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Brianne West wants to build a billion-dollar, global beauty brand - and look after the planet while doing it.
New Zealand beauty brand Ethique was ahead of the curve when it came to tackling plastic pollution, launching its plastic-free, eco-friendly range of shampoos and conditioners in 2012.
The idea was born in founder Brianne West's kitchen. Frustrated at the waste she saw in both the production and packaging of traditional shampoos and conditioners, she started experimenting with making solid bar shampoos and conditioners.
“I knew that 75% of liquid shampoo and up to 95% of liquid conditioner is water. That just seemed wrong, because not only do you need to package that in plastic, you also need to ship all of the extra weight. Then the end consumer uses the product in a room full of water.”
I just thought this was an obvious solution to help fix plastic pollution."
Brianne, who studied biochemistry at the University of Canterbury, spent about a year and a half selling her products online and at the odd market, before branching out into the retail world. She was aware that people wouldn’t buy a product just because it was eco-friendly – it also needed to be high quality. “I found out what people liked, what they didn’t like, what kind of products worked for people and what didn’t.”
Brianne created concentrated bars, stripping out the water. One shampoo bar is the equivalent of around three bottles of liquid shampoo, while one conditioner bar equals around five bottles of liquid conditioner. The company estimates it has stopped more than six million plastic bottles from being made so far, and is aiming to hit the 50 million mark by 2025.
All of Ethique’s products, which now also include solid bar moisturisers, cleansers and serums, are made from naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients. They're certified palm-oil free and cruelty-free vegan.The range is free of parabens, synthetic fragrances and petroleum by-products. The packaging is compostable cardboard, made from sustainably-sourced forestry.
The company’s first foray offshore came after Brianne was featured in the American magazine Forbes. The Huffington Post picked up the Forbes story, and their version went viral, attracting social media mentions from celebrities Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears.
On the back of the online buzz, expanding into the United States was the next obvious move, says Brianne. The brand is now in 16 markets around the world - throughout Asia and Europe, as well as in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Brianne dreams of building a world-leading, billion-dollar, beauty brand, that has a positive impact. “I want to build a company that’s really trusted and is regarded as the most sustainable company in the world.”
Although Brianne has global ambitions, she chose a local bank to help her conquer the world, joining Kiwibank in 2017.