‘Business is how we will change the world’
2023 Kea World Class New Zealand Award winner Brianne West
Brianne West studied biochemistry at Canterbury University and launched her ethical solid bar beauty business, Ethique from her kitchen in her early 20s. The success of Ethique has seen Brianne travel the world working with big global companies to promote change across the beauty industry and save thousands of plastic bottles from being created and ultimately ending up in landfills. She runs an online platform ‘Business but Better’ which helps the next generation of entrepreneurs launch purpose led businesses and frequently speaks to companies and individuals globally about the ways in which businesses can create change for the better. Having made huge changes across the globalbeau ty industry, her latest start-up ‘Incrediballs’ is targeting the reduction of plastics in the drinks industry.
For as long as Brianne West can remember she has always been passionate about the environment and animals. Her earliest memory involves ‘saving’ worms from puddles after it had rained.
“I have always thought that the world is this most amazing, awe inspiring place that we don’t respect or pay enough attention to. And if more people knew how amazing it was, then they’d look after it better.”
Her desire to create change never left her and was the driving force behind her starting her own solid beauty bar company out of her kitchen while she was still at Canterbury University studying biochemistry.
“I had previously started a cosmetics company, just a regular one and it did ok, but after a year and a half of selling products I realised it wasn’t the money making side of things that was attractive to me, it was the creative side, and the running of a business. All my life I have believed that business is the way to change things, because business is the largest lever we have if we want to solve some of the social and environmental problems we are facing and we haven’t yet engaged that lever in the way we could have.”
Brianne’s company Sorbet, (later renamed Ethique) wanted to rid the world of a million plastic bottles. One of her early investors and mentors Brian Person first met Brianne on an entrepreneurship program for students and remembers right from the start she was convincing.
“She was telling us all about the business she had started in her home kitchen, but what really got our attention was she, she sort of sat back at one point and said, I really want to tell you about my vision. And Breanne told us that her vision was to rid the world of plastic bottles. And we were completely blown away. We couldn’t quite believe what we were hearing. But it wasn’t so much that she had this real purpose to her business intentions, and it wasn’t so much the scale and the aspiration of the vision. It was that she had the courage to say it. She actually said out loud, “I want to rid the world of plastic bottles.”
Along with her plan to rid the world of plastic bottles, Brianne says she also wanted her company to do good in other ways, essentially operating as what is now known as B-corp.
“I believe that business should be run ethically, but it was tricky because back then there really wasn’t a baseline. I was very idealistic and I was surrounded by people who told me it couldn’t be done, a lot of people would say ‘oh, you can’t do that because it doesn’t work financially and business is first and foremost is about profit, which is a notion I reject. So I was sort of working it out as I went along.”
In the decade since Ethique launched Brianne has travelled the globe (after overcoming a fear of flying) speaking to businesses to promote the use of more ethical products. Ethique COO Tristan Roberts says Brianne’s honesty and direct nature are something that’s lacking in business and a trait which has allowed her to get global companies to sit up and listen.
“She’s travelled the world talking to different people, talking to businesses, trying to convince them to change and the reasons why, and she’s been able to do that. She’s been at the forefront of change for some big companies in the UK and the US. She’s led their sustainability mission, the reason they have big sustainability walls of product now is because of her, because of Ethique.”
Brian says Brianne’s conviction that business is an important part of change is what makes her such a successful mentor. He says she doesn’t just list her values on a website, she lives them every day.
“Not only is she creating an ethical mission driven businesses and brands herself. But then she’s supporting other people to do the same thing. And this is having a significant impact on the country, on the world, and on promoting New Zealand on the global stage.”
Now Brianne says she’s getting ready to take on the soft drinks industry with her new start up ‘Incrediballs.’
“I want Incrediballs to disrupt the drinks industry in the same way Ethique disrupted the beauty industry. So instead of buying a bottle of flavoured water you just take your regular water and drop an Incrediball in and you’ve got a fizzy cola flavoured drink that’s exactly the same. We will have different flavours and functions and I can see real applications for it on places like Air New Zealand, no need to carry plastic bottles of drinks, I am also working on a very exciting charitable arm for the company, which will have the potential to solve nutritional issues and provide clean, safe water in places where that’s not a reality, which I’m very excited about.
She’s also launched an online platform ‘Business but Better’ which aims to help the next generation of purpose led entrepreneurs both in New Zealand and around the world.
“Business but Better allows me to share what I have learnt with a wider group of people, I can’t start every purpose led business but I can help those who want to start their own. I have done a lot of mentoring in the past and I find that often at the really early stage people have an idea, but they’re sort of scared to take the next step, and I think a lot of that fear comes from not knowing what to do next or how to do it. I didn’t know, I had no idea really how to start a business but I didn’t care, people would say ‘oh no you can’t do that, and I would reply well that’s how I am doing it.’ I don’t think I have that inbuilt fear of failure that many people have, I don’t like failure, I am very competitive but I just don’t let that fear of failure stop me. I have failed more times than I’ve ever succeeded. If what I have learnt can help someone else then that can only be a good thing.”
“I think New Zealander entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned in a couple of different many of our competitor countries, and people always expect Kiwi to be kind and nice, which is lovely when you travel. But the other aspect is that I think we are determined to prove ourselves because we are a smaller country which is relatively isolated. We seem to do a lot of big things here because people seem driven to do big things. There’s this massive entrepreneurial ecosystem, we are quite a forward thinking, innovative place.”