Solid beauty, solid growth

Posted on August 21, 2020

Brianne West is on a roll.

At the start of 2019, her beauty bar business Ethique was stocked by 900 retailers. By March next year, that’s expected to be about 6000 globally.

Annual sales have grown by 300% and it has just entered the UK market via a significant partnership with Holland & Barrett, which has 840 retail stores.

It doesn’t end there.

After partnering with US online pharmacy Pharmapacks in 2017, Ethique became one of the top-selling shampoos on Amazon.

But importantly for West, the company’s achievements have not only been financial.

Since 2012, it has prevented more than 3.4 million plastic bottles from being manufactured and disposed of. Ethique is the world’s first full-range beauty brand to be zero-waste.

Beginnings

While studying biology at University of Canterbury, West taught herself cosmetic chemistry from scratch.

“Seven years later, I’m still running the world’s first zero-waste beauty and lifestyle brand and, incredibly, Ethique is still the only full-range ‘solid’ beauty brand and is available in more than 14 countries.”

West decided to create ‘solid’ beauty products after discovering shampoos and conditioners are made up of mostly water.

“Simply put, I wanted to create a product that wouldn’t leave a trace on this earth – including its packaging, which is biodegradable,” she says.

The value-driven entrepreneur once removed a top selling product from the range because she could no longer source an ingredient sustainably.

“At times it is back to the lab to figure out how we can move forward with a product that doesn’t compromise our values,” she says.

Support

She says New Zealand has been a “fantastic” place to start Ethique.

“I have never been short on support whether it be from mentors, banks, manufacturers, shareholders and others.”

West says surrounding herself with people who believed in her idea has been key to Ethique’s success.

“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.”

She says it’s important not to over-plan.

“Put a simple plan on a page and get started – and don’t ignore the financial side of things.

“If you wait until 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’.”

West successfully used crowdfunding platform PledgeMe for two capital raises.

Since then, she has never been short on support from mentors, banks, manufacturers or shareholders.

She says her parents, in particular, have been “hugely supportive” and her mum has worked alongside her from the start.

In the past couple of years, one of her mentors, Tristan Roberts, took a strong interest in the business and came out of retirement to work as Ethique’s chief operating officer.

“I don’t think the brand would be where it is without these successful people in my life to take advice from when it comes to leading the business in the right direction, especially now since we’re on a global scale.”

West says the company’s future is in overseas markets, which in 2016 represented just 1% of sales. Overseas sales are now about 65% and forecast to be more than 75% in a year.

The future will see constant innovation, with 20 new products on the horizon.

West says those will allow the brand to go beyond beauty counters and pharmacy shelves, into supermarkets and pet stores.

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