“We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land. Above all, he taught us to never lose sight of our relationship with nature,” said the Burt's Bees webpage of its company's namesake. Burt Shavitz, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, died from a respiratory complication Monday, July 5, at the age of 80. He was surrounded by friends and loved ones in the end, says the company spokesperson.
Before becoming the well-known face of the beauty brand, Shavitz sold honey by the road in Maine before a fateful encounter in 1984 with hitchhiker Roxanne Quimby, who would quickly become the business partner with whom Burt launched Burt’s Bees. Starting out by making candles from the leftover wax of Burt’s beehives, the duo eventually evolved their products into the quintessential beeswax balms that made them, and keeps them famous. After making $20,000 their first year, the business continued booming and the rest is history.
Fifteen years after the start of Burt's Bees, in 1999, Burt left the company due to a reported affair with one of the company's employees, and was bought out by Quimby. With his $130,000 from the deal, Burt bought a house with a large acerage of land and settled in Maine, living the quiet life he longed for. In 2007 though, Burt's Bees was bought out by Clorox, and Burt seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick. According to the New York Times, if Burt had held onto his stakes, they "would have been worth about $59 million."
With a heavy focus on natural products, and what the company calls “the greater good: good for you, good for us, good for all,” Burt’s Bees’ continued devotion to nature is what has kept them in the top tier for so long. With community outreach programs with the “Greater Good Team, and environmentally beneficial Culture Days, the company “strives to maintain environmentally friendly practices within our company and alongside our partners.” This sort of ideology stems from Burt’s passion for nature, as well as from the company’s desire to “help change the world.”
The documentary on Burt’s life entitled Burt’s Buzz follows the famous beekeeper on his journey from a privileged Long Island childhood to his free-spirited, reclusive life of beekeeping in Maine.
“It wasn’t as if I’d summoned these bees or gone looking for them — it was an act of god. It was a no-brainer,” said Burt in a clip from Burt’s Buzz.
The film brings you up close and personal with Shavitz, as it “exposes the collision between business and personal values,” says the documentary website. Directed by Jody Shapiro, the documentary shows Burt’s struggle between wanting to lead a simple, peaceful life and becoming the face of a billion-dollar company, as well as the rise and fall of his era within the company. Set in Taipei in direct juxtaposition with his quiet Maine farm life, the film portrays the two very different lives Burt lead. The film was released in 2014 and is available for download through iTunes, Amazon instant video, Google play, Vimeo on demand, and other sources.
While the man is gone, his legacy certainly isn’t. We remember the iconic Burt Shavitz, and as stated on the company's tribute: “Now it’s up to us, the brand he helped build — and you, his fans and advocates — to sustain his spirit and ideals.”