Shou-sugi-ban shave brush


Shou-sugi-ban is the ancient Japanese technique of charring wood to preserve wooden houses and create a fire, rot, and insect repellent barrier. Steele & Co. has utilized this ancient method to create a unique aesthetic for our hand-made cedar shave brushes. Using locally harvested red and yellow cedar, Steele & Co. turns the handles then carefully chares the wood before dousing them in water to stop the burning process and cool the wood. Once cooled, each piece is brushed to remove the dust and loose debris, and then washed and dried. Our shou-sugi-ban brushes are finished by hand with a super fine steel wool to soften any edges. The brushes then receive four coats of a penetrating waterproof treatment with a steel wool sanding between each applied coat. Two coats of natural oil are applied to further preserve the wood and give the handle a soft, weathered feel in the hand. A premium high-count black badger knot is then anchored to the brush handle to finish our unique shaving brush. These shave brushes showcase Steele & Co.’s commitment to bringing beautiful objects made with quality craftsmanship into our everyday routine.

Bob Steele & Roy Shields

Bob Steele is my grandfather and husband to Mary Steele who's recipies and soaping equipment I used to get Steele & Co. started about five years ago. He plays an important role in my life and is a big part of the inspiration for Steele & Co. My grandfather is 90 years old and full of great stories. Here is one of them:

"In Kerrobert I became friends with Roy Shields who was two grades behind me in my sister’s year at school. We had a common interest in making model airplanes as we were both shut out of the dominant group of model builders my age. But I was newcomer and Roy was deemed too young so we teamed up, worked together on models, made hydrogen in an empty beer bottle and floated a balloon, and planned a hitch hiking trip to Banff. I had been to Banff with my parents nine years before and loved the mountains but Roy had never seen them. That winter we scoured the town for Libby’s soup labels and managed to collect enough to get a pup tent as a prize. It lacked a floor.

How we managed to convince our parents that we should leave home in this way for an unspecified number of days I can’t imagine. I was a tall 14 and Roy an undersized 12. There was never any problem getting rides as cars would rush by and after the image of Roy had sunk in, the driver would break, throw the car in reverse and invite us to get in. As for consent, Roy’s father gave his if I promised to look after my younger companion and my mother, surprisingly nervous about her children, may have been remembering her walking trip to Fort Qu’Appelle when she gave her permission.

We set out with ten dollars apiece and were gone for two weeks. At the Banff camp site, we were treated kindly by several family groups who instinctively recognized that the parents at home might appreciate their wandering boys getting some supervision. The buffalo compound astonished us as did the western style trading posts with beaded Indian crafts, the birds and animals, the mountain scenery and the strange and lovely ambience of Banff town.

On the way home, we managed to get in to the Calgary Stampede without paying. My budding taste for big band jazz was fueled by a group of black jazz musicians who appeared every hour or so on the midway. I gave no thought to running away to join the carnival but a life of playing in the sax section of the black jazz band had a strong appeal."

Ian Steele








             Ian Steele 





Ian Steele was my grandfather’s brother. He was a Canadian potter, born in Saskatchewan, but was raised on the West Coast. He graduated from Vancouver School of Art in 1961, specializing in ceramics, and then travelled to St. Ives to apprentice with the great Bernard Leach for two years. In 1969 he returned to Canada to run his own pottery studio in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island.

I have grown up with Ian’s pottery. His strong black bowls were used for making waffles on the weekends and his salt glaze creamers were a house staple, if not for the morning coffee then for a vase on the kitchen table. The objects that Ian created were prized possessions but they were used in routine. They made an impression on me at an early age.

This handmade ceramic soap pump pays homage to my Great-Uncle Ian Steele. The glaze I chose references a particular Ian Steele vase that I particularly like, as well as the big black baking bowls we made waffles in as kids. 

Ian died several years ago but here is a quote from him describing his work as a potter: “My pottery is the result of 45 years of mostly gradual development. It comes directly from, but is also different to, those early efforts both at Art College and the years at the Leach Pottery in St. Ives. There is a connecting thread between the pots I produced in my earliest years to the pots I produce now, plus all the influences in between. However my pottery has always come from a base of function even if sometimes the connections are a bit tenuous.

These ceramic soap pumps are a reflection of Ian Steele’s work in the Steele & Co lineup. I have admired his art work and used it for decades. Below is a picture of Ian in his younger years as a potter as well as the pot that influenced the glaze on our soap pumps. We hope you enjoy these Ian-inspired pieces as much as we do.






Mary Steele

I want to start this archive process with an introduction to Mary Steele. Mary Steele is my maternal grandmother and the catalyst and inspiration for Steele & Co. Though facing old age (88) and the usual health challenges that accompany it, Mary took the time to answer some questions about healthy-living and the soap-making process. Here is what she had to say.

“I was an early health-food enthusiast and a yoga student, before it was fashionable. I read Adele Davis on the benefits of healthy non-refined food and cooked our meals accordingly. We kept a large, bountiful vegetable garden in the backyard. I practiced Hatha Yoga by sitting on the living room floor in front of the newly acquired TV following the instructions of Kareen Zebroff, whose own beauty was affirmation that this system worked."

My own Mother, Marne, remembers growing up using her mom’s soap; it was the only soap they ever used. When Mary was asked why she started to make soap, she replied, “Have you seen the price of soap?”

Mary has always had a long-standing distaste for artificial scents and except for the occasional garage sale score of a box of expensive Yardley’s she didn’t have any other soap in the house besides her own, made with all natural ingredients in her own house. She said it always seemed a shame to throw out all the leftover fats from cooking poultry and meat so she collected it in the freezer and when there was enough, she made a batch of soap in the basement. Her soap wasn’t used for laundry detergent, only for dishes and the bathroom.

Marne: “How long did you leave it down there, mom?”

Mary: "Oh, until it was convenient; about a month. Then I cut it into bars with a knife and I wrapped each piece in cotton.”

Marne: “Why cotton?”

Mary: "Oh because it is a pure fabric and it was absorbent. I wrapped each bar separately.”

Marne: “Then what?”

Mary: "Gosh, I should have done this (interview) while I still remembered! I just wrapped each bar in a piece of cotton and put it all into a cardboard box. It was pretty good soap.”

Clearing out Mary’s basement in 2010, my mother came across Mary’s old soap making equipment: an old, worn-out wooden spoon; a shiny stainless steel stock pot; wooden tongs; and some large mason jars. The nostalgia of growing up with homemade soap inspired my mother to pass them on to me, thinking I might be interested. She was right.

Using my grandmother’s original soap recipe, I first made soap in my Victoria flat in Chinatown. Experimenting with recipes for a year, I came to make some small modifications to Mary’s original and eventually created a new generation of Steele soap using food-grade plant-based oils. With all-natural ingredients and scents inspired from the west coast of British Columbia, Steele & Co preserves a philosophy nurtured for three (going on four) generations.

As for the packaging, I was heading through Youbou, a small town in Cowichan valley, and came across an abandoned auto body shop with a beautiful old sign. I took a photograph of the sign and showed it to my friends Caleb and Hanahlie at Caste Projects. Using that picture as inspiration, Caleb and Hanahlie created and continue to create the packaging for Steele & Co.