Welcome to a new age.
Men are better off now than we have ever been: we have options, we have choices and we have a future where we can feel comfortable, and accepted in the way we maintain our appearance.
This is something that we should take pride in, as it offers a great foundation to feel comfortable in our appearance, free from judgement, offering us confidence. Hats off gents (or, should I say, beards on?)... this is a new dawn.
"Do you need a handbag for all those products?"
"What kind of man puts oil in their beard?"
These are a list of just a few of the comments and messages I've received in the last month directed at me, and my business - men's grooming brand Percy Nobleman.
For me, comments like those make it all worthwhile, I like to think what's happening in men's grooming is challenging perceptions, and is part of something much deeper than it appears on the surface. We're causing a stir and it's beautiful watching it unravel.
In the few short years I've been involved in the men's grooming industry, a lot has changed. In early 2013, I had the idea to create a men's grooming brand that sold products to care for men's beards... I was ringing round, to find a British manufacturer to work with me, only to be laughed at and told there was "no way" they would produce these products... fast forward to 2016 and these same manufacturers are either queuing up to work with us or creating men's grooming lines of their own and selling them direct to the retailers.
Self-expression is back! Men in the 1960s embraced love, freedom and an awful lot of hair. Today facial hair has returned, but now we have more choices and we have a future where we can feel comfortable in the way we maintain our appearance. This is something that we should take pride in. It gives us confidence.
Men of today's world are different. They see through big-brand mentality. They want something individual and that speaks to their personality, and believe it or not, they want to express themselves as champions of their own destinies. Niche brands are now very much part of customers' lifestyles, and are more involved with men's lives than ever before. Bigger brands are playing catch up and, for once, this is something that money cannot buy!
Social media has played a part, and is beginning to challenge mass media and television. Men and women alike no longer have to pander to the celebrity culture. The elite are still there and ever present, but the Instagram generation poses new opportunity and is threatening to unbalance the status quo.
To live in a world where 'likes' and the number of comments on their selfies is pretty unforgiving, but it has allowed this 'freedom of expression'. Men are the real winners here. This is the 60's revisited, except everyone has gone and got a degree and we're not smoking as much pot & taking LSD. This is the new man, the modern man and a new generation.
Are beards here to stay? I keep reading more column inches insinuating that we have reached 'peak beard' and that beards are soon to be on the demise. This has been going on week-in week-out for the past four years - the media is clinging on for their lives here. They honestly don't have a clue. The funniest story I read that went viral involved a media smear campaign (pun intended) stating that beards were full of poo particles. A lot of people read this story but did it affect our sales? Of course not.
This is because men are shaping their own future, taking the bits of the media they like and challenging the bits they don't. Brands are no long deciding what their customers will buy, but instead customers are dictating what they want to buy. Retailers are catching on. If men want to grow their beards and shave less, they will - it's actually that simple.
Last month I appeared on Mary Portas' What Britain Buys TV show, appearing as an expert in men's grooming.
When I watched the show, Mary Portas portrayed men more like a David Attenborough documentary on a rare species of animal. She mocked, laughed and really did her best to portray this movement as a bit of a joke...
But hold on a moment.
Men don't need Mary Portas to validate and endorse their grooming habits. In fact, all we need to do is look at movements like the Bearded Villains and the many charitable organisations like Decembeard and Movember to see how men's grooming is carrying positive messages. We really want the best for each other - I honestly believe that.
So welcome to a new age. We're better off now than we were. We have options, we have choices and we have a future where we can feel comfortable, and accepted, in the way we maintain our appearance.