The Green Team

Sustainable beauty is the future. Good chats with some of the industry heavyweights to find out what makes them tick.

As a reader of Good, chances are you’ve heard of some of the biggest green beauty superstar brands: think Emma Lewisham, Aleph Beauty, Ethique. Not only are these companies leading the sustainable skincare and make-up space, they’re Kiwi-run (and female-led!) and we here at Good are massive fans.

Green beauty is on the rise, with brands offering not just products with transparent and sustainable supply chains, but circular packaging and carbon offsetting too.

In the next few pages, we profile some of our favourite green beauty champions to find out what they stand for, where the industry is going in the future and which of their products is their favourite, if you’re looking to make the switch!

Anna Ross – Kester Black

Anna Ross is the founder and managing director of Kester Black, a sustainable nail polish and make-up brand that is also a certified B Corp.

Why did you start Kester Black?

After my fashion degree at Otago, I moved to Melbourne and started making jewellery to keep my skills and portfolio ticking over. At some point, I thought it would be really cool to launch some nail polish with my rings as a kind of upsell product – so I started looking into nail polish and found it was a pretty crappy product. I wondered if you could make it in a way that was good for the environment while still appealing to people. I launched six nail polish colours in August 2012 and tripled the revenue of my little business in three months – and since then it’s just kept growing. 

We launched the lipsticks next, which made sense because it’s another “highlight” product that makes people feel good. I wanted to make sustainable beauty products that people also loved to use – and one of the most important things for me was the design. I don’t think sustainable brands have to come in brown boxes, which is what the existing sustainable and ethical brands were doing when I launched. After all, we know, 45 per cent of our customers are beauty enthusiasts who don’t necessarily care about sustainability. But of course, our products are more than their beautiful packaging – they work really well too.

What makes your products sustainable?

We have full transparency over our supply chain and we know that our ingredients are safe and sustainably produced. We manufacture our cosmetics in the EU, which has the most rigorous ethical standards globally. When you manufacture with the hardest regulations globally, you know that your product is going to be better than anything else out there.

We’re vegan and cruelty-free, and we’re also carbon negative. We became carbon neutral in 2017 and we’ve been offsetting 150% of our emissions since then. It just seemed like the logical thing to do – I didn’t think it was anything special, although it might have been exciting and new for the beauty industry! 

We’re also a B Corp and were the first cosmetics company in the world to get that certification. Basically, that means our sustainability goes further than just our products – it’s about the whole business: our staff, governance and transparency. It’s a really difficult certification to get so you know it’s meaningful!

We design all our products with packaging in mind because it’s hard to go back and retrofit packaging to a product, something we’ve learned from experience! We’re thinking about sustainability at every stage now.

We also have a really thorough and rigorous sustainability strategy which you can read on our website. It was the result of a huge audit of our business where we looked at both the things we’ve been doing well and the things we need to improve on. We’ve set around 20 goals for us to achieve. We also created a benchmark for other beauty brands to use. That was really important to me because when I came to write the strategy, there weren’t a lot of other beauty brands’ sustainability strategies to work off. I’ve always thought that it’s up to brands to be responsible – consumers don’t have the time to go and research all this stuff.

How has the beauty industry changed since when you started?

When I launched Kester Black, there was only one brand in Australia and New Zealand making cruelty-free nail polish and they only had six colours. Now, everybody has that certification – it’s the minimum standard. When we came onto the market, we got vegan certified, which led to other brands getting vegan certified. Now, there are even a few that are B Corps and carbon neutral.

Overall, we’ve seen that the big players like L’Oréal or Estée Lauder definitely aren’t changemakers, but when small brands like Kester Black do something differently or lead by example, they make their customers aware of it, and lots of small businesses making lots of customers aware of sustainability issues creates industry-wide change. There just seems to be about a 10-year lag on when small brands do things and when the market catches up – it’s a slow shift.

What’s your favourite of your products?

