Real Life

From boardroom to backyard bliss – how Kiwi entrenpreneuer Brianne West finds inspiration

The Kiwi entrepreneur is finding inspiration in greener pastures

Two years ago, Brianne West stood on a Canterbury lifestyle property, staring out at the undulating hills, a huge 50-metre tall gum tree in front of her with a stream nearby and knew, despite the dilapidated house being in a complete state of disrepair, she’d found home.

While the 2019 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, whose first business Ethique is now stocked in more than 8000 stores around the globe, was previously more used to the boardroom than the farm, Brianne set her sights on rewilding the land.

This meant building “dino domes” for skinks, planting massive native shelterbelts to encourage insects and creating a sanctuary for her beloved animals.

“A lot of people tried to talk me out of it, saying time was not on my side and I would struggle to manage such a big property,” recalls Brianne, 36.

“Certainly to begin with, it was a lot of work, tens of thousands of plants – that’s a lot of holes to dig. But it’s been a labour of love and feels super-productive.”

The environmentalist shares her idyllic property and recently renovated home with a menagerie of furry and scaly friends, including two horses, Popcorn and Jack, two Highland cows, two goats, two rescue calves, the family dog Bear, a tortoise, frogs and fish, and Nessie, the bearded dragon.

“I really like lizards – people think they’re boring, but if I throw a blueberry, Nessie will chase it. She’s friendly and will clamber up on you for a sleep like a cat.”

Smiling as she talks about her animals, Brianne spots some lizards sunning themselves outside in the dino domes, which she describes as safe oases of skink-friendly rocks, wood and plants, which attract native lizards.

Brianne’s hands-on with her animals.

“Ethique was my life for 10 years and that’s probably not well-balanced. At some point, you need something outside of that. Scuba diving and the animals brought more balance, but with entrepreneurship, you’re all in. I love the drive but sometimes you just need to go and sit outside under a tree for a minute.”

Founded in her university flat kitchen, the regenerative beauty business brought her global recognition and accolades, including being named One Young World’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2020, being inducted into the Women Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame this year and recently scooping a Kea World Class Award for Kiwis making a splash internationally. But Brianne says it’s still wild to see how well the brand has done.

“Entrepreneurs don’t always celebrate successes because we’re always pushing – there’s always more to do bigger and better, so we don’t look back. But when I do, it’s pretty cool and kind of weird, like how did that happen?!

“I started with a goal to rid the world of plastic bottles, I worked bloody hard, but I was also lucky. The timing was perfect and my family supported me from day one.”

When it comes to whānau, Brianne’s parents Janette and Martyn are still behind her every step of the way, and have spent countless hours helping her transform the property.

“Occasionally, they good-naturedly tease me that five years ago, I had never planted anything,” she laughs.

“I was seven when we moved from the Isle of Man to Aotearoa. I always loved animals but I didn’t have a great deal of experience with the outdoors. My parents bought me a slide and I took my book and read on top of it.”

Proud parents Janette and Martyn have got her back.

While growing up, no one could have predicted her passion for the outdoors. The savvy only child’s step into business was less surprising after she started her first venture – a pet detective company – at just eight.

Ethique was sold in 2020 and Brianne stepped down as CEO earlier this year, giving her more time to focus on the land and two new projects, Business, but Better – mentoring other businesses trying to change the world – and Incrediballs, her brand-new plastic free, drink concentrate start-up.

“My parents always encouraged me to try whatever I wanted, to try it well and it’s okay if it doesn’t work out,” shares Brianne.

“And nothing feels better than helping other start-ups, from being unsure of how this is going to work and make money, to launch day. There isn’t a cooler feeling.”

Looking to the future, she’s not exactly sure what’s in store, but if the first 36 years of life are anything to go by, it’s going to be a great adventure.

“I would like to hope that I’m still diving at 70,” she muses. “I have a couple of other business ideas, and I would still love to be an explorer and explore the wilderness.

“I can’t imagine being retired. As cheesy as it sounds, I would always like to be useful, and to be helpful to people and the planet.”

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