Spotlight: Brianne West from Ethique
“For as long as I can remember,
I’ve had this burning passion to save the world”
Brianne West told us as the first thing when we met her. Now, that’s a goal we fully support and admire! Brianne’s brand, Ethique is about to launch in Hong Kong, and we were lucky to catch her for a chat about cosmetics, green lifestyle, entrepreneurial drive and … favorite people!
Please, introduce yourself. Where do you come from, not only geographically, but also conceptually. How did you end up where you are now, and what brought you here?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this burning passion to save the world. When I was 3, it was the first time I remember rescuing a bird and putting it in a box in my house. When I was eight, I started my first business, which was a pet detective agency. When I was seven, my family moved from the Isle of Man to New Zealand, and when I was nineteen, I moved to Christchurch for university. It was then when I started my first proper business: a cosmetics company, but with more typical products- with liquid shampoos and moisturisers.
I then started to learn about cosmetic science, simultaneously taking a bachelor degree in science, so it matched quite nicely. Everyone else was studying and working in a “proper” job, and I was not interested or happy to work set-hours, or be told what to do… It’s just not my thing. I don’t like it. For some time, I also had a confectionary company, but gave that up to eventually launch Ethique, still part-time at university. I realized that having this urge to do something that really benefited the planet wasn’t stupid and wasn’t impossible. It was possible, and it was something that I should try and do. I knew cosmetic science, I had a bit of science knowledge, I had a reasonable idea of how to do online marketing, so with all that I said “Right! I’ll just do a completely solid, zero-waste cosmetics company.” And that is kind of where it started.
Do you have any other brands that you admire and look at, thinking of what way to form “Ethique”? What inspires you and what brands do you value for what they do?
We have loads of ethical brands cropping up in New Zealand. Since the big earthquake in Christchurch about seven years ago, there’s been a huge entrepreneurial culture: this idea of starting anew and starting “as it should be done”.
There are loads of companies and entrepreneurs doing things right, for example fashion designers, but New Zealand is also known for its dairy - which is, as we know, pretty damaging to the environment. However, of course, people are going to keep drinking dairy and eating cheese. We might be trying to turn the world vegan, but it’s not going to happen. Instead they are providing an alternative in form of “Happy Cow Milk Company”, where the calves are safe with their mums, and there is no phosphate or fertilisers put on the ground. The company does everything to make the dairy as environment-friendly as possible. They’re using glass bottles too. Unfortunately they went bankrupt, but are starting again with a new crowdfunding round and I hope to see them successful this year!
I am also big fan of LUSH. I love a lot of their environmental campaigns and their hole experiential retail experience.
How environmentally aware are people in New Zealand?
In New Zealand, all supermarkets have just banned plastic bags. We also have the most forward-thinking petroleum company in the world. Really, he’s actively trying to put himself out of business! They are called “Z Energy”, and they’re investing in solar and wind energy and turning that into electrical power, around the country and around the world. New Zealand is very environmentally aware, which is at odds when 30% of the economy comes from farming, which can of course be environmentally harmful. A lot of our farmers are working really hard on fencing off waterways, being careful with what they use on the land and trying to lessen their emissions which is fabulous, but obviously some things take time.
The reason why “Ethique” has grown so fast is that people understand the need for this. You don’t have to explain, it’s obvious. People simply understand our story. And I see that trend growing more and more in other countries soon.
Hong Kong is less environmentally aware than New Zealand, how do you see the journey that “Ethique” is about to begin here?
Many places are less environmentally aware than New Zealand, some parts of Europe would be an exception. I have not spent enough time in Hong Kong to be able to make predictions. However, from what I’ve seen, even though I am mingling in a certain circle, people are definitely aware, and environmentally-minded. Obviously, governments are always the last to join the movement. Innovative businesses have to inspire the consumers, and then the consumers will inspire further businesses, but you always have to have this first initial driver, and usually it’s either a lone voice or it’s a company that decides to do something different.
Can you tell us more about the ingredients that go into your products?
Of course! Let’s start with our shampoo bars: they differ from regular soap bars. Soap is by definition oil mixed with a strong alkaline. You hair is acidic, so if you use an alkaline product on your hair, you hair will feel rough, it’s going to look dull, and it will feel as if there was coating on it. So instead our bars are soap free and instead shampoo- imagine having a natural, liquid shampoo in a bottle, but boiling the water off instead. That is essentially what we’ve put together in a bar, just the stuff that makes it a shampoo.
Our surfactants are coconut and sugar derived – naturally derived and gentle, and they make things foam. We use loads of cocoa butter. We work very closely with a cooperative in Samoa for our coconut oil - they are just a 3-hour flight from New Zealand. We can’t grow coconuts in New Zealand, but we can team up with people close by. Oils are produced on various plantations, and the oil gets sent to “Women in Business”, a women cooperative that assures fair trade. That’s where we buy our coconut oil which is, by weight, 30% of our ingredients.
Our butter boxes are an emulsification rather than just oils. If you just use oils on our skin, it’s okay, but essentially, water is the element that hydrates your skin! So if you don’t use your oil product on wet skin, you’re not really getting any effect. So now we have combined them both. In these, we have coconut and babassu oils and lecitin which is a fantastic humectant. We only use essential oils, and don’t use synthetic fragrances, because they simply make me sick! Essential oils are safe to use in the right hands, and ensuring you treate them with respect and caution. We just optimized the ingredient lists on our website as well, so check that for specifics.
What are some of your personal green challenges in your everyday life?
I can’t afford an electric car [laughs]. They’re not big in New Zealand yet.
As an individual, the single biggest thing you can do is stop eating meat and dairy. I am not vegan, but I am vegetarian, trying to avoid milk. I find it much harder when I travel. Especially New York, I think it’s one of the most meat-dominated cities I’ve ever been to. The problem is that many of the alternatives that people rely on, are almost as bad if not worse for the environment… Like some almond milks! So what you have to do is to make the best decision for yourself based in the knowledge you have.
What about minimising waste in your everyday life?
I find it relatively easy nowadays. I’ve got a reusable bag, I walk around with reusable coffee cup. Again, the challenges meet me on planes, they might give you a funny look when you ask them to fill up your reusable cup.. The same is for take-aways: if you’re going for Thai, take your own container! However, in New Zealand most restaurants are using compostable stuff, and composting in New Zealand in general is great with large numbers of compost-bins.
New Zealand still doesn’t compost the PLA plastics, but it is also very unlikely that you’ll be able to compost them many places in the world. Compostable plastics are highly problematic, and unfortunately people are still unaware of that, but the word is spreading. So I just stay away from single-use plastic in general. Environment-wise, one of the worst things is my dog - he eats a lot of meat! And I’m not going to raise my dog vegan.
We often ask this question in the end, whether it’s to each other or to people we’ve interviewed… Who is you favourite person right now?
A few weeks ago I would have said Elon Musk, but now…. I’m afraid I might have too many favourites, but I am going to go with this friend of mine that I met in Hawaii. She is this incredibly accomplished, amazingly intelligent lady who has had some amazing roles around the world, working in gender equality and aid. She took me under her wing when Ethique first became a proper business. She has introduced me to some incredible people and provided amazing opportunities as conference-speaker. Women like that, who lift other women up, who support other women’s goals… They are “my favourite person of the day”!
Want to give the products a try?
You can buy the Ethique range in Hong Kong through iSGO here.
WOMB has tested and absolutely loves Ethique's products,
but we still want you to know that this content has been sponsored.