Burt Shavitz, Burt’s Bees’ namesake, cofounder and a pioneer of the eco-conscious beauty industry, died on Sunday in Maine of respiratory complications, according to the company. He was 80 years old.
Shavitz — a beekeeper known as “the bee man” — started the earth-friendly natural personal care brand, based in Raleigh, N.C., with Roxanne Quimby in the late Eighties. It began as a gift and health-food store line best known for beeswax lip balm and an unconventional style.
The label’s packaging, for instance, frequently features pictures of a bearded, flannel-clad Shavitz. And because Burt’s Bees takes environmental issues seriously, most of that packaging is made from recycled cardboard, aluminum or glass.
“Above all, Burt was always Burt — an uncompromising individual of his own invention, shaped by the moment and his curiosities rather than his ambitions or someone else’s grand plan,” the company stated. “Burt never set out to change the world, but he was a pioneer who found himself always on the precipice of progress.”
Shavitz in the Sixties worked as a photojournalist in New York, training his lens on civil rights leaders, beat poets, artists and images key to the growing environmental movement.
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Shavitz and Quimby entered the beauty industry when they discovered their all-natural candle wax business could be used as a base for skin-care products. Soon, the pair began making lotions, soaps and eventually cosmetics for their loyal customers comprised mainly of nature-loving women.
Burt’s Bees subsequently broadened its product categories to include color, more upscale skin-care products and baby care.
Shavitz left the company, which was sold to Clorox Co. in late 2007 for $925 million, and — against the grain — lived out the latter part of his life in the countryside, away from the corporate world.
Meanwhile, the business keeps growing. Last year, Burt’s Bees’ sales were an estimated $270 million, up 12.5 percent on-year, driven by its lip care activity — especially Lip Crayons. Its treatment products contributed, as well.
The brand today is available in 50 countries. The U.S., Canada and the U.K. are its strongest markets.
Shavitz’s world was featured in the film “Burt’s Buzz,” which was produced by Jody Shapiro and came out in 2013.
“As we mourn his loss in the days and weeks to come, we will be exploring how to honor and celebrate his remarkable life,” said the company.
Shavitz is survived by a brother.