Joseph Creel is a trendsetter, though he didn’t set out to be. He simply fought a battle with facial hair since junior high and was mastering the big, bushy beard look long before it was considered hip.
“I was sporting a light mustache in the seventh grade because my parents wouldn’t let me shave.
My mom didn’t want me to grow up so fast,” said Creel, 28. “But I went to an academy that didn’t allow facial hair, so they made me shave it – with a rusty, single-blade razor. So I’ve hated shaving ever since.”
While still in high school, he experimented with other styles of facial hair – mainly thick Elvis-like sideburns, and once he graduated, it was finally time to let that hair just grow.
And grow, it did.
“It was wild. It was ugly. It was very unkempt,” he said. “I knew nothing about it except that I wanted to grow a beard just because I could.”
Creel spent his college summers backpacking through states in the North, and it was while on one of his adventures that he first discovered beard oil. It seemed to be a relatively low-maintenance way to keep his beard from being dry and itchy.
“People don’t realize it, but if you take care of your beard, it actually insulates your face during the summer. It’s not hot like you would think,” he said.
He tried a few different brands of beard oil that he found online. At the time, the beard trend had not yet hit Mississippi, and no one had heard of this type of product.
“Everything I tried left me feeling really greasy; they were really heavy; and all the scents were the same. I guess they just assume every guy wants to smell like the bark of a tree,” said Creel. “I just thought I could do it better.”
So about two years ago, Creel decided to try it for himself. He started researching different blends and experimenting with oils.
“It wasn’t about selling it — I wanted to use it for myself, so I wanted it to be good,” he said.
With a full-time job teaching high school biology, Creel knew he had only nights and weekends to work on his new hobby. Finally, however, after a good bit of trial and error, he perfected his formula — and his business model.
With marketing and design help of friend Carrie Chennault, 26, the newly formed Mississippi Mane and Co., soon started manufacturing small batches of about a dozen bottles at a time.
Mississippi Mane now has 13 scents on the market, in addition to a limited edition seasonal autumn orchard blend and several other fragrance combinations in the testing phase.
“With so many products now you just look on the label and it says ‘fragrance,’ which can include up to 3,000 different chemicals that make up that scent,” said Creel. “It was important to me that we made sure all of our scents were essential oil based, from plants, cold-pressed, steam-distilled. All of our scents are made that way.”
Each scent is designed to appeal to both men and women. Ironically, he said, it’s often more women who purchase the products than men.
“Some are sweeter scents, like honeysuckle, and some are more woodsy, like pine,” he said. “Each one moisturizes the beard as well as your skin and leaves your beard softer, more manageable and less tangled.”
It’s not just beard oil that Mississippi Mane creates. The company also has lip balm, butter balm moisturizer, beard wash (which can also be used as a body wash) and cedarwood beard combs handcrafted by Creel’s brother, Caleb.
He sells his products inside Paxton Peak outdoor outfitters in Clinton, as well as directly from his website and a shop on the online marketplace, Etsy. He also hits the streets for local farmers’ markets and festivals.
“It’s great to be able to talk to the customers face to face and explain what the products are and how they work. I like the personal contact,” he said.
Creel said one of his goals with Mississippi Mane and Co., is to help reverse some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about beards.
“In the South, the trend is relatively new. For a long time, people might have just looked at you like you were dirty or from the country if you had a big beard. I want to change that perception. It can be groomed. It can smell nice,” he said.
Regardless of the peaks and valleys that come with running a business based on a trend such as bushy beards, Creel hopes to keep Mississippi Mane and Co., small and personal.
“I don’t ever want to outsource anything. I want to keep everything handmade in a small batch. That’s how you ensure it’s what it needs to be,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s a trend, but I’ve been growing a beard long before it became popular, and I’ll keep growing it long after the trend has passed,” said Creel.
Photos by Melanie Thortis