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Handmade Portraits: Brown Rice Family

Apr 28, 2010

by Pazcal

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(Music by Brown Rice Family)

The Etsy video team has invited experimental and documentary filmmakers to contribute to our original video series, Handmade Portraits, Process and There’s No Place Like Here. The multi-talented photographer Pascal Perich produced this first guest filmmaker episode on soap and music makers, Brown Rice Family. French-born Perich has lived in New York City for the past 15 years.  His portrait work is often featured in various publications such as Men’s Vogue, Time, Newsweek, Grazia, Fortune, The Financial Times, the New York Times.

My first encounter with a Japanese Rastafarian was in the subway. My daughter pointed at him playing his guitar on the platform, drawn to his stylish attire and long dreadlocks. A couple of months later, during a conversation about Japan, a musician friend mentioned a community in Brooklyn called the Brown Rice Family. I happened to come across a soap in a Japanese store in SoHo, made by a company carrying the same name. When I discovered that these were all linked, I turned to Etsy, inspired to make a video portrait of them. It was a fascinating experience to meet them, visit their world, and share a brief moment along their journey.

il_fullxfull.69719879.jpgIn the year 2000, a Japanese student (Yuichi) met a Korean student (Joe) at the City College of New York, studying sound engineering. They were both musicians, interested in healthy food and healthy music that could lead to joyful living. For Yuichi, “you are what you eat,” and the better the food, the better you can produce and create. They decided to form a band called the Brown Rice Family, a world roots band who “delivers the message of unity and diversity to the people.” From Japan and Korea, they believed that the “most natural way is the most civilized way” and they gathered musicians from Haiti, South Africa, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Following the concept of “one world” music, their sound is a mix of reggae, ska, rock, African/Jamaican traditional drums, and dancehall. Sometimes they call themselves a “world roots band,” a reminder to the world that we are just one big family with a common “vibe.”

shapeimage_1.pngA couple of years later, Joe got married. As a present for the guests, the band decided to create soap, made out of rice bran following an ancient Japanese recipe. They started to study all kinds of processes to make the best handmade organic soap and soon outside orders flourished. Despite the fact that they lived in the United States, they remain close to their Asian roots and they realized that rice bran, as a natural exfoliator, was what people in Japan used to wash themselves before soap came from Europe. In the Japanese translation of “brown rice,” the word gen mai includes the strong ancient Chinese character gen, which can be translated as “the beginning,” “the root,” or “the original.” The ancestral subsistence of brown rice could be considered as a perfect and complete meal, it was a fundamental food during the samurai age. Just like their music, the soap is a way to make people feel better and show their dedication to quality food and products in a world where quality is often a rarity.

shapeimage_2.pngThis video takes place in a brownstone in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Only a couple of the band members live in this three-story building, but the soap making process happens here, and the apartment often possesses the feeling of a workshop. Guests remove their shoes, enchanted by the sweet smell of incense and cooking vegetables. There reigns a beautiful harmony, a rare quietness, where they all share this space without a fuss. All of the roommates may be present but it never feels crowded or noisy, even if we can hear the murmur of a piano in one room and guitar in another.

When the soap making process starts, containers and buckets start to cover the wooden floors. Mei (Yuichi’s dog) watches over as the space becomes a workshop where a serious, tedious and organized process begins. I was struck by their scientific technique. The soap making is like their music performance: shining, civilized and philosophical. In a spotless environment, they alternate mixing while controlling temperatures and ratios. This process of measuring, blending, cutting, and packaging happens in a very controlled and undisturbed environment. The challenge in this video was to properly reflect this scrupulous 8 to 10 hour mixing process. Like a tea infusing for a given time, all of the different products blend slowly into a magical color and texture. They use an organic green tea they import from Japan. It comes from a small organic farm in the mountains of Yuichi’s childhood. Their craft is close to a monastic and meditative activity. For me, it has echos of the respected Zen master Suzuki‘s life (who was leading “a life of humility, a life of labor, a life of service, a life of prayer and gratitude and a life of meditation”).

Sometimes, when we listen to music we love, isn’t it true that we have the feeling of something inside being cleansed? With their soap, the Brown Rice Family also considers “the outside.”

