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A very local product is making waves and unchapping lips across the country -- and beyond

DAVID F. ASHTON - Portland Bee Balm Production Manager Rodney Mastick pours out batches of Solar Eclipse balm, with the help of coworker Genevieve Flanagan, at their Brooklyn workshop. One day in 2011, when his wife ran out of her lip balm, that gave backyard beekeeper Brad Swift the idea of trying to make some for her, using natural ingredients – including excess wax from his beehives.

Swift tinkered, and perfected his formula, at his Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood home; friends and relatives who tried the product became enthusiastic supporters, too. And so "Portland Bee Balm" came to be.

"This began as a truly home-based, hyper-local business," Smith recalled. "Soon, I was known as 'that beekeeper from down the street making great lip balm', even before I tried selling it.

"I went to a couple of small stores, where the owner would be the person behind the counter, and found that the balm really resonated with many of them – both in the quality of the product, and in the idea that it was made here in the neighborhood," Swift told THE BEE. "Also, being a woodworker, I was making my product displays in the garage, while we were making our balm in our kitchen."

As sales grew over the past 7+ years, the Portland Bee Balm line grew into four varieties: Oregon Mint, Rose Garden, Unscented, and Solar Eclipse. The Eclipse (which contains a sunblock) was the product being made when THE BEE visited their workshop in Brooklyn's Iron Fireman Collective building, on S.E. 17th, a block north of McLoughlin Boulevard.

"We moved here because they had the right space available, and we like the feel of this repurposed industrial building. It fits in with our values," Swift said.

"These work values include creating useful products that are genuinely natural, add value to people's lives, and help bring awareness of our role in the natural environment," explained Swift. "It also includes treating our customers, co-workers, and planet well, too."

With seven employees to help keep up with the demand, Portland Bee Balm is still sold mostly in the Pacific Northwest. "But, we do have at least one store selling our lip balm in most of the 50 states, and in Canada, as well as in Japan."

Interested in giving "Bee Balm" a try? Support a local retailer, or find out more at their website, www.portlandbeebalm.com


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