updated 24 Sep 2013, 10:22
Login password
Sun, Sep 22, 2013
Urban, The Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Man with bee's knees acumen
by Gladys Chung

It would be fair to say that Mr Nikos Koutsianas, co-founder of Greek beauty brand Apivita, has an obsession with bees.

Brought up in a bee-keeping family, the 67-year-old has spent more than five decades studying the insects.

"The bee society has inspired me throughout my life," says the father of two. "Bees work hard, live simply and make themselves useful.

I like to think of myself as a worker bee - not the drone."

The former pharmacist, who starts his day at 4.30am every day, believes so strongly in the value of the bee eco-system that he started Apivita (which roughly translates to "life of the bee" in Latin) in 1979 with a black soap made with propolis - a first at the time.

Bees produce the dark brown resin-like material to protect their hives and it is known for its antiseptic, antioxidant, anti-microbial, antibiotic and anti-fungal properties.

Today, most of Apivita's products, from shampoos for oily hair and face serums to toothpaste, are still made with the brand's signature ingredient - propolis. Besides cosmetic products, the brand also sells pots of edible honey, pastilles made from propolis and even jars of pure propolis solution.

Prices start from $12 for a tube of lip balm to $170 for a royal jelly serum.

Holistic approach

Mr Koutsianas is also an advocate of Greek physician Hippocrates' holistic approach to medicine and health, so all of his formulas are made with at least 85 per cent natural ingredients.

Unlike most brands that use natural components, Apivita harvests and processes all its raw ingredients. Even the water used in its products is drawn and filtered by its own factory.

While it is a relatively new player in the Singapore beauty market - it opened its first store in Ion Orchard last August and another in VivoCity last December - Apivita is one of the two biggest beauty brands in Greece. It is available in almost every pharmacy and department store there.

Apivita declined to reveal its local sales figures.

Its biggest competitor is another Hellenic export, Korres, which also banks on formulas made with natural ingredients. Korres is sold here at Raffles City Shopping Centre and Parco Marina Bay.

To further streamline his company on the bees' efficient clockwork ethic, Mr Koutsianas recently built a 6,800 sq ft bioclimatic factory on an olive grove on the outskirts of Athens. He affectionately calls it his "hive".

Featuring clean lines, solar panels, an eco-friendly green roof, rainwater tanks to recycle water and wide windows for natural light and ventilation, the cement-and-steel headquarters houses the company's offices, laboratories and packaging facilities.

The only decorative items in the factory are the cast-iron worker bees by Greek artist Nikos Yorgos Papoutsidis at the main entrance. About 200 people work at the factory.

Mr Koutsianas' favourite snack is also from bees: fresh honeycomb he harvests by hand - from the brightly painted hives in a herb garden across the road from the factory.

As with every hive, there is a queen bee. While he oversees the research and development, his wife Niki, 60, is in charge of churning out creative ideas and products.

Their daughter, Sofia, 33, is vice-president of corporate affairs and brand communication, while their son, Thanos, 36, is president of Apigea, Apivita's sister company, which deals with quality bee products.

His wife is also a former pharmacist and the pair met when she was hired at Mr Koutsianas' pharmacy in Athens in 1972.

When Mr Koutsianas first produced his fragrance-free black soaps, his wife peddled them from pharmacy to pharmacy in a wooden box.

"It was not easy because at the time, Greek pharmacies didn't stock local cosmetic products made from natural ingredients. The women wanted only those from France and England," she recalls. "But I believed I could sell it by sharing how effective Greek natural ingredients are."

Queen bee's touch

So far, Mrs Koutsianas' proudest achievement at Apivita is the best-selling anti-ageing Queen Bee collection, which comprises a serum, a day cream, a night cream, a rich cream, an exfoliating cream and an eye cream. All the formulas are made with royal jelly and honey.

"It was the first cream that we made out of the pharmacy in 1979. I loved the formula, but it had to be kept in the refrigerator to stay fresh," she says.

So she pushed the research team to come up with a technology that encapsulates the royal jelly in liposomes, so they remain fresh for longer, even without refrigeration. The technology has since been patented.

"One can always be better at what he does," she says.

She is also responsible for another of the brand's top-selling lines - the Express masks that come in handy sachets and promise an instant glow. Most are made with extracts of nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables. There are 24 types - from the Intensive Exfoliating Cream With Olives to the Firming & Regenerating Mask With Royal Jelly.

So far, more than 2 million sachets of the mask have been sold since it was launched 12 years ago.

"My mother and grandmother used to apply apricot kernels and olive oil - or whatever food they thought would be good for their face - on their skin, so I decided to make similar masks," she says.

With such innovative products, Apivita has been growing despite the Greek crisis. Its products are sold online and at more than 6,000 counters and 25 stand-alone stores spread over 14 markets, including Belgium, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States.

In 2011, the company's turnover stood at $28.7 million euros (S$48.3 million). In the following year, it grew to $29.3 million euros.

Up next, it intends to expand into cosmetics. There are also plans for a new concept store in the heart of Athens with a spa, a hairdressing corner that offers all-natural hair colouring services, and even a cafe that serves organic food, juices and tea.

"It will create an Apivita experience, an Apivita way of living and thinking," says Mrs Koutsianas.

[email protected]

Get a copy of Urban, The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.