The Miracle Treatment Base Coat – that’s our hero product. The Miracle Treatment Base Coat is hardening, so it actually helps your nails grow stronger, and it’s just the most wearable colour, because it’s clear but it has pearls in it, so it’s neutral but also pretty. Also, the amount of positive reviews we’ve had on this product is just fantastic – it’s so nice to hear that Kester Black products are actually making a difference in people’s lives!

Emma Lewisham – Emma Lewisham

Emma Lewisham is the co-founder and CEO of her eponymous brand, Emma Lewisham, a scientifically validated 100 per cent natural skincare brand launched in 2019 that’s quickly becoming a cult favourite around the world for products from its coveted Skin Reset Serum to a limited edition Holiday Illuminating Face and Body Oil. The brand recently launched a 100 per cent circular packaging design, the blueprint for which is freely available.

Why did you start Emma Lewisham?

I was using hydroquinone to treat my skin’s hyperpigmentation and it was very effective, but it’s a questionable ingredient that’s banned in multiple countries. I just thought, why can’t we have natural products that are also really effective, so there’s no trade-off? In parallel, I saw the opportunity to build a brand that offered a new vision of beauty: one that is 100 per cent circular designed and working towards carbon positivity and total transparency. If the whole industry moved to a circular design model, we would reduce emissions by 70 per cent. This is a vision I am incredibly passionate about.

What makes your products sustainable?

Our products are all refillable and returnable, meaning we take ownership for our packaging. We reuse our packaging, and if we can’t, we pay for it to be recycled so we know exactly what happens to it – and we design with circularity in mind.

All our products are also now independently certified carbon positive, under Toitū Envirocare’s climate positive product certification, meaning we offset more carbon than we emit. We looked at where carbon was emitted across our supply chain and put measures in place to reduce emissions and offset the rest, and we’re constantly looking for ways to reduce our offsetting.

We offer full transparency about our products. On our website, you can find out all about our ingredients – what country they came from, how they’re made, whether they’re organically certified – and we ensure that there’s no animal testing along the whole supply chain.

We also think about how we run the business. For instance, our laboratory that formulates our products uses 100 per cent renewable energy. Basically, we make sure we’re comfortable with all our decisions and every aspect of the business aligns with our values. 

Finally, we disclose our sustainability strategy and goals on our website and report back to customers, suppliers and retailers on our progress along the way. We do see our brand’s role partly as educators. 

How has the beauty industry changed since when you started?

The biggest change I’ve seen is customers awakening and asking more questions about what’s in their products, how they’re made, what the carbon numbers on products mean and what happens to the packaging end of life. And I’m seeing it not just from that percentage of sustainably-minded people, but actually from the mainstream. That’s really heartening.

I’ve also seen a shift in the industry at large. When we entered the market, we started talking about the need for brands to take ownership of packaging, because lots of recyclable packaging isn’t recycled in New Zealand due to the economics of kerbside systems. Championing brand responsibility was a really new idea and we saw it bring a whole new way of thinking to the market, especially amongst retailers.

We believe this is not the area to be competitive, which is why we’re giving out our circular design packaging blueprint industry-wide, free of charge. Instead, let’s be competitive about reducing our carbon numbers. Imagine how much we could shift the dials as an industry! I’m definitely seeing the industry moving in this direction now, and I was really heartened at the brands who came forward after we released our blueprint – some of them are really large, multinational brands.

What’s your favourite of your products?

The Skin Reset Serum. It’s the best product I’ve ever had for my hyper-pigmentation and tested against hydroquinone in vitro it was actually more effective. That was our first confirmation that natural products could be as powerful as anything in the world – and that’s the premise of the brand: natural formulas, backed by science, that deliver real results.

Brianne West – Ethique

Brianne West is the founder and chief executive of Ethique, a concentrated beauty and skincare brand available around the world. Ethique’s range includes solid shampoo bars, concentrated bodywash and even household cleaning products!

Why did you start Ethique?

I had always been passionate about animals and wanting to protect the environment for them and for people – that was always in the background. 

I started my first business at 19, when I was at university, and it taught me that I love business and that ethical business can be really impactful. While I was finishing up my degree, I decided I wanted to create a company that was environmentally regenerative, rather than just sustainable, and also one that treated people ethically all the way through the supply chain, which is surprisingly uncommon. I basically wanted to create a company that was as ethical as was humanly possible and see what happened – so I launched Ethique.

