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ZEW for men shaving soap

Pros: Unique, something different, local/regional, cleanses face very well, vegan, compact size
Cons: Has an attitude for lathering, not easily available, a bit pricey (for its overall performance), no tallow
Zew is a rural guy from the Polish Montains. Not even pretends to be a barber saloon's or a luxury item; it is actually proud of its provenance: a newcomer form some still exotic corner of East Europe. It is a very recent brand, the Zew for men line was registered only 3-4 years ago. It targets to men's facial grooming exclusively. Very limited line-up: single fragrance profile, almost only soaps: body soap, facial soap, hair (shampoo) soap, a 3in1 body-face-hair stick, beard soap,and this shaving soap. The only non-soap items in the brand are an after shave balm, a beard balm and a brush. All these are sold alone or in various kits (travellers', the bearded man's, weekend, etc.)

The brand image is 100% masculine: explorers, travelers, woodmen, mountaineers, trekkers, hikers. The shaving soap is only sold on-line, notably by Notino all over Europe. Currently only available in a kit on Amazon outside Europe.

The soap is dividing, contradictory to say the least.

The display and manufacturing quality is modern, the ingredients are natural, vegan, traditional. So traditional that one of the unique ingredients is charcoal used for washing and grooming in the region from old, either crudely in itself or as a basic chemical substance for soap making.
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The product is packaged only in an understated small black cardboard box with plain sans-serif white print on it. But it contains every useful information, ingredients, usage instruction together with some marketing info, TSA approval logo, and the manufacturer's two logos, the 'W' in the name that styled after the mountain ridges of the East Carpathian region, and a compass-fern stick-feather logo with the GPS co-ordinates of the charcoal origins in the Bieszczady range.

The size is astonishingly tiny even when packaged: 30 x 40 x 60 mm (1.18"x1.57"x2.36") for a 85ml soap. Good size for travelling or bagpacking. Unfortunately the cardboard only box is far frombeing adequate to stash it away after shaving in exactly the same circumstances.

The soap itself is a nondescript tiny gray brick. The color is almost uniform, except for the occasional random darker or black speckles where the charcoal powder remained together to break the monotony, this is clearly not for decoration. The only feature on the appearance is the deeply etched Zew logo on one side. The quality is good: the edges are bevelled round. The surface and the texture of the bar is polished, recall the touch of marble or fat stone. It is surprisingly soft to touch, but it is not prone to kneading or shaping - it is a hard soap, but it is not triple milled dry hard. And it is - even dry - slippery. The dry scent is so subdued that it is almost missing. It is again a simple single note reminiscent of pinewood forest, clean, natural.

When wet, the soap becomes a real tiny monster, it gets to be very slippery to the point of difficult to hold which has a fundamental impact on its weakest point: the lathering.

Lathering this soap has a steep learning curve. When I say it has an attitude it means it will not adopt to anyone's preferences - it has its own way. Period. You either get used to it, learn it, love it, or leave it. This is not good for a shaving soap, but it is something of an adventure. The size and shape is inadequate for mug leathering (my preference). It is small that any brush, except for miniature travel brushes, just cover it wholly. As a result, the thin pre-lather tends to form on (and more often than not drip off from) the sides of the bar, making it difficult to transfer to a mug. Perhaps a soap box would help, but regular 100 gr size soap boxes are too large for this soap (the lather collects besides and under). Hand leathering is an option - best works if you start with it as an ordinary soap, create some thin wet foam rolling it between your hands and only when you have some you can start to lather. The manufacturers video suggest face lathering - you are supposed to use it as shaving stick - which works, surprisingly good if you have some hair or at least two or three days growth of stubble on your face. If you wish to use it daily, than you again have to start blooming some foam in your hands and rubbing it on your face before you could start working with the brush.

Working it into a real lather requires patience and effort - at least 2 minutes, maybe 2 more for those who insist on the creamy, yoghurtish consistence, but it may worth it. The lather is always slick - this is not a tallow or cream foam machine -, in my first couple of attempts I felt it is too thin, but it was not. It simply isn't for cushioning (period again).

Here the charcoal comes into play: first you can actually feel how it cleans, gently exfoliates your skin. The powder is 'micronized', so its not peeling, but you will feel the fine scrubbing action. For me this a pure joy, but I can image it can irritate or distract others. The second benefit of the fine charcoal powder is excellent lubrication. (Think about graphite lube in high rev gears.) It is better than the natural clay soaps I tried. No cushioning, almost any at all, but excellent glide and super close shave - with whatever sharp enough object you dare to put to your skin. Its lube can bring out the blade-monster even from mild razors. I tried it with a Merkur, and I had to concentrate very hard not to slip the head sideways. But with good technique, it gives wings to the razor and ensures quick close shaves.

The glycerin, and the essential oils in the soap are excellent moisturizers. The green tea and the aloe oils hydrate well and with the chamomile they also protect well.

The scent even when wet does not become much stronger. However, it definitely develops. First the single pine note becomes tangy camphor and cedars in the mug. On your face the pine returns with juniper, and - my favorite of all time - licorice. After rinsing the lather, the licorice lingers on together with the flowery tones of chamomile and aloe, and the pine recesses to resin scent. Very very low key, but if you do not apply balm or after shave it actually stays on for one or two ours. It moisturizes so well, that unless you have a dry skin (or need nick treatment), you may really try to go without after shave, as the promotion clip claims.

It is nowhere near to the best soaps, it is not cheap, neither it is classy. It does not produce a phenomenal lather and does not announce your well-groomedness with sophisticated strong fragrance. But it really ensures close and effective shave, it cleanses your skin in a very refreshing and invigorating way. It is a unique stocky, grumpy, rustic, featureless, difficult to handle but rewarding soap. It is a tool of hard working, dusty, sweaty, oily men.

I got used to bear it, and I think I might grow to like it.
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