Bee About It Blog

The Queen Bee in the Land of milk + honey


Two years ago, Bee Amour partnered with milk + honey spa to create an urban apiary focused on raising bees and educating others on the importance and craft of beekeeping. Now, we not only have more than a dozen thriving hives, which I manage, but an ever-growing appreciation of these powerful little insects! While our apiary is rather young, my relationship with the Alissa, the owner of milk + honey, goes back to 2005 when I worked for the spa. I am continuously inspired by her entrepreneurial wisdom and ability to build and grow a successful business here in Austin. Much like a bee hive, milk + honey spa is managed mostly by smart females with one strong and tenacious queen bee leading the way. She recently took the time to answer my questions about being a female business owner and how she holds her monarchy together. Check out our conversation below and stay tuned for more interviews with women entrepreneurs in Austin!


Anna: As you know a queen bee has one crucial job and that is laying eggs which essentially is the lifeline of the hive. I know over the years you have worn many hats for your business. Can you identified a single essential skill or role you fulfill that keeps milk + honey thriving?

Alissa: Well, I suppose when you put it that way, I am very good at laying eggs. Between five spas and salons, our product line, and three kids at home, I am laying eggs all over the place!

But in all seriousness, I don’t think there is a just one skill or role. I believe it is a lot of different things. First, I have an amazing team who cares about milk + honey as much as I do. Second, my team and I never stop learning and we never assume that we know everything we need to know. Third, I am constantly seeking incremental improvements. I think my team has learned to never be satisfied with the “status quo.” We are always looking for ways to make our client’s experience better, make our employee’s experience better, and become more efficient and excellent at what we do.

Anna: Although there are some men in management roles at milk and honey, it seems you are surrounded mostly by hard working intelligent women. Is this a conscious choice and what do you think are the greatest benefits to having a majority female-run business?

Alissa: It was not a conscious choice. While I love supporting the success of other women, I do believe the most successful teams and work environments are diverse, and in our case, that means having men on the team. We always hire the best person for the job and right now, with the exception of my husband, Shon, all of our managers and leaders in the company are women. Our team has evolved over time to strike a great balance of being compassionate and empathetic, while also holding people accountable for their actions, which is certainly a great benefit to having so many strong, but kind women on our team.

Anna: We've had our apiary for almost two years now. We've lost some hives and cultivated a few new ones all the while learning more about bees as we go. I know running a business is very similar with ups, downs and sometimes a steep learning curve. What is one of the greatest lessons you've learned with growing milk + honey and how do you handle the stress that comes with those ebbs and flows? 

Alissa: Being an entrepreneur is often like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs and sharp, surprising turns. I’ve learned over the years to relax a little and enjoy the ride — it’s much better than white-knuckling it all the time. That said, being the founder/leader of a business is a huge responsibility. I have over 300 people depending on milk + honey for their income and the magnitude of that is not lost on me when I am making important decisions for the business. But, overall, as the business has matured — as have I — the highs and lows are not as steep, the turns are not as sharp, and it’s much more enjoyable.

Anna: When we started our apiary, you had a normal amount of fear around the bees. Do you think that collaborating with Bee Amour and seeing a hive in real life has helped to soften that apprehension?

Alissa: I wouldn’t say I was apprehensive of bees — just highly allergic since a yellow jacket sting once landed me in the emergency room. But as I’ve educated myself about honeybees and their fascinating lives, I am increasingly protective of them. I have seen my young children react in extreme fear and even crying when a bee is buzzing around us outside. Through educating them about bees, all the great things they do, and how they will really only sting you if they feel threatened themselves, my kids are much calmer and more relaxed. But I still have to keep an EpiPen in my purse. :)

Anna: Do you have a favorite recipe or use for honey?

Alissa: I love the subtle, nuanced flavor of different honeys, so, to be honest, my favorite way to have it is savored by the spoonful. I do add a little to savory marinades for salmon, chicken, and occasionally when we eat beef. 

After talking with Alissa it is no surprise that milk + honey spa is one of the most successful and well known spas in Austin.  How could it not be with such a power-house woman at the helm?!  I highly recommend going in for a treatment next time you are needing a little tlc!

The Art of Casting Honeycomb

Often when people see my cast honeycomb pieces they say "Wow!  I've never seen anything like this before!".  That is not meant to sound arrogant rather I think it speaks to the difficulty in casting honeycomb.  Today I want to give you a peak behind the scenes of casting and Bee Amour jewelry production.

