You basically have to be at your most highest performing—physically and mentally—because you’ve got to do your job. Lives depend on it.”
A military-first brand
Bravo Sierra’s cofounders are well versed in the beauty and wellness arena. Bernet previously served as head of global marketing for Kiehl’s men’s care, along with stints at L’Oréal and Glossier. In 2018, childhood friend Guilbert—a former marketing executive at Garnier and Maybelline and cofounder of coconut water company Harmless Harvest—approached him about starting a new brand.
Guilbert, grandson of a World War II Navy veteran, was especially passionate about formulating a brand around the military. He saw two opportunities: to address the needs of service members, as well as tap into consumer desire to show support for the military. It’s less about the institution per se and more about the community and veterans.
At the same time, most consumers are familiar with just a small number of brands that directly benefit military members. Bravo Sierra hopes to capitalize on that feel-good element: The line is made in the U.S.A., and 5% of all sales directly benefit the Army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs.
“One of our angles is: If you’re going to buy yourself a product, be it a soap or deodorant, do you want your purchase to go towards something that you care for, that you stand for?” says Guilbert.
Launched in August, the New York-based startup incubates products that specifically address the needs of the military but that resonate with both soldiers and civilians alike. To do that, the cofounders reached out to military exchanges—essentially retail megastores for active duty personnel—with an appealing offer: They would create stress-tested, battlefield essentials sold at low prices, from $5 to $14.
“They were very curious to see a startup focusing on their community and developing a product for their needs,” says Guilbert, noting particular interest from the Marine Corps. “Their unofficial motto is ‘Get shit done.’ They said: If you could do [all-in-one] products in a nonflammable container they can easily pack out when they get deployed, we’d be interested in carrying it.”
Bravo Sierra first focused on shaving cream. The startup asked service members how they shave and in what condition. Most replied they only had cold water, thereby making it difficult for those with sensitive or ingrown hairs, and others said they had no access to water at all.
They ultimately replaced soap with an extra-mild coconut-derived solvent that can be used with or without water. The end result was Sharper Shaver ($8.50), a sulfate-free, foam-to-cream texture specifically formulated for sensitive skin. Bravo Sierra then sent it out in the field for testing, asking military members to give their feedback in WhatsApp groups or Slack channels.
Working directly with the military offers unique advantages, such as widespread distribution and free marketing. Bravo Sierra’s beta products were shipped to bases for testing, and word quickly spread. It’s a substantial community: There are over 1.3 million service people on active duty and 18 million veterans. Today, Bravo Sierra is available for purchase online and at 70 exchanges, with plans to expand to a total of 144 locations.
“We’re now sold [on bases] in Okinawa and Ramstein, Germany” says Guilbert. “At this point, we have huge access and a volume of potential customers.”
The military boasts a long history of collaborating and investing in consumer goods with civilian applications. This ranges from cotton undershirts (worn under official Navy uniforms) to aerosol bug spray (to kill mosquitos in the South Pacific during WWII).
From the field to the gym
Of course, Bravo Sierra doesn’t intend to solely focus on military clientele. While touting its Army connections, the young brand markets itself around a high-performance lifestyle, thereby targeting athletes and gym enthusiasts. The body wipes are popular with coastal men and women who rely on them for prework morning workouts.
The business is also seeing an uptick in Midwestern states, where there isn’t as much of a wide grooming selection readily available. Drugstore names such as Axe or Gillette sit on the affordable end, while pricey luxe brands including Jack Black and Kiehl’s straddle the other. Affordable and sustainable products with nontoxic ingredients for men are rare. That’s a void Bravo Sierra wants to fill. The brand is on track to pass a million dollars in sales by the end of the year, and it recently raised $6.7 million with funding led by Global Founders Capital.
As market intelligence firm CB Insights notes, the male grooming sector is growing, with far more DTC and other brands catering to an evolving male consumer. Last year men spent $6.9 billion on skincare products, outpacing bath, deodorant, and hair categories, reports Euromonitor. The market is expected to grow exponentially as both established players (Hims, Beautycounter) and newcomers (Huron, Disco) revamp the once humdrum category.
In the coming year, Bravo Sierra will release more basics, such as bath products, shampoos, and maybe a few products that are designed to be both clean and high-performing. Catering to the more health-conscious millennial, the startup released a natural-based, aluminum-free deodorant—no easy feat for a product meant to withstand the battlefield.
Therein, of course, lies the brand’s marketing strategy. As Guilbert explains, leveraging the Army-tough mindset only helps better convey the products’ efficacy: “Listen, if it’s good enough for them in the condition they’re in, then it should be good enough for you in whatever conditions you may be,” he says. “Whether you’re camping or going to the gym, it should work for you. We’re making that assumption. That’s the basic kind of premise of our development process.”