Emphasizing the bee in beauty

Local trio develops and sells its own brand of lip balm

Jonathan Dudzinski and James Wiciak kneel behind their product, Bee Bella’s Lip Balm.   Hannah Tetzlaff photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff

After working hard like the honey bees they raise, three men have created a buzz in the Green Lake community with their new Bee Bella’s lip balm.

Bee Bella co-founders Jonathan Dudzinski, Scott Haskins and James Wiciak met each other at Ripon High School and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and became interested in beekeeping.

They banded together to create Bee Bella in the hopes of using the lip balm as a way to inform the public of the honey bee epidemic and help local beekeepers.

“Most concerned citizens have heard that honey bees aren’t doing very well at one point or another,” Dudzinski. “Over time, this alarming development has drifted out of [the public’s] attention and off of the front page …

“We brainstormed what was both within our wheelhouse and materially impactful. The conclusion: develop a line of quality products to … give beekeepers an easy way to bring their products to market and a convenient way for consumers to … purchase products that support their local economy and ecosystem.”

The lip balm, which is made in Green Lake Town Square’s Courthouse Kitchens, is available in two flavors — Door County Cherry and Peppermint — and is created from beeswax collected from bee farms in Pickett, Omro and Waukau, Wis.

The wax is gathered from more than 100 hives, meaning the Bee Bella founders work with more than 7 million bees at the height of the season.

Bee Bella’s lip balm is stored in a bamboo casing, making it easily identifiable in a retail store. The casing prevents the balm from melting in people’s pockets and cars while also reducing Bee Bella’s contribution to landfills since the tube is reusable.

One of the co-founders, Dudzinski, began experimenting with making a lip balm out of honey beeswax in an attempt to woo a girl.

Though his attempt failed, he was hooked, and the experience helped inspire him later on when all three founders had a large cache of beeswax, but no plan.

“We were collecting beeswax every season as a by-product from extracting honey,” Dudzinski said. “As a result, we had saved up a respectable stockpile. Not wanting it to go to waste, we started brainstorming how to utilize this precious resource.

“Having previously experimented with making lip balm, and as a Burt’s Bees addict, I suggested we try lip balm.”

According to Dudzinski, they developed their product by reverse-engineering Burt’s Bees lip balm and improving upon the flaws in the recipe.

“Once we thought we had created a perfect replica, we decided to circle back and address areas that Clorox clearly cut corners on when they changed the formula in 2007,” he said. “We believe that fractionated coconut oil and certainly soybean and canola oil have no place in a lip balm. Instead, we use raw cocoa butter, jojoba oil, argon oil, virgin unfractionated coconut oil and aloe in our formula.”

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Jonathan Dudzinski prevents the lip balm liquid from spilling off the plastic trays as James Wiciak fills the tubes with the mixture.  Hannah Tetzlaff photo

He added these moisturizers provide a better lipid profile than Burt’s Bees and reduce the risk of clogging pores.

The oils also have a longer shelf-life, so Bee Bella doesn’t need to add preservatives.

After perfecting the formula for years, the founders of Bee Bella can finally see the results of all their hard work.

“When we launched the product, we were optimistic but really had no idea what kind of reception we would receive from retailers and/or consumers,” Dudzinski said. “After selling our first batch of 1,000 tubes in less than a week and having to stop adding retailers at 14 due to lack of inventory, we were elated.”

Though Dudzinski, Haskins and Wiciak are excited at their surprising success, they still have many challenges ahead.

“Our attempt to enter the lip balm industry is akin to David taking on Goliath,” Dudzinski said. “Burt’s Bees has an overwhelming share of the ‘natural’ lip balm niche and it will be very difficult to convince consumers to switch their brand loyalty.”

He noted the health of the honey bees is a constant fear as well, since more than 60 percent of Wisconsin’s honeybee hives died this last winter.

Despite their concerns, Dudzinski, Haskins and Wiciak — who all live in Oshkosh now — continue to create unforgettable memories while working on their lip balm.

“While we were picking up our packages of honey bees to start our hives, Scott [Haskins] inhaled a bee and somehow wasn’t stung,” Dudsinski said. “James and I still can’t figure out how he got through that unscathed, but we’re very happy that he did.”

Bee Bella plans on expanding its operations into the future by adding new seasonal flavors such as pumpkin spice, branching out to other products and by venturing into other communities.

The lip balm may be purchased on its website, www.beebella.buzz, or at local retail stores such as Creative Soul, 493 Hill St., Green Lake.