Meet the Women of Influence winner who built an ethical empire out of shampoo bars

Jessica Satherley
Meet the Women of Influence winner who built an ethical empire out of shampoo bars
Brianne West is a biologist and the founder of Ethique.

Ridding the world of plastic waste and creating ethical beauty bars has been the backbone of Ethique’s success. 

Brianne West, who founded Ethique, won the Business Enterprise Award at the 2019 Women of Influence Awards, as well as recently winning a Supreme Award at Westpac Champion Awards in Canterbury. 

The Christchurch-based cosmetics company has saved 4.4 million plastic bottles by packaging its shampoo and conditioner solid bars in recyclable, compostable packaging instead. 

REDnews spoke to Ethique founder and biologist Brianne West to delve into her zero-waste cosmetic empire. 

 

Photo of shampoo bar

Ethique's shampoo bars are made of concentrate to save waste

What is your ultimate goal for Ethique and where do you see the company in five years?  

BW: “I want to create a trusted, global, billion-dollar brand. Ultimately, I want to put a bar in every shower.

"By which I mean I want to insight behavioural change in the way we approach plastic waste.

"I also want to encourage other companies to eliminate plastic and consider the entire lifecycle of their products." 

  

Why do you think more beauty companies haven’t yet moved towards solid bars instead of plastic bottles?  

BW: “Money. If a product is 95% water, it is 95% cheaper to produce.

"Plastic is so cheap and formulating solid products is more complicated – particularly if the company has the same ethical and environmental values as us. It’s also a bit of a gamble.

"We are proving that customers like and use solid bars, but prior to us there weren’t many companies around.”  

  

Do you think the beauty industry is working towards eliminating plastic packaging or it’s not a concern to them?  

BW: “Global plastics manufacturers are gearing up to produce 30% more plastic in the next five years, and the beauty industry will be a significant consumer of this plastic, so no, not really.

"To be fair, without producing bar products, removing plastic would be tough.  

“Over 40% of total plastic use comes from product packaging. A lot of products (particularly more high-end brands) have packages within packages, none of which tend to be recyclable as they are made out of mixed materials. 

"The majority of cosmetic packaging is obviously plastic and yes, it is often recyclable, however what most people don’t realise is that only 9% of plastic ever made, has ever been recycled, globally.

"That means out of 14 bottles, statistically only one will be recycled.  

“However, customers are now demanding alternatives and I think because of this, the beauty industry will need to respond or else face backlash.

"You only have to look around to see the worldwide momentum behind banning single use plastics, alongside the realisation that recycling will not make our plastic obsession okay.

"We’re now seeing consumers challenging big brands and opting to support companies that care about people and the environment.

"I hope we continue to see a shift in the environmental and social impact of companies and consumers but also see a wider shift in the way that plastic and waste is handled.” 

 
Have you got any patents on your bar design and eco packaging or do you encourage other businesses to follow your lead?  

BW: “No patents, as it’s a costly and complicated process to patent cosmetic formulas and processes and not easily defendable.

"We rely on a strong brand, excellent customer service, phenomenal products and ethics that can’t be beaten.   

“My main goal is to have a bar in every shower, and I don’t necessarily mean an Ethique bar.

"I want to encourage other businesses to follow our lead and think about the entire life cycle of their products, as well as their potential to create positive change.” 

  

What is your strongest marketing tool?  

BW: “Our story has played the key role in the success of Ethique.

"We have a robust purpose, to rid the world of plastic bottles and be an inspiration to other businesses, which people can understand and get behind, which is why they love our brand. Ethique is built on having a purpose, not just about making money.  

“I am the company’s spokesperson, as most CEOs & Founders are, because people buy from people, not companies - they want to know more about the people behind a brand.” 

  

Photo of Brianne West

Brianne West has a goal to rid the world of plastic waste

How important is social media to your business?    

BW: “It plays an important role in helping us to connect and reach more people and have actual conversations with our customers.

"However, now we are taking more of a stand on the mass influencer market which is wasteful and full of misleading information.

"We rarely work with influencers - only when we feel that person actually truly reflects our values.” 

  

Have celebrity endorsements made a big impact?  

BW: “Funny you ask that. It often pops up that Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears posted about Ethique back when we were working out of a very small kitchen and it did help us to reach an overseas market and sparked media interest too!” 

  

What advice would you give to your 19-year-old self?   

BW: “Make sure you hire good people, ask for advice (but be careful who you take advice from) and don’t ignore the financials.” 

  

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to start a business?  

BW: “Surround yourself with excellent people (or even just one), who believe in you and your idea.

"Even if they’re not an expert in your industry, being able to bounce ideas off someone else is very useful and adds an outside perspective. 

“Don’t wait till it’s perfect and don’t over-plan. If you wait till your product is perfect, you’ve waited too long to launch.

"As the saying goes, if you are not embarrassed by your first product, you waited too long.

"Also, whilst planning is important, writing a 30-page business plan before you even start selling has always struck me as a little ridiculous.

"Put a plan on a page (what you are doing to do, how and when) and get started. 

“Don’t ignore the financial side of things. Even if you don’t like it, it’s critical.” 

  

Did you expect that Ethique would become as successful as it has?  

BW: “I hoped, but never expected it. When I began Ethique, I had a goal of saving 1 million plastic bottles from being made and disposed of in landfills.

"I can now proudly say we have saved over 4.4 million plastic bottles which to me represents a collective global movement to eliminate single use plastics.” 

 
What is your typical day like?  

BW: “I rarely have a typical day as I could be anywhere in the world, but it will usually involve a LOT of emails and meetings.” 

 
   
What has been your greatest achievement in your own eyes so far?   

BW: “Definitely saving 4.4 million bottles from being made and disposed of!”   

  

What does it mean to you to win the Women of Influence Business Enterprise category and the Westpac Champion Award?  

BW: “Ethique has been going now for seven years and all along, we have had the same values; to use only sustainable and naturally derived ingredients that are vegan, cruelty free, palm oil free, to use plastic free packaging, to pay all our staff a living wage and donate 20% of all profits to charity.  

“It’s amazing to be recognised within Canterbury, where Ethique was founded, for our innovation within the beauty industry and the Supreme Award Winner for the small enterprise category. 

“We were surrounded by a fantastic group of businesses throughout Canterbury, showcasing the talent within the region.” 

 

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