By
with contributions from Jayme Cyk
 on July 6, 2015

Burt Shavitz, a cofounder of Burt’s Bees and a pioneer of the eco-conscious beauty industry, died on Sunday in Maine of respiratory complications. He was 80 years old and is survived by a brother.

Manhattan born-Shavitz grew up with a fondness for beekeeping, acquiring an identity as “the bee man.” Known also for his preference for flannel shirts and backwoods surroundings, he 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.

He 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 of mostly nature-loving women.

Shavitz basically lived a double life, working as a photo-journalist in New York in the Sixties before he left his past behind to pursue an almost reclusive existence as a beekeeper.

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To that end, Shavitz was the subject of a 2014 documentary called “Burt’s Buzz” detailing his life as a man who chose his own path and accidentally spawned a billion dollar, natural product line.

In 1999, Shavitz retired from the company and — against the grain — lived out the latter part of his life in the countryside of Bangor, Maine, away from the corporate world.

Burt’s Bees subsequently broadened its product categories to include color, more upscale skin-care products and baby care. The brand even ventured into children’s wear a year ago, with the introduction of Burt’s Bees Kids. The line consisted of organic cotton clothing in sizes 2 to 6 for girls and 2 to 7 for boys. The categories included tops, bottoms, hosiery, underwear, pajamas, tunics and dresses.

Meanwhile, Quimby, who had continued to run the company, sold an 80 percent share in 2003 to AEA Investors for a reported $175 million. She reportedly gave Shavitz $4 million from the sale. The company then reported revenues of $55 million. Quimby continued on as chief executive officer, finally selling the company to Clorox Co. in late 2007 for $925 million.

The Burt’s Bees brand today is available in 50 countries.

Burtsbees.com posted on its Web site, “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.”

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