Thriving Outside the Box with Jonathan, Environmentalist, Beekeeper, and LGBTQIA+ Brand Founder

Last Update: February 25, 2024

Thrive Market is more than an online grocery store; it’s a community of over 1 million members with their own unique stories. Our members are parents and teachers, first responders and climate activists, artists and athletes—all doing healthy their way. We thought it was time to celebrate them, so welcome to Thriving Outside the Box: a series that puts our members in the spotlight and shares the inspiring, real-life stories that bring us together.

After high school, Jonathan Ledee was feeling the way a lot of people feel: a bit aimless, without much ambition pushing him in one direction or another. He was also doing what a lot of people do in that situation: “I was basically just wasting time on the Internet,” he laughs, remembering.

During a day of bouncing from site to site, he came across an article about Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that occurs when the worker bees in a bee colony disappear. Bee populations around the world were declining at a rapid rate, and it moved Ledee in a way that nothing quite had before. 

Over the next few months, Ledee created Beecause, a skincare brand dedicated to raising awareness about bee preservation. He incorporated locally made beeswax into some products, as well as other raw, unrefined and organic  ingredients. Nearly overnight, Jonathan went from feeling uncertain about his future to feeling laser-focused on a singular mission: to save the bees.  

We spoke to Ledee about his work with Beecause, his identity as an LGBTQIA+ business owner, and how overcoming a neurological disorder changed his approach to health, nutrition, and finding his own inner strength. 

Thrive Market: What was it about bees that first drew you to their cause? 

Jonathan Ledee: “Long story short, I learned how incredibly vital bees are to the world. They account for one-third of the food we eat — everything from blueberries to watermelon to almonds, the list goes on of things we would not have without pollinators. It’s not only for us, it’s for the entire ecosystem. If that falls apart, the entire world falls apart. I was sitting there for hours learning about bees, and I realized that I was part of the problem. 

At the time, I was a young, crazy 23 year old doing nothing; I really was just living my life. But after that, I realized that if I was part of the problem, then you are, and you are, and you are, and I decided, ‘We’re going to do something about this’. 

I’m amazed that this creature that a lot of children are scared of, this creature that people are so fearful of, wound up becoming the most important thing of my life as an adult. What we do to save our bees can also save ourselves and our planet. I was just browsing the Internet and wasting time, and I learned how vital bees are, and that changed everything for me.”

TM: Beecuase was designed to raise awareness about the issues affecting bee populations. How did you initially come up with the idea for the brand?

JL: “I started in my kitchen, mixing things together, making lotions and potions and this and that. I used bee products like beeswax as a part of giving a voice to the bees — it was a conversation piece. I really wanted to take an ingredient like beeswax and showcase what bees can do: how it benefits you, how it benefits them, and our planet as a whole. 

Eventually, I had this foundation of all-natural products and things that I could use to start telling people [about decreasing bee populations]. There are a lot of things in life that are like, “out of sight, out of mind”. If I talk about bees, it’s one thing, but if I actually have something that bees not only created, but it’s beneficial to you, it makes that much of a difference. 

Back then, sustainability wasn’t as big of a conversation as it is today, so it was definitely difficult, but I was on a mission. It was life-changing from that moment on, because everything from that point on has been about sustainability, about preservation of bees, anything I could do to help that in any way.”

TM: You mentioned that sustainability and environmentalism have become even more important parts of your brand since then. Can you tell us more about that? 

JL: “A few years [after starting Beecause], I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder, and that shifted everything for me. My recovery was several chapters that were amongst the hardest years of my life.

That was my first real life medical issue. I had to learn how to walk all over again, I was in a wheelchair and then crutches. It changed my life forever — for the better — but it took a lot out of me. I remember being in the hospital and they would ask me, ‘Do you drink? Do you exercise? What do you eat?’ But they never asked me questions that were just as important, like ‘Do you live in an area that’s highly polluted? What products do you use at home?’ 

That whole experience shifted Beecause from just being about saving the bees. I believed that I could influence the world to make better decisions overall. It opened my eyes to recognizing that what we were doing to preserve bees was just as important for us.”

TM: In honor of Pride Month, we’d love to talk to you about how being an LGBTQIA+ business owner has impacted your journey. 

“I first started Beecause in my early 20s, and back then being gay wasn’t something that could be talked about in a normal day-to-day conversation in business. You had to tiptoe around and find the people who accepted you for who you are. 

It took a while for me to find the comfort in being myself. As an entrepreneur without much experience in business, it was difficult at first to allow myself to be authentic, because I wanted to stand out without having any prejudice. It took time, but I recognized along the way that in telling my story more authentically, it was welcomed more, and that people could relate. It’s so much more than just a product or an ingredient; it’s who you are, what your mission is, and the person behind the cause that matters most.

