MENTION the phrase "clean beauty" and you're likely to be met with blank stares.
Despite this, the lesser-known natural, ethical and environmentally conscious sector of the beauty industry is now worth over $18 billion. This burgeoning growth is something New Zealand entrepreneur Brianne West can attest to.
Since she created Ethique (pronounced 'Et-eek') in 2012, West has crowd-funded over $2.8 million ($NZ3 million) from people around the world who are passionate about her zero-plastic, zero-waste beauty brand. After two crowd-funding raises, the company has over 350 shareholders who are zealous about the brand's solid beauty products (think shampoos, conditioners and cleansers) which come in compostable packaging.
"We knew we needed to raise capital and while conventional investment was on the table, equity crowd-funding had just been legalised in New Zealand. Essentially, it's like a mini stock offering - you sell shares in the company to people who like your product and brand and who want to support you," Ms West says. "People are really on board with the idea of plastic-free beauty and that momentum is growing rapidly."
The increase in savvy consumers opting to spend their money on beauty brands with an environmental and ethical track record has run in parallel with Ethique's growing success. The brand is now available in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and most recently Australia (through Priceline stores nationally). On average, Ethique has grown around 350 per cent year on year.
"It seems crazy to me that we don't require businesses to be responsible for the entire life cycle of their product. We need to put the onus back on the company profiting from a product to ensure the packaging won't be suffocating our planet," Ms West says.
All of Ethique's products must meet three key principles. Ingredients must be naturally derived, biodegradable, safe and cruelty-free. The products must work as well as, if not better than, their liquid counterparts. And lastly, packaging must be compostable and plastic-free.
This commitment to plastic-free packaging is possibly Ethique's biggest focus. Ms West says around 80 billion plastic bottles end up in landfill each year from shampoo and conditioner packaging alone, and by 2050, it's estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Not only do Ethique's solid products save water (up to 90 per cent of regular shampoos and conditioners is water), the company has made a meaningful impact on the amount of plastic polluting the globe.
"So far we've saved one million plastic bottles from heading to landfill, and we expect to do another six million next year alone," Ms West says.
Perhaps the most challenging part of Ethique's mission has been to convince consumers that their solid bars, that look like a colourful cake of soap, are as effective as traditional liquid products.
"People tend to love the concept but be very sceptical about whether they actually work. Thankfully we're building a following around the world of loyal followers whose reviews and word of mouth are convincing people that solid products are just as good as their less concentrated counterparts."
According to Melissa Maden, Priceline's haircare buyer, consumers are becoming more and more conscious about selecting products that have a positive effect on the planet.
"Customers are requesting products that are vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free and sulfate-free - no nasties. They're aware of their own impact on today's world through packaging wastage, chemical impact in our waterways and whether the product has been created ethically by the manufacturer," Ms Maden says.
Similarly, Sephora Australia has seen their "wellness" category (which includes sustainable and natural products) grow 300 per cent year on year, and it's all thanks to consumer demand.
"Women are seeing beauty as a natural extension of their health, and are scanning beauty labels just as thoroughly as they do the labels on their food," Sephora Australia head of category management Sophie Bottwood says.
"The social movement for the wellness/clean beauty category is really strong with our customers and we are so excited to be able to continue to cater to their needs."
As other high-profile brands (such as Trilogy, The Body Shop, RMS Beauty and Tata Harper) join the clean beauty movement, momentum is building for a positive shift in the beauty industry.