Lost Wax Casting

Lost wax casting is type of casting dating back almost 6000 years that is still used by jewelers around the world today.  You can find plenty of sites that give very detailed descriptions of the process but here is a quick overview.

1. Begin with a prototype that you've created in wax, ceramics or something that will burn under hot temperatures.  I use actual honeycomb from my bees that I've modified to look the way I want.  Many artists spend hours hand carving unique pieces in wax to cast.

2. Take that wax piece and submerge it in plaster contained in a metal flask.  Let the plaster harden.

3. Put the flask into a kiln and melt away the original piece- hence the term Lost Wax.

4. At this point you have hardened plaster with a cavity of the original piece. You then melt metal and pour it into the cavity which will make a metal version of your original prototype.

5. From there you dissolve the plaster around the prototype and clean up the metal to be a finished piece. Voila!

Casting Honeycomb

For every successful piece of cast honeycomb I usually have at least 3-4 failures.  One of the things you have to come to terms with in Lost Wax Casting is that there are no guarantees so don't get too attached! 

It just so happens that honeycomb is not only an extremely delicate medium to work in it is also very thin.  Many times I have accidentally crushed my prototype before even getting the chance to cast it simply because it is soft and frail. Moving slowly and lightly is a must!

It's imperative that the honeycomb is thickened.  I suppose there are many methods for bolstering the prototype however what I have done mostly is paint the piece with nail polish or sometimes glue.  I paint it many times, over and over again, until the walls of each individual cell are thickened.  It's tedious work!

Once the piece is thick enough (which feels like never) I try to cast it using the process described above.  If I am lucky then I get something I can work with even if it isn't exactly what I planned on.  If I am not lucky then I get to start over and reimagine something new which has it's own silver lining. 

Being a jewelry designer and going through the process of imagining, designing and creating a piece from start to finish has given me a much greater appreciation for the time and energy that goes into quality hand made goods.  Please keep this in mind the next time you see some jewelry that you like.  It may appear to be a simple thing one could just whip up but in all likelihood someone spent hours and hours creating it. Shop local and support your local artisans!

Well Hello There!

Welcome to Bee About It, a blog dedicated to the inspirations and experiences of backyard beekeeper and Bee Amour founder Anna Gieselman.  

To get us started I want to share my story and give you a quick introduction to my jewelry and my bees.  I am an artist and jewelry designer making my 34th trip around the sun and living the good life in my hometown of Austin Texas.  Creating wearable art began back in 2000 while I was studying photography at The Santa Fe University of Art and Design.  At some point I found myself back in Austin building a creative life in which I’m blessed to do what I love everyday!

In order to explain how Bee Amour came into existence I have to take you back to 2010 when I began keeping bees in my backyard.  I started this hobby as a response to my growing concern about colony collapse disorder and to satisfy my desire to learn something new.  Little did I know that bees would inspire my creative expressions as well as provide me with a new path in life.

A year after installing my first hive the bees began creating queen cells in preparation to swarm.  I cut these cells out and a year later ended up taking a casting class at Creative Side Jewelry Academy where I turned them into pendants.  These first pieces inspired a line which is now sold online and in numerous stores around the US.  Bee Amour’s sustainable growth has allowed production to stay in-house where I can maintain quality over quantity making each piece by hand. I find making jewelry to be as meditative as beekeeping and I take a lot of pleasure in the process of creating unique pieces for my customers.

Queen Cell Casting

 Cast Queen Cell

From it’s inception in 2012 Bee Amour has maintained a commitment to helping “save the bees”.  In the beginning this meant raising my own little hive and donating 5% of company profits to bee loving organizations. Then at the end of 2014 I was approached by Alissa Bayer the owner of Milk + Honey Spa and a long time friend.  She wanted to do more to help save the bees and was curious if I had any suggestions on how to do that.  The following spring we launched an urban apiary with ten hives.  As we enter our second year we are set to double the amount of hives in the apiary as well as take on a new batch of beekeeping apprentices to learn the craft.  I often joke there is never a dull day beekeeping and after 6 years of handling these amazing creatures I can honestly say the learning adventure never stops!


The Beginnings of Our Apiary

So what next? This year in addition to launching my new website and doubling the amount of bees I manage I also hope to learn some new jewelry making techniques to share with you!  Stay tuned and follow my adventures on Instagram @lovebeeamour.