Even when I lived in the US, the price of razor cartridges for my Mach 3 was an issue, and I often conserved them by shaving infrequently or using them even after their “lubricant strip” lost all its magic color. It’s not like three or four dollars is the biggest deal, but who wants to keep tossing that much money away over and over again, especially when a full beard suits me so well?
In Georgia, I could never quite bring myself to shell out the 40 lari it would cost for a 4-pack of razor cartridges. I’ve been shaving for the last two years using only those cartridges I brought with me from the US; finally I broke down and bought the relatively cheaper disposables, but they really, really suck. Razor burn all over the place.
In the back of my mind, whenever I encountered such high prices for razors, I wondered to myself how Georgians could even afford to shave.
I remember back when the Gillette cartridges had only two blades; I remember using my dad’s Sensor razors to shave as a teenager (when I barely needed to) and how, when Gillette upgraded to the Turbo, the new cartridges wouldn’t fit into the old handles and everyone had to buy a new handle for no real reason.
“No real reason” is a great summary of the razor market in the US. Corporations constantly “upgrade” perfectly good products and customers have to pay for them while reaping no actual benefits. Yeah, the Mach 3 was a little better than the Sensor, but the Quattro and the Fusion are actually worse. I think the idea is that customers buy the newest, shiniest thing without real regard to its actual function. I can say this: it works. Gillette makes boatloads of money for no real reason.
Back in my late teens and early 20s, I was an occasional reader of men’s magazines. It was Jessica Biel’s Gear cover that hooked me, but articles on things like men’s hygiene and fashion kept me interested. Knowing four different tie knots and when to wear them may not enhance my life a great deal, but it does let me pretend to be a grown-up, at least to myself. Anyway, men’s magazines often run articles about shaving, and each article tends to have a different perspective (I have found no consensus, for instance, on whether the type of razor or the type of shaving cream is most important), but one thing that seems universal is that there is a sort of reverence for “classic” shaving methods. Straight razors are the gold standard, but who has time to risk all those hospital visits just to develop a minor and obsolete skill?
No, the safety razor is the way to go. I actually considered buying one of these about five years ago, but I didn’t follow through because I had trouble sorting through the various expensive options (they seem to start at $30 and go up from there) that the internet presented to me so I gave up. Why go to all that trouble and expense to buy something that I had no idea if I would even like just because men’s magazine authors liked to wax nostalgic about a time when Manly Men risked death every time they shaved?
So I was in the Kutaisi bazaar yesterday, and just when Tea finally found a spice vendor who sold nutmeg, I noticed a bunch of safety razors on one of the tables, sitting placidly amidst the knives and batteries and extension cords, never suspecting that they were about to change my life forever. I picked on up and examined it; the salesman directed my attention to a superior model. Tea came over and we talked about which safety razor and which blades were the best; Tea and the salesman had differing opinions but I trusted the salesman because he was conspicuously clean-shaven so I assumed he knew what he was talking about. The safety razor with five blades cost two lari and fifty tetri – so, less than two dollars.
And so, again, we have an example of a thing in Georgia that costs an order of magnitude less than it costs in the US. Two and a half lari for what will probably be several months’ worth of shaving is something that Georgian men can definitely afford. It’s something that most people in the world with the desire to shave can afford.
I’ve been on about this in several other market sectors – pharmaceuticals, cell phone and internet service come to mind – but it seems like there has been a fundamental failure of capitalism in the US: in these sectors, instead of providing a better product at lower prices, US consumers are treated to roughly equivalent products at much higher prices.
And while I can blame the FDA for the prices of medicines, and the FCC for the price of cell phone service, there’s no government agency involved in regulating or licensing razors for shaving. Very simply put, what you have is a market failure – an example of capitalism being broken.
I got home and shaved with the safety razor. There was a bit of a learning curve – I got two very small cuts and my beard isn’t quite as even as I like it – but overall it was a fast, close, and pleasant shave. I got much less razor burn than usual because the shaving required fewer passes (I have relatively thick hair and cartridges usually clog very quickly, meaning I have to shave over the same patch several times to get it all). Cleaning the blade afterward was easy, because the blade itself can be detached from the razor so there’s nowhere for hair to get stuck.
In short, I feel like I’ve been missing out my whole life. (Well, not my whole life, but certainly since I started shaving.) Just another thing I would never have discovered if I hadn’t left the consumerist bubble that most Americans are trapped in forever.