Why the beauty industry?

That would be my science passion coming through! My degree was in science and that led me into the cosmetic chemistry side of things. I’m not particularly passionate about beauty in general, but it was a really “dirty” industry – in terms of both waste and the supply chain and things like human rights – and had global reach, so I thought I could make a big impact. 

Also, the beauty industry is fun! It’s creative, it’s hands-on and it’s a great way to speak to consumers one-on-one. I’m very much still a formulator alongside
our other chemists, which I love.

What makes your products sustainable?

There are two sides to this: product and operations. Our concentrated products save a lot of water, but we’re also saving plastic waste. So far, we’ve saved 13 million plastic bottles, which come with massive carbon footprints, from both manufacture and shipping. One of our shampoo bars has just 8 per cent of the carbon footprint of its liquid equivalent. 

We also ensure our ingredients are all ethically sourced from communities who are paid fairly so they can look after their communities and the environment.

In terms of operations, we’re doing what all companies should be doing now – becoming carbon negative. We offset the carbon we emit by about 128% and we’re always trying to minimise our emissions. Basically, we’re always looking for ways to improve.

What are you proudest of so far?

When I started nine years ago, I wanted to save a million plastic bottles by 2020. I thought that was the most insurmountable goal ever, but we hit 10 million bottles last year – that was pretty cool. Now the goal is half a billion by 2030. 

There have been lots of other highs, like being stocked in mainstream retailers like Boot’s pharmacies in the UK, for example, because it shows that consumer demand for environmentally friendly products is only getting stronger. When we started the company, there wasn’t really anything like this in the market, and now there are so many companies out there offering similar products. 

A lot of people ask me if I get bothered by our competitors. But I think the best thing about our journey is how much it’s inspired other companies to do something similar and raised consumer awareness.

How has the beauty industry changed since when you started?

There are definitely lots more sustainability claims now, which I’m in two minds about. I love the focus on sustainability, but so much of it is greenwashing nonsense – ineffectual or just said for marketing. The biggest way you can impact people and planet is to remove waste from your supply chain and be fair-trade, which isn’t consumer-facing so it doesn’t get so much attention. But the great thing is, you can see consumers are smarter than ever and now demanding better from greenwashing brands. Overall, there are lots of cool initiatives going on.

What’s your favourite of your products?

Definitely our Pinkalicious shampoo bar. Obviously I love them all – but that’s the one I keep returning to! In saying that, our new Professor Curl shampoo is amazing, even though my hair is pretty straight.

Emma Peters – Aleph Beauty

Emma Peters is the founder of Aleph Beauty, a sustainable make-up brand offering everything from concealer/foundation to colourful cheek/lip tints.

Why did you start Aleph?

My background is a make-up artist, and about 15 years ago I also became interested in holistic wellness. Eventually, I realised I was talking to my make-up clients in the chair about health and wellbeing – but using products on them that were not in alignment with what I was talking about. I set out to look for natural alternatives, but there wasn’t much around. I opened an online natural beauty store, where I handpicked single products from different brands that met my criteria – but there wasn’t much to choose from and I found even organic product ranges would come packed in plastic, or the branding would be off. You want make-up to be covetable – something you’re really drawn to and excited about using, not just settling for because it ticks the “natural” box. 

I wanted a beautiful, natural range that was highly functional, that professional make-up artists can use but was also easy enough for anyone to use. I couldn’t find it already on offer, so I set about creating it myself.

What makes your products sustainable?

Lots of things! We offer a smaller range of colours for our concealer/foundation and cheek/lip tint, and all the products can be mixed to create new shades and textures, meaning they suit the widest range of skin types and shades. Making the products highly adaptable reduces waste and stops customers getting bored. 

Our products are also multi-use – our serum/primer doubles as a serum and a primer, for instance. And we’ve always done skincare-infused make-up. It’s really important to me that your make-up is not only not doing you harm, it’s improving your skin over time. Hopefully that helps people cut down on other products, too.

