Anna Ross is the founder of ethical beauty business Kester Black, the first brand of its kind with B Corp certification.
— Find the right tools to set a strategy: The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
I call it “the Kester Black playbook”. It’s a worksheet… The first question is “why do we exist or what’s our core purpose?” The second is “how do we behave, or what are our core values versus aspirational values?” Then it’s “what do we do and how we will succeed?” They’re strategic anchors that clarified exactly what we were working towards as a business…
Those three questions – the strategic anchors – think of them as your non-negotiables. Every decision you make with the business moving forward has to consider those three things. These anchors provide a filter or lens, and every decision must be evaluated through it to ensure consistency. This is what will differentiate us, and we will make decisions in a purposeful, intentional, and unique way that will maximise our success and differentiate us from our competitors.
— Design with sustainability in mind, but be aware it takes time to learn how to measure impact and work towards bigger sustainability
Good design or sustainable thinking comes from the design phase, especially when you’re making skincare or cosmetics. It’s really hard to retrofit sustainability, but it’s easy to design it in.
When accreditations came in for us, we got Vegan and Cruelty-free first – then B-Corp was the next big one we got. It took us three years to change our business to get it. Even just doing the free B-Corp questionnaire gives you an idea of what sort of things they’re measuring. I tell everybody to do the B-Corp quiz, to get a feel for where their business is sitting. It really makes you think. We thought that we were ethical and sustainable and then we did the B-Corp questionnaire and I was like ‘woah!’ We were Vegan, Cruelty-free and used sustainable packaging and I thought that was all there is to sustainability. But that was early on in my journey, and I learnt so much from doing that quiz. We worked on the business for three years before we got enough points to be able to certify. Don’t put pressure on yourself, it’s one step at a time.
— Use accreditations well
If you’re going to go for accreditations (which you should always consider if you’re a sustainable, ethical brand or business), look at the accreditations. Even if you don’t get them, just look at the standards. For example, we want to go for CleanCert accreditation, but we’ve been making products for ten years. We looked at the ingredients lists, and now when we’re about to launch a new product category, we design with that list in mind. But it’s hard for us to get the CleanCert accreditation on any of our other products because we didn’t design them that way from the start… but in the future, we will know that all of our products will comply already.
We got accreditation to create transparency in the mind of our customers… if you have accreditations that are globally recognised, then you cut back on the customer service work you have to do. It’s a hefty upfront energy load, but then in the long run, it will save you lots of time and energy communicating those concepts to customers.
Start doing your business first, and do the bits you can when you start. Then you begin to improve it. That’s where these accreditations came in for us.
— Shop around for accreditations
Accreditation providers or partners that provide frameworks or services are so varied and I feel like lots of sustainable businesses get scammed when they’re trying to do something good. That isn’t good for the business or the consumer, because if a sustainable business is wasting money trying to get that done, it stops them from being able to move forward and do good… We ended up going with Leaping Bunny International for our cruelty-free accreditation, because it does third party audits – all of our accreditations are audited.
— Be honest
When we launched ten years ago, sustainability was the kind of thing hippy mums were interested in. We’ve definitely made a couple of mistakes over the years. One thing we’ve always done well is admit when we make mistakes. We did this really big sustainability strategy, but we never cemented it into anything, so this year we cemented it all.
We wrote 20 goals that we’re working towards. Some we’ve achieved, some we’re almost there, and some we haven’t even started on. Showing the progress is important – discussing where we’re being set back instead of branding ourselves as the most ethical and sustainable beauty brand in the world.
People can go onto our website and see where we’re failing, and if we make a mistake we just say it; we created that community. You don’t want to set yourself up as the leader because then people can pick up on you and crush you. Instead, we have a completely transparent conversation with your customers and community. That’s why they like us, because we’re honest, not because we’re the best.