It was later during the editing process of the video that I truly understood the hidden meaning of this handmade soap. It was a job, an activity made with love, without rush and precipitation, with the noble intent to do it well, to be good for the follower’s soul, spirit and health, and also good for the earth. What a message for the way we understand our own activity! Are we true to the making process or are we distracted by the result, the outcome and the profit of our activities?

The Brown Rice Family vision is to create originality, trying to give birth to diversity. They see success as “sharing nice vibes with people.” They did it with my daughter and they did it with me.

Organic Bath and Beauty Items on Etsy | Etsy Organic Team

Watch More Etsy Handmade Portraits | Earth Tones Series


  • HarrietsHaven

    HarrietsHaven said 7 years ago

    What an awesome article! I really enjoyed reading this and will be checking into rice bran soap.

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage said 7 years ago

    lovely article! beautiful soap!

  • BeljaysFeltnArt

    BeljaysFeltnArt said 7 years ago

    Great article. Like the Brown Rice Family vision.

  • enhabiten

    enhabiten said 7 years ago

    hey, that was a great one!! makes me miss making soap. looks like they use realy good ingredients and like what they do. plus nice beat!

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm said 7 years ago

    Enjoyed reading this article, wonderful story and rice bran soap too. Got them marked in my favorites, wish you great success.

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 7 years ago

    Great story!

  • Ebruk

    Ebruk said 7 years ago

    Great article, thank you

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa said 7 years ago

    Watching this Etsy video is the most relaxing thing I've done in quite a while.

  • fricdementol

    fricdementol said 7 years ago

    Fabulous article! Love this family :)

  • MinceCo

    MinceCo said 7 years ago

    I wanted to make my own soap once upon a time! Don't think i will though, yours is supreme!

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 7 years ago

    Great video. Much luck to you in all you do.

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 7 years ago

    Being at one with the process elevates both the maker and what is being made. This is a wonderful feature. Thanks so much!

  • justthegoods

    justthegoods said 7 years ago

    Very, very cool! Thank you so much for posting this!! =-)

  • EstateByRobin

    EstateByRobin said 7 years ago

    Great music, great soap, great guys! I'll be checking into your soap, it looks good enough to eat!

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 7 years ago

    Loved your story, I will check out your store right now, thank-you!

  • MalindasBeadDesigns

    MalindasBeadDesigns said 7 years ago

    That was interesting. Thanks, Malinda

  • tastesorangey

    tastesorangey said 7 years ago

    Wow, they have to mix it for six hours! That gives me a whole new appreciation of soap. Such a neat video, nd that dog is adorable.

  • jewelrybyjackie

    jewelrybyjackie said 7 years ago

    So unique and inspiring. Thanks for the article!

  • bedbuggs

    bedbuggs said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this article, thanks for sharing!

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 7 years ago

    Really enjoyed watching this video! Good luck with your soapmaking and your music! PS your dog is adorable!

  • PoPkO

    PoPkO said 7 years ago

    beautiful portrait!

  • shabbychicadee

    shabbychicadee said 7 years ago

    My favorite article to date. love them love the soap love the dog... LOVE

  • paperholiday

    paperholiday said 7 years ago

    Love this article, so great!

  • paperholiday

    paperholiday said 7 years ago

    Love this article ,so great!

  • soule

    soule said 7 years ago

    that's a heck of alot of stirring! great video! I bet thed soap is wonderful!

  • metroretrovintage

    metroretrovintage said 7 years ago

    Neat guys! Great wooden floor in that apartment by the way -- and love the entire organic process of the soap making. Cute dog too! :)

  • thedaydreamer

    thedaydreamer said 7 years ago

    Excellent article! And what a life! Amazing! :)

  • undermyfeet

    undermyfeet said 7 years ago

    Cool little video.

  • love4rocks

    love4rocks said 7 years ago

    What a great article.

  • GoodGriefGlass

    GoodGriefGlass said 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your "nice vibes"!

  • craftpile

    craftpile said 7 years ago

    They give such a chill it...and their hair..and how they are supporting a small organic farm from Yuichi's childhood. I appreciate soap even the more after watching how much they stir. Cute doggie, too.

  • KatsKube

    KatsKube said 7 years ago

    it was great learning about you and what drives you. i will be looking at brown rice in a different light.

