Roxanne Quimby is the founder of the beauty and skincare company Burt's Bees.
Quimby was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 11, 1950 and was raised in Lexington. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was an engineer. As a child, she and her sister would make and sell things in their neighborhood, including soap, stuffed animals, jewelry, and baked goods. At a young age, she wanted to be an artist. Quimby moved from Lexington after high school and attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received an MFA. After graduating, she realized it would be very unlikely for her to make a successful living as an artist. Unable to decide on a new career path, she turned to living off the land with her boyfriend at the time, George St. Clair.
The two moved to Guilford, Maine where they purchased a 30-acre plot of land and built a small cabin. The cabin had no running water, electricity, or phone; they wished to live as simply as they could, and as Quimby said, “It was important to prove to myself that I didn’t have to live the way my parents lived.” They later had twins, named Lucas and Hannah.
A few years after Quimby and St. Clair's twins were born, he split from the family. Now being a single mother, Quimby was in need of a higher income. She happened upon a roadside honey stand, where a beekeeper, Burt Shavitz, was selling his own honey. She decided to help him with work, as he was older with an ailing back. With his training, she learned the process of beekeeping. As their business partnership evolved, so did their relationship, and the two became romantically involved.
Quimby helped accelerate the business's popularity and sales by selling the honey in smaller sizes and nicer packaging. She also started selling beeswax-based products, such as furniture polish, lip balm, and candles, since they had an excess amount of it leftover after harvesting the honey. Burt's Bees was founded in 1991, and sales grew quickly and hit $3 million total in 1993. Burt Shavitz became the bearded face on the label of the products.
They then decided to move the business's operations to North Carolina from Maine, due to Maine's lower tax rates, although they did not anticipate a higher living wage cost there, which resulted in the removal of several handmade items from their product offerings.Soon after moving operations to North Carolina, Shavitz left the business. The reason was revealed much later, in 2014—he was having an affair with another employee.
In 2007, it was announced that Burt's Bees was acquired by Clorox.
Quimby began acquiring forest land in Maine in the early 2000s. These private acquisitions were met with mostly disapproval because the land was used by members of the public, and Quimby stated that going forward, she would not continue to allow public use of the land. She stated "Yes, it’s a private road, but it’s been in such permissive use for so many years, people forget that the state doesn’t own that road.” She wished to use the land for creating a new national park, buying individual parcels of land that would eventually fully connect together. In March 2011, Quimby donated 70,000 acres near Baxter State Park to the National Park Service to be used for a national park.
How I Did It: Roxanne Quimby
January 1, 2004