When Anna Ross launched Kester Black – an Australian made, cruelty-free, vegan nail polish line – in 2009, the decision to make her bourgeoning business an ethically conscious one came naturally to her. But it has since developed into their business’ most powerful weapon.
“Growing up in New Zealand, I spent most of my weekends as a child in a small rural community in Central Otago,” explains Anna, who was named 2016’s Telstra Australian Young Business Woman of the year. “I believe that this upbringing instilled a strong belief in environmental stewardship and animal welfare. To me, it was an obvious choice to remain vegan and cruelty free.”
Staying true to her values has given Kester Black, which was initially a jewellery line, a point of difference in an otherwise crowded market, but Anna’s road to success has been far from conventional.
After graduating from Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin in 2008 and armed with her fashion degree, Anna moved to Melbourne where she began work as a design assistant for a major clothing brand. Yet what should have been her dream job was more of a nightmare for Anna, who was left feeling depleted and unfulfilled as yet another gruelling week drew to a close.
By way of coping, she spent the little free time she had designing and making jewellery under the label Kester Black, a business she launched with just $50 from her wages. But after three years, Anna had grown tied of working with sterling silver and wanted to explore a way to colour the metal she designed with.
“After discovering this was possible using enamel paint, it struck an idea that we could make nail polishes to match our rings,” says Anna, who notes that the process of developing the idea into their initial range of varnishes took over a year.
With the release of their six initial varnishes in 2012, Kester Black, the leading cruelty free and sustainable manicure and skincare brand as we know it today, was born and Anna’s decision to create beautiful polishes without compromising her ethical values was solidified.
“When I was in the R&D phase of producing nail polish, I learnt a lot about the beauty industry’s process which I wasn’t previously aware of,” she explains, hinting at the animal testing larger companies perform in order to export their product to China, a country that requires proof of animal testing before accepting bulk shipments.
“I don’t believe that we need any markets that require animal testing to grow and remain profitable,” says Anna. “To me, great design is not only about creating solutions of beauty and high quality but also making them a reality in a positive way for society and the environment. In business, my beliefs manifest in a drive for innovation and establishing sustainable, ethical options for the consumer.”
Anna isn’t just paying lip service; as well as being vegan and cruelty-free, Kester Black is non-discriminatory (water-permeable, halal nail polish, anyone?), all of their marketing is gender-neutral (“I believe in creating products for anyone regardless of their age, gender, religion or race”) and even B corp certified.
“Applying for B Corp accreditation was an obvious next step for Kester Black, and proved to be a useful tool for identifying other areas within our business where we could improve,” says Anna of the rigorous screening process Kester Black undergoes in order to assess its social and environmental performance. “We promise to donate at least two per cent of our revenue to charities. In 2015, we donated 3.5 per cent and this year we are on track to donate over 14 per cent of our annual turnover.”
As you can see, Anna holds her business to an incredibly high standard but she implores everyone to do the same – for both their company’s sake and the planet’s. “We have an edge and a point of difference because of our ethical credentials,” says Anna, who has just embarked on a year-long collaboration with PANTONE and has been busy developing an ethical, cruelty-free gel nail product that she promises will change the mani/pedi industry.
“Nowadays, the younger generations expect companies to be honest transparent and ethical, and that is easier to attain starting out, rather than having to change things over as your business grows,” Anna points out, adding that the bottom line is simply thus: “Companies have to change the way they operate or we won’t have a planet to live on for much longer.”