  • voleurdebijoux

    voleurdebijoux said 7 years ago

    i luv that they make beautiful music and handmade soap! :)

  • mazuli83

    mazuli83 said 7 years ago

    soo cute film and people :) It really put on a smile on my face.

  • Minasmoke

    Minasmoke said 7 years ago

    Really interesting video, nice people, great music, and Mei the dog is adorable!

  • frenchtoastfriday

    frenchtoastfriday said 7 years ago

    Wow I didn't know making soap takes so much effort. Well done Brown Rice Family!

  • LycheeKiss

    LycheeKiss said 7 years ago

    I had to watch with my interpreter sign language, he said it's a really interesting mini documentary story. I can't wait to try the soap. Mei is such a humble cute dog! thanks for sharing~mahalo!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed watching this film. It was really nice to see the soap making process in action!

  • PunkyShop

    PunkyShop said 7 years ago

    Oh! I love the film, the Brown Rice Family and even the dog. The do really good job. My honest appreciation!

  • bamboobaby

    bamboobaby said 7 years ago

    Beautiful video. Inspired me to buy some green tea soap. Can't wait to try. Love the dog eating with chopsticks.

  • meluseena

    meluseena said 7 years ago

    What a beautiful, uplifting and inspiring post :)

  • marymary Admin

    marymary said 7 years ago

    This was an incredible portrait, thanks for sharing. Very inspiring and makes one appreciate even more the process of soap-making.

  • ravenhaired

    ravenhaired said 7 years ago

    Such a great outlook on life.

  • reiter8

    reiter8 said 7 years ago

    Man, that's a lot of stirring. Beautifully done - the soap, the music, the video. Thank You!

  • elemegibere

    elemegibere said 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing!

  • FerntreeStudio

    FerntreeStudio said 7 years ago

    Wow, a very powerful article and video. I had no idea it could take 8 hours. I appreciate handmade soap so much more now! Bravo brown rice.

  • theLostEarring

    theLostEarring said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this! I love that the process seems so closely tied with their day-today lives, intimately made in their home amongst friends, music, and the resident pooch :) Thanks for sharing and great job on the video!

  • genisepark

    genisepark said 7 years ago

    I love this video and the soap making process that you do.

  • streetnoodles

    streetnoodles said 7 years ago

    my father who was raised in japan...wished he could have seen this when he was younger to acknowledge his artistic side.

  • ArtisticIntentions

    ArtisticIntentions said 7 years ago

    Very cool!!

  • TheMysticCircleArt

    TheMysticCircleArt said 7 years ago

    Wonderful article.I try to buy only organic items, I'll have to give that soap a try.It looks awesome.

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 7 years ago

    What a great video!!! So glad I saw it!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 7 years ago

    what an inspiring story & group of artists...congrats...i'm off to check out u'r shop

  • HouseOfMirth

    HouseOfMirth said 7 years ago

    Fun to see the creativity on both ends - music and soap.

  • prettylittlethieves

    prettylittlethieves said 7 years ago

    great portrait! thank you.

  • recycledwares

    recycledwares said 7 years ago

    i like how you mix the two arts, soap making and music.

  • OhMafelt

    OhMafelt said 7 years ago

    a very kind process, well done, greetings to Mei

  • pasin

    pasin said 7 years ago

    Wery cool

  • BattleofPrague

    BattleofPrague said 7 years ago

    Marginally related question: Who did the opening and closing illustrations for these videos? Is there a place where we can we buy prints?

  • littleclouds

    littleclouds said 7 years ago

    that is a pretty cool story!

  • diytherapy

    diytherapy said 7 years ago

    This video totally made my day. Thank you for what you do, Brown Rice Family !

  • sugarshoc

    sugarshoc said 7 years ago

    That was cool as hell!!!!

  • ikuest

    ikuest said 6 years ago

    Those guys are doing amazing job!! Making natural soup and playing music... How great life it is!!

  • HANmade5

    HANmade5 said 6 years ago

    Wow 8 hours! So cute!

  • intheskye

    intheskye said 6 years ago

    once i get a job, i'll be bulk buying their soap ahaha :D but for now, i'll be concentrating in getting that song at the end of the video

  • SolinDesigns

    SolinDesigns said 6 years ago

    How cool is this! What a beautiful brand! Jah bless.

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