- Three friends from the University of Georgia set out to make an "independent" and "Southern" scent
- Co-founder: "Most cologne is endorsed by celebrities or is marketed with half-naked men"
- The creators tested 'Moonshine' cologne on unsuspecting strangers in bars
- The fragrance has hints of black pepper, gin, tobacco and leather but "doesn't smell like Moonshine"
Whoever said, "Don't mix business with pleasure" obviously didn't say it to Matt Moore, Colin Newberry, and Charlie Holderness.
The three University of Georgia graduates recently embarked on a journey few other Southern fraternity brothers have gone on before -- to create their own fragrance, Moonshine.
Moonshine gentleman's cologne hit shelves in select cities on November 1, but has been on the minds of Moore, Newberry and Holderness since last September, when they made a decision to turn their daily e-mail exchanges into something more productive.
The trio, who found themselves stuck behind desks in their first jobs after graduation in 2005, began e-mailing one another the daily details of their lives.
"We talked about everything," Newberry recalls, "And 90% of it was crap."
The other 10% was actually substantial, he said, as the friends discussed careers. Newberry went to law school and settled in Dallas. Moore pursued a music career in Nashville and published a cookbook, "Have Her Over for Dinner." Holderness, an insurance salesman, began modeling part time and got married.
Through the changes and relocations, their daily e-mails never ceased, serving as a diary for their lives and a forum for big ideas.
"I guess we figured, as much as we keep in touch, there has to be something, a business, that we could do together," Moore said.
Since they had settled into other careers in three different cities, the partners knew whatever venture they decided on would have to be product-based.
Holderness said they bounced several ideas back and forth but continued to come back to cologne, recognizing that the industry had left a vacancy and a huge opportunity for guys like them.
"Most cologne is endorsed by celebrities or is marketed with half-naked men. None of that appeals to me," Newberry said. "We thought we could do better."
Despite knowing nothing about the fragrance business, the three made up their minds to produce cologne that was southern and independent -- and didn't think twice about moving forward.
"Even if we fail," Holderness said, "we figured it would be a nice little journey we could embark on together."
The execution of such a big idea may have intimidated the savviest of businessmen, but Holderness insists going through with their plan wasn't particularly difficult thanks to the internet, where the three did months of research. They made contacts and sent e-mails to perfumers, some of which were ignored.
Their research eventually led them to fragrance manufacturer Galimard in France.
"Everyone said, 'perfume is made in France,'" Holderness said. "And we knew if we were going to do it, we're going to do it right."
Moore, who minored in French, used his language skills to negotiate prices and request samples of shelved scents for the trio to try.
"We submitted lists of our favorite colognes, and they were able to pull from their stock the smells that we liked," Holderness said.
They tested the sample on each other and on unsuspecting strangers in bars before choosing "Reference 23" -- the fragrance they would eventually name Moonshine.
"It's an understated scent. There are hints of black pepper, gin, tobacco and leather," Moore said. "It doesn't smell like Moonshine!"
And, as Holderness points out, "You can't drink it."
But like Moonshine, the fragrance is "independent, manly, Southern in connotation and cool," Moore said.
Bottling the product themselves in Holderness' parents' basement, the trio has created what they say is an experience for the consumer.
"Our bottles are unadorned; it's like an old-school metal flask to set on your night stand," Moore said.
The bottle comes packaged in a burlap sack and wooden box -- Southern and personal touches that the founders say Moonshine is all about.
For now, the brand's limited distribution allows them to do the work themselves, but Holderness recognizes there may come a time when they'll need to outsource.
"Part of the fun has been crafting it ourselves, but if someone calls me and says, 'I want a million bottles,' we may have to look elsewhere."
The division of labor within the company seems natural, playing to the strengths of each partner. But Newberry insists that wasn't on purpose.
"To say that we say that we divided and conquered would imply that we knew what we were doing in the first place," he said, laughing.
Holderness is a natural salesman. Moore, having written and marketed his own book, knew how to brand the cologne and how to lead a grassroots marketing campaign. Newberry has had to become well-versed in Food and Drug Administration regulations and makes sure all of the company's legal matters are in order.
The work has been a labor of love for the friends, who say they haven't encountered too many bumps in the road to test their friendship.
"I mean, we're three guys who made a cologne called Moonshine. We're not going to get that emotional about stuff," Newberry said.
So far, the reaction from their family and friends has been supportive.
And any jokes the men might receive about creating a fragrance line don't really matter.
"I mean, being an attorney is great, but telling people you own a cologne company is pretty cool," Newberry said.