There are very few first-world problems more frustrating than dropping an absurd amount of money on a new cartridge of razor blades.
These tiny sticks of steel are exorbitantly priced, all so you can have smooth legs, underarms or cheeks. Sure, you can opt for cheaper packs of disposable razors, but this option is horribly unsustainable and just doesn’t provide the same smooth and enjoyable shave that your skin deserves.
Why are razor blades so expensive, anyway? Let’s get into the reasons why these razors are so pricey, how they’re manufactured and where you can find solutions that are more wallet-friendly without sacrificing a quality shave.
Razor Blades Are Tough to Manufacture
Let’s start with the basics. It’s true that shaving razors are difficult to manufacture. These tiny pieces of steel need to be sturdy enough at one end to hold their shape and attach to the razor, yet fine enough at the other end to provide a painless, smooth shave.
Once a company figures out how to accomplish this small yet important task, they need to be able to afford proprietary machines that can create the blades in bulk. Not only are these machines nauseatingly expensive, but the leading brands, such as Gillette or Schick, have an insurmountable amount of money, experience and technology to remain one step ahead of the curve (or in this case, the sharpest blade of the bunch).
Only behemoth brands like Gillette and Schick are able to produce blades at length with little concern for competition. It’s pretty tough for the little guy to break into this billion-dollar industry without a lump sum of cash, an extensive workforce and abundant expertise. This monopoly makes it easy for big shaving razor companies to control the cost and limit the options of the consumer.
However, once the overhead is out of the way, individual blades only cost 5 to 10 cents to make. So, what’s up with the high cost of blades?
How are Razor Blades Made, Exactly?
To understand why razor blades are so darn expensive, a large part of the answer lies in how these products are manufactured. After all, razors don’t grow on trees. The production process is slightly more elaborate than meets the eye.
Disposable razor blades have a more simplistic design and are typically more affordable, but these cheap razors are unsustainable and usually equipped with lesser quality blades. Ultimately, they tend to make for a rough and unfulfilling shave.
For brands that pride themselves on employing the reusable cartridge system, such as Gillette, Shick, and Harry’s, there’s a lot that goes on inside of their massive manufacturing plants.
There’s the double-edged blade itself, which must be made with a corrosion-resistant steel alloy to avoid the negative impact of moisture. The grade of steel must also strike a balance between being malleable enough for processing, while also retaining its shape.
Outside of the steel blade, there’s an assortment of plastic components used for the handle and blade cartridge, among other parts of the razor design. Some manufacturers have also integrated spring mechanisms, as well as polymer strips that are situated on the front of the blade. These strips absorb water and create a lubricating surface to smoothly guide the blade on your face or body.
The production process behind these higher-end razor blades is a tad bit convoluted, but here’s a simplified overview of how brands like Gillette and Shick manufacture their blades.
To produce the blades, the steel must be mixed and melted before ongoing the annealing process, which is used to strengthen the steel. After the steel is heated, it’s blanketed with cold water and heated again to alter the nanostructure of the steel, improving the overall hardness and strength.
Next, grinding and polishing techniques are employed to sharpen and form the steel to achieve the desired cutting edge. Because the dimensions of the blade are so minuscule, a support structure must also be produced to secure the blade inside of the cartridge.
At the same time, the plastic components surrounding the blade must be molded and prepared for the assembly process. These parts are typically mode with injection molding, another costly manufacturing process in and of itself.
Finally, the blades and plastic components are assembled through numerous workstations, where the small blade parts are carefully held by vacuum lines and placed into the cartridge slots. From there, the razors are packaged and shipped out to be purchased by you, the loyal consumer looking for a clean shave.
The Razor-and-Blades Business Model
So you’ve invested a little money into a big brand’s razor, but you’re finding that replacement cartridges cost a pretty penny compared to their disposable counterparts. But now that you’ve made the initial investment, it feels like a pain to switch and upend your shaving technique. After all, those expensive cartridges are only designed to fit the razor you have.
This is the driving conundrum that powers Gillette’s razor-and-blade model. It’s a popular business model taught in business schools globally to show one way to keep your consumers dependent on your product.
For instance, Apple, the computer monarch, leverages this model. When you purchase an Apple phone, it comes with add-ons that only take Apple’s cables and chargers. By refusing to provide universal chargers, the company deliberately makes it difficult to find the charging cable needed for an iPhone. You’ll have to go to them directly. And now that you’ve invested in an iPhone, it would be costly to switch to another brand.
Also, consider console gaming systems as another prime example. Xbox doesn’t make games you can play on a Playstation, and vice versa. They both have different controllers, headsets, and so on, keeping the consumer in a narrow ecosystem with limited options.
But this business model isn’t called the iPhones-and-charges model or the Xbox-and-cartridges model. It’s literally dubbed the razor-and-blades model.
By making consumers dependent on the particular shaving attachment that a big brand like Gillette carries, they have full control over the cost. They are able to charge whatever they like because their consumers have already made an initial investment in their shaving product.
The initial investment, no matter how small, can make it difficult for consumers to switch to a cheaper brand, as they have to start all over with a new razor and new blades.
Sure, the manufacturing process isn’t exactly cheap, but the power of marketing also has a major influence over the high price point of razor blades. Because there’s little competition among the top shaving razor brands, there’s no incentive to reduce prices for the end-user.
Thankfully, the landscape of this restrictive market is slowly starting to change — and Public Goods is one of the few companies striving to make the shaving process more affordable for you.
Razor Blades Don’t Need To Be So Expensive
Fortunately, we’ve discovered the truth: shaving razors can be both affordable and offer you a high-quality clean shave. Check out Public Goods’ sturdy, gender-neutral bamboo razor handle and buy four razor blade cartridges for just $1.
Our bamboo razor handle provides a firm grip for full control over your shave. Unlike other leading brands, the bamboo handle creates an air of elegance that can’t be matched by plastic and rubber components. All the while, the four-pack of razor blades are incredibly affordable and provide the same high-precision shave experience as more expensive replacement blade cartridges.
Did you know you can even recycle your used razors? Read about razor blade banks and what you can do to be more eco-friendly.
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.