Creating a Legend with Captain Fawcett Founder Richie Finney

Richie Finney isn’t Captain Fawcett. He’s at great pains to stress that. He’s the captain’s righthand man. And if you attend any convention, function, talk or festival and see the name Captain Fawcett, it’s unlikely you’ll meet the captain himself, but you’re sure to find Finney there, with his magnificently sculpted moustache and brown overall coat.

Whatever the intrepid captain’s involvement in the company, it seems to be Finney who carries the bulk of the load. He’s an engaging, enthusiastic man with the kind of energetic brain that suggests he would have made a success of whatever he tried. Us hirsute chaps should be thankful it was “gentlemen’s grooming requisites”. The particulars of the company’s creation are lost in a fog of entertaining myth and legend. What’s certain, though, is that it’s an extremely fine purveyor of moustache waxes, beard oils and other related paraphernalia. We sat down with the captain’s righthand man to discuss how he came into his employ and the passion and drive that has led a kitchen experiment to evolve into a rapidly expanding success story.

So, what were you doing before you started Captain Fawcett?

Apart from the occasional spell in jail, which wasn’t really my fault, I spent 25 years in the film industry as a boom operator. [Laughs] Seriously though, I worked on films varying from Memphis Belle to Chaplin to Billy Elliot to Wuthering Heights… hundreds of films, some of them very good, some of them diabolical. You can never really tell when you’re working on them until they get edited. Some of the time you think you’re working on something that seems like pantomime and it turns out quite good. Other times you have a miserable experience and it turns out be a blockbuster. My wife is a hair and make-up artist. We met on the set of a TV show called The Woman In White, which was shot near Stanford. Part of my job, whenever I start, is I go and introduce myself to the costume department, because I often have to hide radio mics in the clothing. Very occasionally, I’ll go to the hair and make-up department, because I’ll have to hide the mic in the hair. I knocked on the door to this huge trailer and it’s answered by this woman. She says she thought I was a complete plonker. She’s since married me and is totally convinced that her first impression was quite right. Anyway, I’ve always made my own moustache wax and I used to keep it in those little 35mm plastic film pots. Remember those? You’re probably old enough to remember pre-digital when you had to load film into the back of a camera [I am]. I’d make the wax in a baked bean tin on my stove. I’d get four or five pots out of half a tin and it would last me for a year. One day my wife said she could use it at work, because they were using a cream that didn’t really work to Hungarian a moustache. I bought 100 empty jars on eBay, made a label and stuck it on with some Pritt Stick and that was the beginning of it.

So it was almost an accidental beginning? You never really set out to build a moustache and beard empire?

No, it all came about by accident. Because I travelled a lot on films – my passion is motorcycles, incidentally – invariably there’d someone on the local crew who rode bikes, so rather than sitting in the local Hilton Hotel and getting totally off your tits before going to work the next morning, I’d go out and explore the country. So, then I started setting up adventures in the States, Cambodia and Svalbard, way up near the North Pole. In between films, I’d plan these trips or be on adventures. So in between all that, I’d make the wax and run down to the post office with five or six envelopes. And then it just got bigger and bigger and eventually my wife kicked me out of the kitchen. All these boxes started arriving so they took over the house. Plus, I wrecked her cooker.

It sounds like it’s all grown very organically.

It has. Very organically. Look, I’m not a businessman, I’m a bloke who used to hold a pole above his head and ride motorcycles. I can’t really believe what’s happened. There’s no book on the way to do things. You pick up a book on some business school shit and it’s all mind numbing, formulaic crap. I would stress that this has been a combination of lots of different people. I’m just like a film director, or maybe more like a conductor. I can’t play all the instruments, but I know the sound they should make. There are plenty of things I can’t physically or mentally do – computering being one of them – so it’s been quite a fantastic journey that has sometimes felt like tsunami. The more things you do, the more things that happen and it’s never in a linear fashion. While we work with someone like model Ricki Hall, which will appeal to a certain type of person, we’re as liable to be used by a guy who’s into his ink as we are by an 80-year-old stalwart of The Handlebar Club. We’ll be at a Steampunk rally, a tattoo fair and Goodwood Revival.

