Kyle LaFond credits “stinky” middle school boys as the inspiration for his company, American Provenance, manufacturer of all-natural personal care products in rural Mount Horeb.
While teaching science in New Glarus, Kyle gave his students an assignment to develop their own green, sustainable product or service. The youngsters enjoyed the project and challenged their teacher to do one, too. Because many of those prepubescent boys tended to sweat a lot and weren’t the best at using deodorant, making a product for them seemed a logical choice. A natural product, one that wasn’t a chemical-laden spray, was also appealing to Kyle. So it was, after encouragement from family and friends, Kyle started American Provenance.
American Provenance products for men include deodorants, aftershave, body spray, beard balm, and hair pomade. The women’s line consists of deodorants, body spray, hair pomade, shave toner, and solid perfume. Soaps, some made with goat’s milk, for both men and women are produced by Milwaukee’s Oil & Ash Soap Company with American Provenance fragrances. In addition, American Provenance offers leather conditioner for boots, belts, and bags and wood conditioner for blocks, boards, and bowls.
Kyle believes in keeping his products simple with a minimal use of ingredients. By using classic recipes and essential oils to replicate vintage scents from the 1940s and ‘50s, Kyle is paying tribute to the past.
The American Provenance production facility is located on Kyle’s grandfather’s dairy farm, in the building that was his machine shop. His great-grandfather bought the land and his grandfather farmed it. For Kyle, having his company on the farm is a tie-in to his grandfather’s legacy. It’s a way for him to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps and honor the memory of a man who influenced Kyle during his formative years. His grandfather died in August of 2014, and Kyle began his company in May of 2015.
It took Kyle six years of dirty kitchens, double boiler pans, smelly armpits, and stained t-shirts before he perfected his products using no fillers, artificial colors, or preservatives. He started his business with savings and a Small Business Administration loan. Kyle gives kudos to the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Small Business Development Center, where Michelle Somes-Booher, one of its business counselors, guided him through the process of developing a business plan. He still meets with his counselor monthly. She helps to keep him on course or change direction as needed.
Ninety percent of American Provenance products are bought by women for men. According to Kyle, guys don’t like to buy personal care products, so it’s up to their wives and girlfriends to do so. Women began to ask for products specifically for them, so Kyle started his women’s line in November. Next will be products for babies and a skin-care line, again, by popular request.
One can find American Provenance products at several local outlets: Community Pharmacy, Context Clothing, Hometown Pharmacy, Hy-Vee, Isaac’s Soaps, Metcalfe’s Market, Miller & Sons, and Willy Street Co-op. Other Wisconsin locations include retail partners in Cedarburg, Mequon, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Reedsburg, and Wauwatosa. American Provenance products can also be found online and at several retailers in Colorado and Illinois. Kyle particularly likes selling his products at family-owned shops, specialty stores, independent grocers and pharmacies, and co-ops. He prefers to work with businesses that advocate a philosophy of health and wellness.
The name American Provenance was born out of Kyle’s sales experience. “Products that are popular start with the letter ‘A,’” he explains. Also, many great businesses in this country began in someone’s shed or garage, so “American” was a good name for his company. Provenance, meaning the record of ownership of an item to prove its authenticity, came from one of Kyle’s favorite television programs, Antiques Roadshow , on PBS.
Kyle decided to put two-stage distinctive names on his American Provenance products because they were easier to trademark. “Firepits & Flannels” and “Shotguns & Shenanigans” for men, and “Pinups & Paramours” and “Daggers & Diamonds” for women are some of the available scents. The product labels are also unique with designs by Andrew Holdorf of Six Roses Tattoo in Middleton. Andrew’s work represents traditional American style tattoo art—the kind that might be seen on servicemen who fought in World War II. According to Kyle, these products with exclusive labels “look cool in a guy’s bathroom.”
This past November proved to be a big selling month for American Provenance because of the Movember movement, when men grow moustaches in support of men’s health awareness. Kyle explains that many men don’t know how to maintain facial hair. Beard balm is the answer. With daily use, there’s no itching as a beard or moustache grows out, bacterial growth on longer hair is minimized, and skin beneath facial hair stays soft.
Recently, Kyle teamed up with Chris Borland, former UW–Madison and San Francisco 49ers player who retired after one year in the NFL, to create a gift box of American Provenance products. Proceeds from the sale of the box benefit the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps NFL players with financial grants and medical assistance after their playing days are over. Many of these players are not of the modern era and do not have the benefits and pensions that today’s players receive. The gift set consists of the six American Provenance products with a masculine scent of sweet birch, bergamont, and wintergreen. Kyle is particularly proud to be partnering with Chris, whom he met at a Ryan Bingham concert at the Majestic Theatre in Madison. Chris didn’t want an endorsement deal, and that was fine with Kyle because honoring tradition and things that have come before is important to him.
This coming year, Kyle plans to refurbish the barn on the farm to give him more space for American Provenance. He’ll also be hitting the road to grow retail outlets for his products in the Midwest. Kyle is no stranger to being a road warrior, having worked as the Director of Business Development for Capital Brewery for a number of years.
Kyle says American Provenance “is the most expensive girlfriend I’ve ever had. Every time I turn around, there’s something else she needs!” But whatever the need, Kyle will continue to bring high-quality, natural products to market—ones that are handmade in small batches with an homage to the past.
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.