Most people will not go near a swarm of bees but Ms Hiromi Mizutani is not one of them.
The 52-year-old beauty brand founder says serenely in Japanese during a phone interview with Urban: "They have a scary image but they won't attack, not unless they're stepped on or provoked."
The married mother of two boys is understandably respectful of these black and yellow insects as she is the head of Hacci, a skincare brand she founded in 2003 that is based on honey. The name comes from the Japanese word for bee.
Ms Mizutani, who lives in Tokyo, says honey has perfect properties for skincare, including brightening, moisturising and anti-bacterial elements. In fact, honey is one of the few products without an expiration date because of its strong anti-bacterial properties, she says.
Hacci offers honey-infused products such as facial soaps and cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, body creams and lip gloss. Prices range from 3,000 yen (S$37) for a cleanser to 10,000 yen for a set of sheet masks, and the products are available at department stores in Japan as well as the duty-free areas at the Narita and Haneda airports.
Looking back, it seems inevitable that Ms Mizutani would end up in the honey business, although she says it was not something she had originally envisioned.
Eyeing overseas prospects
Her grandfather set up a bee farm in the Mie prefecture in 1913, which grew to a network of more than 30 farms. While Ms Mizutani did not live at a farm, bees were a continual presence at the periphery of her life.
She recalls crying from a bee sting as a child as well, though that experience did not leave a lasting negative impression.
"My mother always said honey was good for beauty, and told me to mix a little bit in my cleanser or shampoo," she says.
While those habits were inculcated at a young age, she did not think much about them. She went on to study economics at a university in Kobe. After that, she took classes in cooking, ikebana and kimono-wearing.
The eventual beauty entrepreneur got married at 26 and became a housewife and mother. Then her husband, an executive at a machinery company, was posted to Beverly Hills in Los Angeles for work and she saw other women using honey in beauty treatments. That inspired her to start Hacci and spread the honey gospel in Japan.
"I just wanted to spread this knowledge to others, like among girlfriends," she says, adding that she encourages people to add a pearl-sized amount of everyday honey to their cleanser or moisturiser.
The products use all kinds of honey, from lavender to white clover rose. Bestsellers include the honey facial soap, which is made up of 10 per cent honey, the cleanser and the body cream.
Hacci products have also made their way onto the Best Cosme ranking, a Japanese round-up of the best beauty products as voted by journalists and beauty insiders.
Ms Mizutani says customer reaction has been positive, though many people express surprise that honey can be used as a beauty product and not just for consumption.
She declines to reveal specific sales figures, but says the company has grown 150 per cent over the last three years.
Currently, the brand is available only in Japan, but she is eyeing the prospect of taking it overseas. The brand held a special preview for invited guests here in February.
Ms Mizutani, who has been visiting Singapore since she was a student, says the response was good and she is looking for a potential distributor here.
Haaci might just catch a ride on the honey wave, with other bee-related skincare brands, such as Apivita from Greece and Apicare from New Zealand, setting up shop in Singapore in recent years.
Apivita offers products made of propolis, a resin-like bee by-product, and Apicare specialises in products made with manuka honey. "Beauty is the origin of my everything," she sums up what drives her and the growth of Hacci.
"I want to be beautiful and elegant in life and I'm sure others do too."
This article was first published on July 11, 2014.
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