Bee-hind the Hive

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What started as a way to use the byproduct of honey-making has morphed into an up-and-coming, women-owned business producing beeswax skin care products—right in West Michigan.

Zeeland resident Kelly Bonnema co-owns Sister Bees with her sister Kim Ambrose and friend Amber Boerema.

The business was born three years ago when the women realized the beeswax byproduct from beehives kept at Ambrose's home for making honey was a valuable and healing ingredient for the skin. That's no surprise, considering the entrepreneurial spirit has been there all along.

Photo courtesy of Tylee Shay.

"Ever since we were young, my sister Kim and I had always dreamed about different business ideas that we would like to start, but with me living in Texas and Kim being in Michigan, that hindered the churning of ideas," said Bonnema.

"A few years ago, our family moved to Michigan and my sister had already started Sister Bees with her best friend, Amber. I heard about all that they were doing and LOVED the products that they were creating and said, 'I would love to jump on board with Sister Bees and help it grow!'"

The company produces a line of nine natural, chemical-free lip balms in flavors such as coffee vanilla, peppermint and chai, and four two-ounce body moisturizers with essential oils—including Bee Butter, Beard Balm, Worker Bee and Paw Putty for pets—sold at more than 35 West Michigan retail stores from South Haven to Petoskey, pop-up markets and craft fairs, and online through the Sister Bees website. They even have a brand-new wedding collection that includes all-natural table favors and gift boxes for both bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Bonnema, who has a sales and marketing background, notes there's something satisfying and calming about the manufacturing process of their products, which can truly be called homemade, considering they're crafted right inside the women's homes. The natural angle of Sister Bees' products is particularly appealing, in more ways than one.

"I think that you feel better about what you are consuming, no matter what it is, knowing that the ingredients are real," said Bonnema.

"For many, natural products are more effective as well. We enjoy clean, high-quality ingredients and believe others do, too!"

Once people have the opportunity to try the product, Bonnema says, they can't help but fall in love. As well, West Michigan takes great pride in supporting local businesses.

"That kind of mentality helps us tremendously!"

Sister Bees was recently awarded a $50,000 Momentum Grant thanks to Mason County's Momentum Business Plan Competition, an asset Bonnema stresses is huge for them.

"We will be using the money to help make the product more retail-ready, by investing in our labels and product display," Bonnema adds.

"This process is actually already almost complete. Soon, we'll take this to a large market to show it to new retail locations across the nation."

Check it out for yourself at Sister Bees.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

Main photo courtesy of Arin Scholtens/A.E Swartz Photography.

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