Chances are you've heard of Movember, the non-profit project that raises money for cancer and by asking men to grow their facial hair for 30 days, and then shave it all off for a mustache party that would make Burt Reynolds weep with joy. The fact that Movember is now a national phenomena — with 4 million people participating each year — is nothing short of spectacular considering the history of this decade old event.
Movember started around 2003 in a pretty traditional Australian way: over beers. "It was my brother, and a mate having a few" CEO Adam Garone explained in a 2011 TED talk, "and the conversation turned to 70s fashion — how everything seems to come back into style. And after a few more beers, we said, 'What about the mustache? Why hasn’t that come back?’ Then one more beer and it was, 'Whatever happened to the mustache?'.... The day ended with a challenge: to bring the mustache back."
The Rules of Movember?
1. You must begin with a clean-shaven face on November 1.
2. For the entire month of November you must grow and groom a mustache.
3. No beards. No goatees. Mustaches* only. (*Fu manchus are acceptable)
4. You must act like a "true country gentleman" throughout the month.
It wasn’t easy at first, Garone added: "Trust me, when you’re growing a mustache back in 2003 — and this was before the ironic hipster mustache movement — it created a lot of controversy. My boss wouldn’t let me go and see clients, my girlfriend at the time, who is no longer my girlfriend, hated it. Parents would shuffle kids away from us."
Those would be temporary hurdles, and the movement's first year was modestly successful. "We came together at the end of the month and celebrated our journey. And in 2004 I said to the guys, 'That was so much fun. We need to legitimize this so we can get away with it year-on-year.' So we started thinking about that, and we were were inspired by all the women around us and what they were doing for breast cancer. And there's nothing for men's health."
The idea is awareness, education, and an opportunity to try something new and fun with facial hair while working toward a cause. But Garone and Hedstrom were met with skepticism again when the movement expanded worldwide. "When Movember first came to the US in 2007 its was fairly unknown and localized to a few markets.... Not many people knew that it was one of the largest and most successful men's health charities in Australia."
It eventually caught on (thanks in no small part to the aforementioned hipster movement) and now Movember is one of the most successful campaigns in the fight against prostate and testicular cancer, and in the funding of men's mental health intiatives, notes Mark Hedstrom, US Director at Movember. "To date, we've raised over $550 million across 21 countries, and are driving innovation in research and patient-centered programs." And all that from a talking about mustaches over beers in Australia.
"When you think about it, we really have redefined charity," Garone says. "Our ribbon is a hairy ribbon.... We’re not about finding an Australian cure or a Canadian cure, we’re about finding the cure."