The rise of Brianne West’Brianne West’s ethical
When Brianne West, founder and CEO of Ethique, started the world’s first zero-plastic cosmetics company, she was still a student at University of Canterbury, concocting products in the kitchen of her small flat.
Now Ethique sits on shelves worldwide, with stores throughout the US and UK and “massive expansion” plans about to happen across Europe. In just eight years they have saved nine million plastic bottles, and their goal is now to save half a billion by 2030.
With her third business enterprise, Brianne hit the nail on what she found important – creating a business that has a purpose beyond making money. Ridding the world of plastic bottles was only the first step of her mission; Brianne is calling for businesses to claim responsibility for the harm their products cause the environment.
Brianne’s first two businesses provided an abundance of learning opportunities, the first being that business needs to sustain your values beyond making money. With Ethique, she was able to combine her passion for environmentalism with her science degree, on top of creating a financially viable business.
“I thought, ‘Why not create an organization that genuinely does good?’ I have experience in the cosmetics industry, I have a science degree and understand formulation, so why not?
“It was to prove that that business can be run
as ethically as possible while also being financially sustainable.”
A big part of Ethique’s success is its commitment to doing business the right way – cruelty free and vegan, ethically and fairly sourced, and palm oil-free products are a staple of all Ethique’s products. Ethique also donates 20 percent of profits to charity.
Paying workers a living wage is also a core mission for the company, a key component that is often missed when it comes to environmentalism.
“People who are struggling financially are not interested in saving the world. They are interested in feeding their family. And rightfully so,” Brianne says.
According to Living Wage NZ, a living wage is defined as “the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life.” With a living wage, workers are able to provide in a way that lets them live with dignity and further participate as active citizens in a society.
“If you employ these social standards as well, it really pushes your environmental movement, which is our core passion. As for how that’s grown Ethique, the fact that we have done so well in a short period of time is testament to, again, that people want more than brands that just sell a product.”
What’s killing the planet
When we’re shelled out advice about how we can be more sustainable, the actions are always placed on how to reduce individual consumer waste.
More consumers are taking actions to reduce their impact on the planet now more than ever, with people ditching single-use plastics for reusable bottles or KeepCups.
However, individual consumers can only do so much when they are not the ones creating the most waste.
“Business at the bare minimum should be responsible for the entire life cycle of their product.
“The time for consumer action creating impact has passed. We now need massive systemic change. That sounds really scary and a lot of people think you’re against capitalism, which is not true.
“We just need to start living within the boundaries of our planet a little bit more, which isn’t as difficult as it may sound. We need to start voting with our dollar.
“We need to find and seek out conscious companies doing good. Obviously, not every industry has a conscious offering. You cannot be perfect, which is something that puts people off. But it shouldn’t because every good decision makes a difference.”
Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth. According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping.
“One of the biggest things you can do is stop buying stuff. Unless you need it, don’t buy it. If you can borrow it, fabulous. If you can forget that you ever wanted it, fabulous. We need to quit this idea of buying stuff, just because it’s there, just because it’s cheap,” Brianne says.
“That’s what’s killing our planet.”
Facing off against imposter syndrome
“Every day, anyone who runs a business or has anything to do with a business knows that their days are full of challenges. I think that the one of the biggest ones has been imposter syndrome.”
Imposter syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of persistent inadequacy despite evident success. It’s a phenomenon that hits women more, and it has to do with the stacked odds in corporate culture.
According to Grant Thornton International’s annual Women in Business report, New Zealand has taken a huge blow in regards to women in senior leadership roles. It hit an all-time low in 2018, with a drop to 18 percent since the report began in 2004 (31 percent), compared to 20 percent in 2017.
Combine this with the ever-looming presence of tall poppy syndrome – when people are resented or attacked because they are seen as successful or superior – and it’s no wonder that business owners in New Zealand feel that way.
“There is a huge culture in New Zealand that people don’t want to be seen to be celebrating their success. And that is a shame because New Zealanders have done some amazing things.”
And she’s right about that, with New Zealanders standing at the forefront of innovation, from thrill-seeking inventions like the commercial bungy jump and the jet pack, to leading the world in what is widely considered a successful Covid response thus far.
Having a vision for the future isn’t an exclusively Kiwi quality, but it runs true here – in less than a decade, Brianne took her dream of a business its purpose is to rid the world of plastic to the global stage, where customers are drawn to her hope and idea for a better planet, a better future.
By Claire Wright