Founder Focus: Brianne West of Ethique
A biochemist with a passion for animals and all things nature, Brianne West founded Ethique in 2012, after realising how much of a negative impact the plastic-focused beauty industry was having on the environment. Seven years later, and Ethique is now an award-winning, international beauty brand, that ships worldwide, and is exported to the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
We chatted with Brianne about Ethique’s production journey from Kiwi kitchen to multi-factory manufacturing, and what it’s like being the woman behind the world’s first zero-waste beauty brand.
What was your eureka moment?
My eureka moment came from my passion for the environment whilst I was studying biology & chemistry at University. I have always loved animals and the environment, so I knew that I wanted to do something that made a positive impact on our planet. While studying, I really researched how much waste the beauty industry is responsible for, and wanted to find a solution to this. I taught myself cosmetic chemistry, bought some ingredients from a store online, and started experimenting!
I knew that up to 75% of shampoo and even 95% of conditioner is usually water, which just seemed crazy. Why on earth do we make a product out of 95% water, package it in plastic, ship that around the world, then use that product in a bathroom full of water?! It’s stupid. Shipping the active ingredients in the form of a bar to the customer and letting them use the water already in their house makes much more sense environmentally.
Although shampoo bars aren’t particularly unusual, the majority of them are soap, which has a very high pH. A high pH can leave a residue and roughs up the hair cuticles leaving some people with a result less than desired. I saw a gap in the market and wanted to create salon quality shampoo – but solid and zero-waste. After months of careful testing, it turned out it absolutely was possible to create high-quality shampoo, conditioner (and now make-up removers, moisturisers, tanners and heaps more) without water – and Ethique is the outcome of that.
What was your elevator pitch?
Ethique is the world’s most sustainable beauty brand. At the heart of the business is the desire to protect our environment. In order to do this, we are certified vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, and of course, plastic-free! Additionally, my favourite part of Ethique is that 20% of our profits go towards charities which focus on conservation, animal welfare and community support & education. It doesn’t stop there; we are committed to offsetting our carbon emissions too, as well as working with carefully selected sustainable, fair trade providers to ensure every ingredient we source is as sustainable as it possibly can be.
How did you test your idea?
I launched the business from the kitchen of my one bedroom flat at the age of 24. I first tested out different shampoo formulas and after some amazing feedback from my (human) guinea pigs, I moved onto conditioners. From that, I started replacing virtually everything in my bathroom with solid versions. Ethique now has a vast range of products from deodorants and baby shampoo, to facial scrubs and pet care. The best part is that they really do work just as well as ‘normal’ products – just look at our reviews. It was always my goal to ensure that every product worked as well as, if not better than, the liquid equivalent – and I’m really proud to have achieved that.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Have a point of difference. I am genuinely surprised every time I talk to a business owner or founder and they can’t tell me why I should buy their product and not their competitors. If you can’t tell me what makes you different, how will a customer know?! Also, it sounds cliché, but don’t give up. There will be challenges on the way – probably more than there will be successes to begin with. We have come up against a fair amount of challenges and still do, but it is important to keep your goal in sight and keep going, because the impact you have is worth it.
What’s your Plan B?
My ultimate goal has always been to contribute positively to the planet, and to influence the way people consume and consider the environment. However, interestingly, creating a beauty brand was never actually my plan A, or even plan Z actually. When I was younger, I had always considered oceanography, marine biology, or veterinary science because of my love for the planet and animals – especially having grown up in New Zealand, which is not only a beautiful country, but quite environmentally minded. After studying biochemistry, I realised that creating a plastic-free beauty brand combined my goals, my expertise, and contributed a solution to one of the biggest issues the planet faces – plastic!
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
Time in putting together an incredible team, developing amazing products, and advocating for our planet.
What’s coming up next for Ethique?
There are so many exciting things coming up for the brand. I would love for Ethique to become a significant multinational brand that ‘puts a bar in every shower’. I don’t necessarily mean that the bar should be one of Ethique’s, but I want Ethique to inspire other brands to rethink how sustainable their products and packaging is. Brands need to be responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products – including the packaging. We have lots of new products set to launch in the coming months and have recently launched ‘Little Ethique’, our baby range, as well as our pet range. We want to create as many products as possible to help tackle plastic waste – so watch this space!
What is the book you would recommend everyone reads, and why?
Drawdown, which ranks positive, tangible solutions to the climate crisis. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (should be a requirement at schools). Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik as it’s important for people to understand the physical world. Anything by Bill Bryson for a bit of levity!
Being the founder of the world’s first zero-waste beauty brand is incredible – but undoubtedly intense at times. How do you find balance?
I don’t believe you can have balance all the time, and that’s fine. Right now, my life is work and that’s okay because it won’t always be. It can be intense, but I am doing something I love and feel passionate about. Being a night owl, I work best from around 5pm onwards and often work late into the evenings. I don’t really have days off, but I also don’t have a family, so I am happy with Ethique being my life right now.
Keen to join the revolution? Brows the bars on the Ethique website.