There’s more acceptance around our community today than ever before, but even now, there are some situations I’ve been in where I have to dig deep to find that grounding, that stability that allows myself to be authentic and tell my story without fear.”

TM: Why do you think LGBTQIA+ representation is important? 

“I think it’s important for companies to make note of [who owns a brand] because people are more prone to purchase something that they can relate to in some way. Especially over the last few years, the conversations people are having, now we want to know what’s Black-owned, what’s woman-owned, what’s LGBTQ-owned. With such a direct correlation between the needs of my community and our environment, representation and LGBTQ+ leadership can help to educate, invest, and raise awareness to lessen the detrimental effects of things like colony collapse disorder and global climate issues.

There are companies that aren’t as open-minded and have a more corporate structure, as opposed to companies that dive deeper into culture and the conversations that are happening. Having that checklist of Black-owned, woman-owned, or LGBTQ-owned, that’s something that not alot of companies do. It’s in situations like that where I feel like, ‘Is it okay for me to talk about being gay? Is it okay for me to talk about sustainability? Do you even care?’ 

In the last few years, we’ve started to ask, ‘What work are these companies really doing to support us? What conversations are you a part of to support our community and make change?’ In every effort we take to protect our LGBTQIA+ community from further inequities, we must also include environmental justice as part of our mission in preserving our basic human rights.”

TM: What does Pride Month mean to you? How are you celebrating or honoring this time? 

“I have a lot of thoughts leading up to Pride. It’s always a time of year that’s reflective. I think of everything from what I’ve personally experienced and overcome, to where we are in the world and what other people are experiencing within my community.

I often think about marriage equality. I broke down [at my job at the time] when the news headline said ‘Gay marriage is legal’ because it was the first time in my life that I realized that i wasn’t an equal. This whole time I thought I was accepted, that the people who mattered loved me and cared about me, but this solidified a moment in history that I just became equal in comparison to others. I didn’t realize until that moment—that I had to have a judge, all these laws, to get to that point, and it tore me apart because I was in my 20s. For 20-something years I really wasn’t as equal as I thought I was. I thought, ‘How did I never realize it?’ But I was also so proud, because I was living during that moment. 

Now I have a story to tell, because I lived through that, even in the smallest way — just by coming out and staying strong and living and being myself, I was a part of history. 

Being a part of this community is so beautiful and there are so many great experiences within it, but there’s a lot of work at the same time, and it’s never ending. We are still having tough discussions that seem outdated. 

There’s a reason why we call it Pride: It’s so much more than just a parade, and companies, and people coming together for parties. It’s a time to celebrate, absolutely, but for my own mental health — and I hope for a lot of other people within and outside of my community — it’s also a time to think about where we’ve come from, where we are, and what we can do to further the progress for everyone.” 

Shop Beecause and other LGBTQIA+ Founded brands at Thrive Market with our newest Environmental & Social Value

Jonathan Ledee’s Favorite Sustainable and Low-Waste Products

Thrive Market Organic Honey
“Because bees travel great distances to gather pollen and nectar, it’s beneficial to source organic honey from hives that are far enough away from wildflowers and crops that may be sprayed with chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Bees don’t want it in their hive, and neither should you!”

Badger Mineral Sunscreen
“Sunscreen is important to protect our skin—our body’s largest organ—but most sunscreens on the drugstore shelves are made with chemical ingredients that can be absorbed through our skin and enter our bloodstream. Choosing natural sunscreen alternatives with mineral-based ingredients offer immediate, safer, and more environmentally friendly protection.” 

Molly’s Suds Wool Dryer Balls
“Made from humanely sourced wool, dryer balls are an environmentally friendly and safer alternative to conventional dryer sheets. Not only do they retain heat, but they also help clothes stay separated in the dryer so air can flow more freely, reducing drying time.”

The Humble Co. Bamboo Toothbrush 
“Every year billions of plastic toothbrushes are thrown away. By using biodegradable bamboo (the fastest-growing plant on earth) in place of conventional plastic, we can reduce waste and work with a more sustainable and renewable resource.”

Beecause Peppermint & Eucalyptus Body Scrub
Formulated with natural oils, chia seeds, and certified organic cane sugar for luxurious exfoliation, this body scrub is one of Beecause’s mainstay products. 

Beecause Lemongrass & Sage Body Scrub
With a bright, earthy scent and organic cane sugar for all-natural exfoliation, this body scrub leaves skin fresh and rejuvenated. 

This article is related to:

Sustainable Brands, Sustainable Living

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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