‘It’s been a great ride’: Hobby becomes money maker for Shelton shaving enthusiast

SHELTON — Peter Charkalis loves a good, old-fashioned wet shave.

But even Charkalis never imagined that his niche hobby would turn into a major money-making operation with a brand that is now internationally known and loved by his fellow shaving enthusiasts.

“This unleashed a creative side I never knew I had,” said Charkalis, a Shelton resident who founded Ariana & Evans, which he says is a luxury brand for traditional wet shavers and lovers of fine fragrances.

“I never had this ability, or at least I never knew I had it,” he said. “This has helped unlock a side I never knew I had. I never dreamed that I could create these scents, these fragrances. It’s been a great ride.”

Charkalis was a top executive with a British software development company, where he helped start its United States market back in 2002. Over the years, he then helped that company open markets in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

All the while, he was also delving into the world of traditional wet shaving, joining social media sites specific to this hobby, creating a YouTube page on the subject, and cultivating a worldwide friend group in which they debated the merits of a close shave and the methods and products necessary to do it right.

“I was buying different soaps. I had them all over,” said Charkalis, who moved to Shelton with his wife, Evelyn, in 2002. “One day my daughter (Ariana) said I have so many I should start selling them. That was the start.”

At that point, Charkalis created The Shaving Shop & Club website. He commissioned artisans to make soaps exclusively for him which he then sold on the site, and he enjoyed some success.

“I knew I couldn’t compete with the big guys,” he said. “I needed a business plan that differentiated me from the larger companies, so I commissioned artisans to make soaps for me, exclusive for me. It was a side operation out of our house, and we made some extra money which was nice.”

But then his creative juices began to boil. In 2020, he decided he would start making his own soaps.

“As a hobbyist, I knew what I liked. I knew what I wanted in a soap, so I figured why not try it,” he said.

After months of experimentation - using products purchased off the internet and created in a miniature slow cooker in his 400-square-foot kitchen, and taking advice from his social media friends, some of whom also happen to be experts in the field — his Asian Plum shaving soap was born. And what had been just a side business was now on its way to becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

“I was making micro-batches, three a day, when I started to think I had something as good as anything else out there,” he said. “With Asian Plum, everyone I reached out to was unanimous. I had something they thought was as good if not better than anything out there. I was ready.”

Asked about how he came up with the product, Charkalis said it was simple trial and error.

“I guessed right,” he said about the concoction that brought forth Asian Plum. “And it was a lot of luck. You have to have luck.”

And that was lucky for Charkalis, who only months later lost his job of 17 years, as his employer was slashing payroll in the wake of the pandemic.

Now this side hustle was a full-time job — so the pressure was on, he said.

But that did not deter Charkalis, who went on to continue the creative process. The next result was a soap he called Kaizen, a Japanese word that means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” That product featured a mixture that included some Greek yogurt, tallow, manteca, and slippery elm to name a few. Kaizen has since come to be considered among the best in the industry.

“The goal was to increase the slickness and density of the lather,” he said. “My goal is to always improve. I am always working to create something better than before.”

What started with $500 in his tiny kitchen expanded quickly. He soon outgrew his kitchen and had to expand his garage to house the ever-growing product line as his business exploded. But within eight months he was looking to expand again, and moved to space in the Conti building off Howe Avenue.

His website, aegrooming.com, is the home for the products. The name, Ariana & Evans, is a combo of his daughter’s first name and his first name, which is Evans, although he is called by his middle name Peter.

From the main site, customers can join the Shave Shop & Club on a subscription basis. This allows those hardcore enthusiasts a chance to obtain discounts and access to products before mass availability. And that is a good move since his products tend to sell out only hours after being introduced.

The company now offers vegan versions of the shaving soaps as well as a new skin care line. He has also added Cobra Spit Balm, a tattoo aftercare blend.

Ariana & Evans has retailers worldwide, and the company is soon opening a manufacturing site in the Philippines, as he has a strong client base in Asia and Australia. The new location will significantly cut delivery costs, he said.

“I always thought wet shaving was cool, so retro, but I never realized it was such a big thing, with such a huge following,” he said about his start in this world. “I started joining Facebook and social media groups and just got obsessed.”

Soap-making was just supposed to be a side job, he said.

“But look at this now,” Charkalis said gesturing around his space in the Conti building. “It’s been an incredible experience, and we’re just getting started.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com