The founder of New Zealand’s largest regenerative beauty product exporter, Ethique, is stepping down as chief executive from the company but is putting her experience toward supporting other founders of mission-led startups.

Brianne West is stepping down from the company she started just over 10 years ago while the company will remain operating out of Christchurch. 

She has had her share of naysayers over the years and said: “I have heard so many people tell me throughout the journey that this won't work."

'Positive and exciting thing'

Ethique is a $100 million business that West started in her kitchen as a 24-year-old biochemistry student. In 10 years, the company has grown to now export its range of sustainable shampoo bars and soaps to more than 8,000 retailers in 22 countries, preventing 25m plastic bottles from entering landfill.

West said it felt “a bit strange but ultimately a really positive and exciting thing” as the time had come for new leadership at Ethique.

The new leaders, brand president Erica Cocilova and chief executive Reuben Carranza, are both incredibly passionate about their business values, trying to use business to make the world to better place, she said.

She knows Ethique will be safe because they have so much experience in the beauty industry.

West will still be a part of the company by providing support across products, sustainability and the brand.

“I get the best of both worlds, really, because I'm still involved.”

Her new focus will be supporting hundreds of entrepreneurs who want to start and scale up a social or environmental business venture that has the potential to change the world for the better as part of her initiative, Business, but Better.

The idea came about because West would get “one or two” requests a day for mentoring. The level of demand was surprising, she said.

Demand was overwhelming

“Gradually, it became a little overwhelming.”

Business, but Better kicked off about three weeks ago with its launch and the first intake, and is now “ready to roll”.

West believed it reflected the unmet need for greater support for social startups.

While there is a significant amount of entrepreneurial talent in NZ, there is a shortage of female mentors and research shows women prefer to be guided by other women, West said.

“We know that social enterprises are much more likely to be led by women than traditional startups, and they are often headed by young entrepreneurs.”

She said Ethique is a real example of how a mission-led social enterprise can be successful internationally. “Lots of people know about it, yes, and want to understand how we did it right.”

It was “really important” to speak up and follow your intuition in business, she said.

Advice can conflict with values

“When you're a new founder, surrounded with business mentors or advisers, they give you advice that might be based on more typical business advice, which is not always – but often is – in direct conflict with your mission-based values.

“Sometimes it's about ensuring that you have said your piece and that you all feel comfortable, and typically newer entrepreneurs might feel a bit uncomfortable in that situation."

West said she follows her intuition when it comes to things she's incredibly passionate about, like values and sustainability ethics.

The idea that profit is the No 1 driver of a business shouldn’t come at the cost of your values, she said.

West said businesses like Ethique’s – that are mission-led and care about everybody along the supply chain all the way through to the end-user –  are financially viable and can be “absolutely successful.”

“They are absolutely something that should exist in today's world.”

Disclaimer: Tamara Poi-Ngawhika was an early-stage investor in Ethique.