Leading a Cosmetic Revolution
Hi-Growth Launch Programme 2015 participant Brianne West has saved over 500,000 plastic bottles from disposal since founding her sustainable cosmetic company Ethique.
The former University of Canterbury (UC) student’s innovative solid bar beauty products are wrapped in compostable packaging and the successful brand has gone global and is having a positive impact on the world.
“I wanted to start a company that had a purpose beyond profit – to align my desire to do business with my desire to do good,” she says.
Tell us about your company, Ethique.
I started Ethique while I was still at UC studying a Bachelor of Science. I wanted to create the world's most sustainable cosmetic company by eliminating the packaging. So I set about creating solid products – shampoo bars, conditioners and those sorts of things – and wrapped them in compostable packaging. I launched in 2012 with about seven products.
What motivated you to take the start that?
I had started a couple of businesses previously, and I knew I didn't want to work for anybody else. But this time I wanted to create a business that had a purpose beyond profit – to align my business desire with the desire to do good. Ethique began as a bit of a hobby really. Then towards the end of my science degree I discovered entré, a student run club for entrepreneurship. I entered their $85K competition, gained mentorship and the business took off from there.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
So many! It's been a constant series of challenges. One of my big early challenges was around trademarking. We did our first public fundraising in 2015 and raised $200,000. Then we found out we couldn't get our international trademark. Within a week we had to change our name and apply for a new trademark, ‘Whilst maintaining the confidence our investors had in us, that we knew what we were doing’! The real challenge is learning how to approach the challenges, and controlling your reaction so you can actually fix the issue at hand.
And your highest highlight so far?
So many of those too! I’ve been able to travel all over the world and meet a whole variety of people, who are in completely different businesses but still working toward some kind of common good. Mostly I love knowing that we've saved about 350,000 bottles from being disposed of so far. I’m really proud of that.
What advice would you pass on to others with an entrepreneurial spirit?
A lot of people ask me, “how do I start”? They hang back until something is perfect. While it's important to have a degree of planning and preparation, at some point you just have to do it, get feedback and then improve from there. Some people wait too long and then never do it, and that's a real shame.
What personal characteristics do you draw on most in what you do?
I'm pretty resilient. You get knocked back a lot so you have to have that inner strength. I can be stubborn too. As Ethique has grown, a lot of people query why we still give 20% of our profits to charity. But that's one of the core principles of our company. The ability to stand your ground is important. I’m also creative and relatively optimistic. I can pick up quickly when the challenges hit.
What’s your ambition for the world?
I’d like to see people buy less stuff they don’t need, and show more concern for where things come from. I also think companies should take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, including the end packaging. If soft drink companies had to deal with the bottles that wash up on around the world, they’d start developing some creative solutions. There needs to be a balance of personal responsibility and corporate initiative.
And for yourself?
I’m very ambitious. Now that I'm doing what I aimed for five years ago, it's not enough! I want to grow Ethique as much is possible in the next 5 to 10 years. I want us to be on as many bathroom shelves as possible so we can make a bigger difference in the world. I'd also like to get involved with other organisations who are doing good.
Looking back, what advice would you give your teenage self?
I'd tell myself to stop taking the little things so seriously. Things that feel like the end of the world at the time don't even begin to matter a year later. On the flip side, I’d say take the bigger things more seriously. I didn't pay much attention to school, I was more concerned about friends. Don't change who you are to fit in with the group. Everyone says it, but it’s true.