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Christchurch-based sustainable beauty products manufacturer Ethique is chalking up major success in export markets. Founder Brianne West shares her export journey.

Brianne West, the young ethically conscious scientist behind the Ethique brand of sustainable beauty products is genuinely excited by how things have progressed in the past two years.
Back in 2015 their first capital raise was used to completely refresh the brand (including a name-change) and set the foundation for international expansion.
Ethique has since gone from a tiny tradesman’s unit with three staff, to an 800 square metre laboratory and production facility and 11 staff.
Growth is happening in both Australia and the US, with distributors in both. The domestic stockist base has expanded too, with Farmers and pharmacies now stocking Brianne’s eco-friendly products.
The biggest growth factor, she says, has been the hiring of some “really good people, with the right experience and the drive to push the company forward”.
“Having someone on board who knows how to scale a company in all aspects – manufacturing, logistics, export, distributors, and so on – has made a tremendous difference in the past 12 months.” 
Having a truly unique product and telling the Ethique story with good PR and digital/social media marketing has been invaluable too, she adds. 
“People try the product on recommendations from friends by and large, fall in love with the bars and stay for the feel-good factor they get from buying a product that does good.”
Offshore, exclusive distributors have been key. That’s Sydney-based Nourished Life and Pharmapacks in the US – Amazon’s number one reseller. 
“Both are as passionate as we are about the brand and putting a lot of marketing our way,” explains Brianne. “Our strategy is to get a history of strong online sales before approaching big-box stores such as Priceline in Australia and Wholefoods or Sephora in the US.”
Brianne says Ethique is regularly approached by distributors worldwide but is mindful of growing too fast and in too many directions. However, last November she embarked on a trip with her COO to sound out opportunities in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Each market should be approached differently, she says, and it’s important to work with people on the ground who know and understand their own market’s needs.
Brianne believes she’s been lucky there haven’t been too many big export mistakes. “I’m lucky enough to receive a lot of advice from people who’ve been there and done that.
“The most important thing is to really nurture any relationship. Spend the time in the country working with your distributors, or your partners, and ensure you are both in it together.”

Growth brings decisions
As a company grows, it becomes less flexible – that’s been Brianne’s experience.
“There are longer lead times for decisions we used to make in a matter of weeks,” she says. 
“But the most important thing is not to forget your values as a company, nor the customers who got you there in the first place. That’s why I like crowdfunding over more traditional methods of investment. You get to bring a crowd of people who supported you from day one along for the ride and hopefully repay their trust several times over.”
Ethique ran an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign that generated half a million dollars within two hours.  
Brianne says she’s lucky people have reached out to her; offering their considerable skills and contacts. “We have quite an extensive unofficial advisory board with a skill-set including international expansion, digital marketing, PR, banking, finance and mass manufacturing – all of whom are happy to pick up the phone and have a chat to help resolve an issue.”
However, she’s under no illusion about future challenges.
“We’ll make mistakes. Markets won’t react like we expect them to. Demand may catch us by surprise – but as long as we retain our flexibility and problem solving capabilities I’m confident we’ll be able to weather any storms. 
“Over the next five years I’d like to see Ethique really bedding down in both the US and Australia; entering a couple of new markets and continuing to produce innovative products. 
“This year we have a range of completely unique products coming out, which will really begin to displace plastic. It’s in a slightly different industry to the one we’re currently in, which is exciting.”

The ethics behind Ethique
In 2016 Brianne West was named one of the top 100 global thinkers by the US Foreign Policy alongside billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon. 
Each year Foreign Policy recognises 100 people whose ideas have translated into action – changing and shaping the world through science, politics, the arts and diplomacy, among others. Brianne was recognised “for making beauty eco-friendly”.
Brianne’s unique approach to beauty products allows for a more sustainable, eco-friendly beauty routine for consumers without the added waste to landfills, far less water wastage and no dangerous pollutants draining into the environment. 
Ethique’s solid beauty products have been shared on Facebook by the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears (Kutcher’s video endorsement caused a 435 percent spike in sales!).
“I am a firm believer that companies should be responsible for the entire life-cycle of their product, including the packaging left behind at the end. 
“Sometimes change is easy, such as using shredded wastepaper to line shipping boxes rather than bubble wrap. But more often than not it requires a real mindset shift from the top down,” she says.
Currently consumers who purchase Ethique products in their compostable packaging have saved more than 200,000 plastic bottles from landfill. 

This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of NZBusiness.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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