The bee’s knees

A reactive skin, Ingenuity, hard work and a sprinkling of jolly good luck kicked off Helena and Pierre van der Westhuizen’s success story.

In this floral issue of Atlantic Gull, profiling a couple who built their business from that astute pollinator of blooms, the humble bee, is more than fitting. As Kahlil Gibran said, “For bees, the flower is the fountain of life. For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.”

Believe it or not, a wedding gift of a single beehive in the 1950s spawned the origins of what’s today the thriving Simply Bee skincare business with 350 stockists and exports to eight countries.

When Helena’s father, passionate hobbyist beekeeper Derick Hugo, bequeathed his Hopefield beekeeping business to the couple in 2008, little did they know what a honeyed goldmine this would prove to be. They pottered on expanding the business. Three years later Helena’s allergy to synthetic ingredients and harsh preservatives in cosmetics led her to research products made from honey. Soon she was handing out the initial five products of lip balm, soap, antiseptic balm, hand cream and wash to friends and then the Eureka moment when she made her first sale in March 2011.

The couple started selling the Simply Bee products at markets, then at farm stalls and gift shops and as luck would have it, Wellness Warehouse approached them for a listing. Fuelled by the massive demand for natural products, the range now consists of 150-plus products: from hand and body lotions, facial skincare, baby care, men’s grooming and hair care to soaps, candles, ointments, balms, polishes and gift packs.

Top-selling products are propolis serum, anti-ageing cream, antiseptic balm, propolis balm and heel balm. Last year the heel balm, propolis serum and anti-ageing cream were finalists in the UK’s Natural & Organic Awards. (Propolis, a resin collected from trees and bushes, has anti-fungal and -bacterial properties. Studies have shown that it fights cancer and gum disease by encouraging healthy cell growth. It’s usually used to insulate the hive and protect it from viruses.)

Helena explained, “My biggest challenge was preserving the products without using chemicals. So by using propolis it took a while to get it spot-on, plus finding good quality water to conserve product integrity.”

Pierre’s initial 240 hives now number more than 600 – all badger-friendly and on private land among fynbos. She continued, “We don’t move our hives, except when more shade is needed because of the sun’s changing angle, or when the area’s food source has been depleted. And we don’t pollinate because we believe it stresses the bees too much. To us, responsible, sustainable beekeeping is paramount.”

Simply Bee also has been awarded the 2019 Conservation Company of the Year, Western Cape by Luxury Travel Guide. Helena added, “Our success has been beyond expectations and as such we believe in giving back by sponsoring a student and the rugby teams at both local schools every year.”

Helena and Pierre’s non-bee time is enriched by quite the mammal menagerie: Jasper the Anatolian/Ridgeback X, Fred the Collie/LabX, DSH Hansie, plus Maine Coons Bella, Henry and Jenna.

To veg out we read
Our sport is walking
Our hobbies are sewing (Helena) & gardening (Pierre)
As sport spectators we love watching rugby (Pierre) & tennis (Helena)
Our pet place on the West Coast is Paternoster
Our favourite restaurant is Russells on the Port in Port Owen
We love eating wholesome, home-cooked food
Our signature drinks are Inverroche gin (Helena) and whisky (Pierre)
Best TV programmes are NatGeo (Pierre) and cooking shows (Helena)
Favourite reads interior design & bee research (Helena) and National Geographic (Pierre)