From Queen Bee to Beekeeper
Age and a difficult boss forced Claire Marin on her courageous reinvention journey
Sponsored by Catskill Provisions
Once a top New York magazine executive decked out in Chanel and Manolo Blahniks, Claire Marin now suits up in a beekeeper’s white jumpsuit and fencer’s veil. That’s because Marin is the founder of Catskill Provisions and NY Honey Rye Whiskey, a reinvention that moved her out from under Madison Avenue’s glass ceiling and “hanging out with crazy humans” and “an abusive boss” to the much sweeter world of honey bees.
The Covey: Why did you reinvent yourself as a beekeeper?
Claire Marin: I was disillusioned with where the publishing business was headed. I was miserable and no longer working with people I wanted to spend time with. I wanted to quit my job.
During my last six months to a year in magazines, I worked under a male manager (everyone above me was male) who was very abusive, saying terrible things to our all-female group. When I created a list [of his abuses] and went to human resources, top managers and legal got involved. Their attempt to diffuse the situation was to tell me, “He is just being funny,” while telling me I was “wrong” for coming to them to protect my staff and the company. I had given 15-years of my life to publishing and this company made me out to be some high-strung bitchy female. They marginalized me. That’s a huge reason I left.
Since 2003 beekeeping had been a hobby. On the weekends I would work on the 8 to 10 hives of bees at my country home in the Catskills and they made me feel better; but, then I would return to work.
There is a rage we feel as women constantly being marginalized. We are constantly told when expressing our opinions, that we are being hysterical. I had been raised in that [kind of] environment, being told that my brother shouldn’t lift a fork but that I, as a girl, should cook and clean. It was my independent thinking that helped me grow up and out of that way of thinking.
The Covey: What made you finally make a move?
Claire Marin: There are certain pillars–or moments [in our lives]–that are our reckoning. For me, it was that I could no longer resign [myself to working for] someone who was hurtful, disloyal, sexist.
Courage is something you recognize you have when you head into fear. I was afraid; but, I needed to feel afraid because I needed to start over again, to feel strong, to get my self-worth back. It was very scary. It was very difficult to shed the comfort of walking into a big building, having assistants and all the trappings–including the money–that can keep us in a miserable situation. But I was being marginalized so I embraced the fear.
The Covey: Why honey?
Claire Marin: For the holidays in 2003, I gave a friend a beekeeping kit–and I fell in love with it. It became my country hobby. Beekeeping became an [alternate] world, like being underwater for a diver. I found the bees inspirational [because they] work in a democratic way as a community—everything for the good of the hive. Bees are [also an] Amazonian society—a bunch of “women” working together [Editor’s note: in many hives, female workers out populate male drones 100/1 and do most of the work].
Then, over the years as I gave honey to friends as gifts for holidays, friends said, “You have to do something with this.”
I quit my job in April 2010 and by September put a label together, starting Catskill Provisions, Inc.
The Covey: Why Whiskey?
Claire Marin: In 2009 there was a farm distillery movement, a lobbying effort that would allow New York State farmers to distill and sell [craft liquors and ciders–which had been limited to large producers since the 1920s and prohibition]; it’s a strategy to help farmers [fix] their terrible depressed financial situations, allowing them to use 100-percent of their output [by recycling damaged or unpicked fruit into spirits]. I decided that Catskills Provisions could be[come] more than just a jar of honey: it could become an umbrella label for many artisanal foods.
With whiskey, I saw a way to use honey to replace all the fructose in products and drinks. It wasn’t my goal to make a product for women. I just felt that there was something missing in the spirits arena. I did what appealed to me and discovered a market that was not being served: women who like a good drink that isn’t too sugar-filled or sweet. I knew I could make a set of spirits for a segment of the market no one paid attention to, a confident drinker who [doesn’t need it to drink] the oldest, most expensive version of a spirit to impress their friends. My whiskey is 80-proof so a woman can “still walk like a lady” while enjoying the flavor.
The Covey: Why did you feel you had to open your own distillery?
Claire Marin: I worked with two male distillers and it was not productive. I helped them, I worked collaboratively with them; I was fair and they ended up not being fair and charging me more as the quality of their products went down.
So, I made the decision at the end of last year to do a little more reinventing. With it comes a little more fear, but then the courage kicked in. I am sticking my neck out [and going to learn to distill my own spirits.] I either do it or I walk away.
I’m working with a master distiller to set up my distillery. Prior to that, I’m taking two different distilling courses, one in Napa in March and one in Portland.
The Covey: How did you fund your reinvention?
Claire Marin: The entire brand has been funded by my personal money and the money that the business makes, reinvested. Note too, I don’t have children that I am sending to college.
I have also made a conscious effort to downsize [my life]. I used to buy designer items to dress a certain way for the [publishing] business. Now I want the money for this cause, this passion, this business that does good–and for hiring people at a decent wage.
When I founded the business, I also pledged to give back a percentage of revenue to food and animal causes, the environment. We currently “give back” 1% of our annual earnings to Friends of the Earth to support their bee-focused efforts. I also plan to be growing a lot of the grain and botanicals we’ll use in the distillation process which will be non-GMO and pollinator friendly so we can have sustainable results.
The Covey: What are the advantages of reinventing as an older female?
Claire Marin: I am meeting a lot of 20-something women who I find to be more courageous than women of my generation. These women feel an empowerment that women now in their 50s didn’t have when we were girls. And these women are inspired by 55-year old women [like me]! They ask questions. They are already realizing at an early age that they do not need to settle if they don’t like the world they are in.