To Dream the Impossible Dream
My first encounter with “health food” was in Park Slope around 1997. My aunt would drag me there to buy sugarless candy and that cereal with the gorilla on it. It was at this patchouli scented health food store that I had my earliest graphic design memory, brought by Dr. Bronner’s.
Whenever I think health and wellness design I go back to this. The layout is incredibly un-designed and yet instantly recognizable. With no discernible hierarchy, every paragraph is a different type size, force justified, and schizophrenically spaced. Some paragraphs are numbered (1st, 2nd) others are (93. 92.), or even (107:).
Does it denote commandments, reading order, lotto numbers?
Capitalization and punctuation are used in a painterly fashion devoid of conventional dictates. This is what I imagine all health products look like if you wore those glasses from the movie They Live. Here is an excerpt.
To dream the impossible dream! To reach that unreachable star! 41 AII-One, All-One we are! To fight that unbeatable foe! To go where the brave dare not go! To right the unrightable wrong! To love pure, chaste, from afar! To try when your arms are too weary! 'Til All- One, AII4ne we are! For this is my goal! To reach that unreachable star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far! To fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause! For I know that if I follow this glorious quest, my heart will lie peaceful & calm when I'm laid to my rest! And I know that the world will be better for this, that one man, tortured, blinded, covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach that unreachable star 'til united All-one, All-one we are!
The actual intent of the label’s “manifesto” is quite opaque. It outlines what The Doctor - a self-proclaimed philosopher- calls his moral ABCs. It covers all the classic hippie touch points: world peace, self-discipline, references to Karl Marx, fabricated Confucius quotes and instructions on how to dilute the soap to wash your dishes. He also loves writing “ALL-ONE” in all caps and hyphenated. (I think it has something to do with the whole, this is how you achieve world peace thing.)
If the label sounds delusional it’s because Emmanuel Bronner, the founder of the Dr. Bronner’s brand, has a fascinating history rooted in family, religion, and yes, mental institutions and shock therapy. Making soap – his family business- became a vehicle to preach his beliefs, a novel and rather unconventional approach for both post world war America and whatever is happening with the world now.
After fleeing Nazi Germany and moving to America to sell soap and preach his message to the world, his sister had him committed. His obsessive focus on spreading his beliefs to the world, led him to abandon his children. He eventually escaped to California where he sold drums of Dr. Bronner's to fund his proselytizing.
During this time, he developed quite a following. One of his devotes even crucified himself for the cause in 1945! Fun! - Re: Pick up a printed version of his manifesto on the Dr. Bronner’s website, then go buy lumber and nails at the Lowe’s in Gowanus.
Joking aside, the Dr. Bronner’s company is incredibly lucrative and generous - it is the top selling liquid soap in the United States, with $44 million in sales in 2011. To give back, they have donated land to children’s charities, advocated for hemp oil, and were early adopters of fair trade and sustainability.
Attitudes about both health and wellness have come a long way since Dr. Bronner designed the label. The doctor’s ideas about conscious consumerism and world peace were radical in post-war America and the design reflects that. While recycling and sustainability have gone mainstream, a lot of his beliefs continue to be relevant, and for that we respect all the teachings that come with this awesome label.