The Captain, as a figurehead and identity for the brand, seems to somehow work across all those demographics.

We’re in a 9,000 square foot unit now and the entire front of it is done like an Edwardian Gentleman’s Club. For me, there are so many things we could have done that would have made more economic sense, but coming from the film industry, the important thing about this backstory is that I believe it. For me, this guy is a character and I’m his righthand man. The reason he so rarely can make it along to things is because you never want to pop that bubble. I’m always in this character. This is the journey. We’re building a museum here. We wrote a book and sold over 30,000 copies. I don’t believe in advertising. You pay for a page in a magazine and it ends up in the dentist’s or in the downstairs loo. What we do is far subtler. It brings different people to us. I couldn’t sell anything I don’t believe in, but I’m so driven and passionate about what I do. Someone asked me who our biggest competitor is. I don’t have any competitors. That’s not me being arrogant; it’s because I’m not in the race. I’m 61 and I’ve had an amazing life. I don’t feel any need to be up on what everyone else is doing.

Trying to play that game becomes a bit of a race to the bottom. It’s a question of what you’re willing to sacrifice to compete.

We still make all our packaging in the UK, we still make all our products here, we still use essential oils, which are going through the roof because of various droughts and fires. We are a niche brand and it’s important to maintain that. We have a niche product that I’m proud of and we’re not going to lower our game. You can always go to a high-street pharmacy and buy a beard oil for a quid. Our fans expect something different.

Maintaining the character and the identity does set you apart.

It really does. We had some guy who wanted to invest and thank God we threw him out. He wanted to outsource all our social media and get our packaging done somewhere else, but where’s the soul in that? That’s why I still reply to all the emails as the Captain. It’s all a bit silly. It’s a combination of Phileas Fogg and Colonel Blimp. I’m a tubby biker so I can never be mistaken for him, which is why we have the whole routine of the righthand man. I get introduced at talks as Captain Fawcett and I always say the same thing: “Unfortunately, the Captain has had to visit his poorly mother in Blackpool so he asked me to come in his stead.” It’s a bit of fun.

One thing that people love to say is that we’re approaching ‘peak beard’. Do you think that moment will ever come?

They could be right, so I’ve invented a razor [Laughs] No, really, I have. I’ve never had an idol or anyone I really looked up to but a lot of these young guys do. I work with Ricki Hall and he’s a very private person. We were in a bar in Munich and this guy walked in and he was dressed as Ricki Hall. Weirder was that his tattoos were almost identical. Ricki just shrank away because it was so spooky. What I’m trying to say is that if you’ve got that kind of a hero and you buy clothes somewhere because that’s what they do, then if they shave their beard off, then there’s a great likelihood that you will too. Beards, to me, have always shown someone who’s slightly out of the norm, like a biker or a hippie or a lumberjack, someone who’s not a conformist. That’s changed now. They’ve been talking about ‘peak beard’ for four years. I’m not sure that will happen. I’m in it for the longer game. I’m not following a fashion dictate.

If the Captain had to give one piece of advice to the bearded and moustachioed men of the world, what would he say?I think the most important thing is, by all means listen to what someone else has to say, but remember that their experiences are different to yours. The most important thing is to be yourself. If you’re going to grow a beard, let it grow and grow and grow and see what you’ve got. Your face is an individual canvas.

Richie Finney’s Favorite Grooming Products

Aveda Smooth Infusion Shampoo
I’m very particular about my hair. I’ve very long hair that goes down to my bum. Captain Fawcett doesn’t do a shampoo so I use Aveda. They’re exceptionally well-made products.

Pasta del Capitano Toothpaste
I think this is from around 1903. We’re doing a toothbrush soon and we’re going to give a free sample of this toothpaste away with it. 

Captain Fawcett Private Stock Moustache Wax
Obviously! That’s what started it all.

Captain Fawcett Beard Comb
I do really like our beard comb. I’d rather have less things that are of a really nice quality.