Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Small business: Natural beauty - Brianne West

Brianne West is in her third year at Canterbury University studying biology. She started her solid cosmetics business, Sorbet, in 2012.

Brianne West, founder of Sorbet.
Brianne West, founder of Sorbet.

How did Sorbet come about?

I started my first natural bodycare company when I was 19 and fairly fresh out of high school. I really only played around with that for five years as a hobby before starting another company - this time in confectionary. I had a few difficult years, so sold that company and decided to have a good look at what I was doing. I wanted a completely new direction, new brand and new products and finally settled on a 100% solid cosmetics company.

I wanted Sorbet to be a company that genuinely tries to make the world a better place. I went a slightly different route and sourced water-soluble paper for our labels so that most of our products are 100% waste free. All products have to use biodegradable ingredients and as many that could be locally sourced as possible. Obviously they all have to be certified as cruelty free by our suppliers and I take great pains to ensure that the ingredients aren't hurting the environment.

What drove you to create natural products?

I never set out to create natural products. For starters, the word 'natural' has just become a marketing gimmick placed on products that are usually far from it. I'm an advocate of ingredients that have been scientifically proven to be safe, whether they are natural in origin or not. I do prefer to use naturally sourced colours and essential oils over fragrance oils as they contain ingredients I would rather avoid.

I was more interested in creating products with a point of difference - being solid - that had genuine benefits for the environment - mainly being packaging free - and that actually worked. The natural bodycare industry seemed the perfect medium to combine my interests in both chemistry and biology.

New Zealand has a reputation for natural beauty and being '100% pure'. Has this had any impact on the business?

Absolutely. Sorbet gets many international orders already and we are talking to a chain of department stores in Taiwan about stocking our products. They have told us that New Zealand-made products are in high demand and that is clear by the international success brands such as Living Nature and Trilogy have had. We just need to ensure New Zealand maintains that reputation.

What have been the challenges in terms of starting and growing your business?

Sorbet was started with minimal investment as I'm still a student, which makes investing in things such as marketing and custom-made packaging difficult.

The market is also quite saturated. There are many natural beauty brands in New Zealand - a few hobbyists but also a lot of growing companies all with fantastic products. This competition is what drove me to create products and a brand that is quite unique.

And it is a struggle to get hold of some ingredients here, so we have to factor expensive shipping costs in to our prices. Being so small, many manufacturers aren't interested in dealing in less than container loads, which makes our selection a little more limited.

These challenges just force us to be more inventive with our formulation and marketing strategies. We often send parcels out to beauty editors and bloggers with products and other props such as flavoured syrups or flowers to try and be more memorable.

What are your ambitions for the business?

I want Sorbet to be available all around the world. I am always trying to think of more creative ways of getting the word out there, but often the best scoops are the ones you get by accident. We were found by Elle magazine in 2013, for example, which featured one of our bars.

In the future I would like Sorbet to get involved in developing countries and help stimulate industry there, much like Anita Roddick did with the Body Shop. By creating micro factories or working directly with plantations you can get an excellent product and provide an excellent income for workers who might ordinarily struggle.

I am a massive advocate for banning cosmetic animal testing along with numerous other animal and environmental issues and as Sorbet grows, I would like to get more involved in pushing for law changes here and internationally.


Coming up in Small Business: Productivity is an issue we hear lots about - how to get more out of your business relative to what you put in. If you've got a good story to share about how you've boosted productivity in your small business, please get in touch.

- NZ Herald

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