We’re also very conscious of choosing partners to work with and our suppliers. Whether it’s packaging or raw materials for the products, I personally vet every single ingredient. We go the extra mile to make sure things are sustainable – for example, the base stickers on our jars are made by a company in the States because they’re the only supplier I found that makes a compostable sticker. It’s really not about the bottom line. All the ingredients are on my conscience so
I want to make the right decision from the get-go.

How has the beauty industry changed since you launched Aleph?

The clean beauty realm is really growing. It’s still a minefield because there’s a lot of greenwashing, but the consumer is becoming more adept at unpicking brands’ claims. I really think the industry is moving in the right direction. 

One thing that’s slower to change is packaging – that’s because it’s really, really hard. There’s no one obvious answer for more sustainable packaging. At Aleph, we’ve gone with glass jars, which we take back in-house after use via an initiative called Re Aleph and sterilise before putting them back into recirculation. We partner with a company to crush the glass and put it into different industries when we can’t reuse it any longer. And our lids are aluminium, which is highly recyclable. But we have the advantage of being a small, agile New Zealand company – we can still be innovative and pivot quickly. It’s harder for companies in bigger markets to change things like their packaging quickly.

What’s your favourite of your products?

I’ll have to choose two – our concealer/foundation and the cheek/lip tint in Grounded. The concealer/foundation just picks up the face, it makes the skin look like the best version of your skin, not like a mask, although you can get full coverage if you want. 

And Grounded is my personal go-to cheek and lip colour, plus it mixes beautifully with all our other cheek-lip tints.

Brigit Blair – Linden Leaves

Brigit Blair is the founder of Christchurch-based Linden Leaves, a natural skincare brand that has been a Kiwi favourite since 1995.

Why did you start Linden Leaves?

It wasn’t something I had a big dream about doing, I more just fell into it. Two of my three children had exceptionally bad eczema, asthma and allergies. They couldn’t use soap so we had to use soap substitute, which was this horrible gluggy goop that smelled disgusting – they used to tease my little girl at school because she smelled from all the eczema treatments. 

I just thought, wouldn’t it be much better to treat her eczema with natural ingredients? And I thought having something that smelled and looked beautiful would help with the daily distress of having to treat it. I never intended to end up with a reasonable-sized small business, it was really just something I was doing for my children. 

What makes your products sustainable?

My vision has always been to leave things in a better state than I found them. I think there are things everybody can do on a personal level and also taking responsibility on a company level. That’s started being legislated now, but we’ve always taken the harder road of best practice. 

We were always considering what we could do to make our brand planet-friendly, long before sustainability was a big corporate focus – how we could make things recyclable and use minimal packaging, and at work, we manage our own recycling as well. We work with overseas suppliers to remove their packaging, and we always have done. To me, that’s always been just something inherent that we should do. It’s not something we’ve done for marketing purposes, it’s just something that I really feel strongly about.

How has the beauty industry changed since when you started?

What keeps me excited is the ever-growing range of natural ingredients available. When we first started, you could get very few and now, you can get almost any fruit, vegetable or cereal in extract or oil or powder form. I love being able to get things like primrose oil or papaya extract or pineapple extract to put into our products, because for me that’s quite a complete holistic circle – feeding your skin, your largest organ, with the best the natural world can offer.

I also think everyone is much more aware about sustainability and recycling, which has been a very positive change. I know there’s a long way to go still, especially from the big multinationals, but I think we’re on the right track and it’s a continuous work in progress.

What’s your favourite of your products?

I really love the Regenerating Night Cream, which contains marshmallow extract, goji berries and white tea. It’s got a lovely texture and fragrance and I think it’s just the perfect thing to apply just before you go to sleep after a busy day.

I also love our body oil. We freeze-dry and handmake every bouquet or fruit decoration that’s in the bottle, whether we’re making 1 or 1,000. It’s the oil itself that’s really nourishing for your skin, so we don’t necessarily have to include botanicals, but to me, it perfectly reflects our ethos of feeding your soul.

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