Why Kester Black Became a B Corp
Nikki Stefanoff in coversation with Anna Ross
Photos supplied by Kester Black
To learn more about B Corp, visit their website here.
Bestowed with the title of only beauty company in the world to be a B Corp, we caught up with Kester Black founder Anna Ross to talk responsible business and ethical beauty.
First, tell me how you transitioned from fashion to jewellery and then to nail polish?
I studied fashion back home in New Zealand and when I moved to Australia I couldn’t afford to ship my industrial sized sewing machine - it would have cost $2,000. So once I got here I started making jewellery as a way to keep my portfolio ticking over. One day I was trying to work out how to colour some sterling silver jewellery and realised that I could do it with nail polish. I tested it out by covering a ring in nail polish and then thought that it could be interesting to make a nail polish to match the rings and sell it as a separate product on our website. That's how Kester Black, as it is today, was born.
What is a B Corp?
B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Was it always important to you to create something ethical?
It was just common sense to me. When someone asks you 'do you want animals’ in your nail polish? You’re going to say 'no!' It was only when I was personally asked that question that I thought - why would I want that? So, it just made perfect sense.
I had no idea animals were used in the creation of nail polish...
Yeah, they often have crushed up beetles and fish scales in them to help create certain colours or particular effects. It’s becoming more unusual but it’s still pretty common, particularly with older cosmetic brands as they tend to find a product formulation that customers like and stick with it.
How difficult is to create a nail polish free of all chemicals? It’s not that difficult, which is what’s so stupid about brands that aren’t ethical. It’s not too much more expensive (or harder) to go vegan or cruelty free.
Do you make everything in Australia?
Yes, although that’s about to change.
We’re working on a lipstick formula at the moment - and because no one used to be that bothered about being vegan or cruelty free, all the formulas that are out aren't ethical enough for us. So, to create this product, the best thing we can do is to move offshore to Italy and France. Often in Australia, the technology isn’t quite there yet and because in Italy and France they’ve been making cosmetics for centuries they have higher capabilities.
So, Kester Black are famously the only beauty company in the world to be a B Corp. What was the thinking behind becoming a B Corp?
A few years ago I did a women in leadership course and part of that was writing down our personal values and our work values. It was so interesting to me as not only did I realise that they didn’t match, I also saw that my business values weren’t as good as they could be. I personally value honesty and trust and I realised that a way I could show this through my business was via transparency. Through becoming a B Corp I've married both my personal and my business values while demonstrating to our customers that we're not just another company who's going to take them for a ride and screw the environment at the same time.
Do you think that being a B Corp has made a difference to your business?
No, I don’t think that anybody really knows what a B Corp is and I don’t think that too many people care – something I think is changing. I don’t know any young person at the moment that isn’t interested in the social side of a business.
So, was your decision more of a personal one.
Yes, it was at the start. And, you know, it’s not great for us, profit wise, because there are restrictions in place which mean that we can’t expand into somewhere like China. You only become a B Corp because it speaks to you personally.
Finally, tell me the awesome story about where the name Kester Black came from.
When I was at university I spent two summers in a row with family friends in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ. I would work on a vineyard during the day and then friends and I would take a speedboat out after work. One day we drove over to Saint Kester Bay, which is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. My friend and I were sitting quietly in this peaceful place when a priest suddenly popped out of the bushes, quickly followed by nine others. They were in full black attire and were off on a bushwalk. It was such a weirdly hilarious juxtaposition. I knew that I wanted to call my business after Saint Kester Bay and the Black is in reference to the priests and what they were wearing. The best thing about this story is that I’ve told it a couple of times over the years and it was sitting in a blog post alongside a picture I has taken of Saint Kester Bay. There aren’t many pictures out there of Saint Kester Bay and it turned out that one of the priests had been looking online for a picture and had come across mine. He read my story and contacted me saying that he had been one of the priests walking that day and invited me to have a glass of wine with him the next time I was over there. So, I’m heading back to New Zealand very soon and Brother John and I are going to meet up and have a drink.