The Best Business Advice Kester Black Founder Anna Ross Ever Received
From side hustle to beauty success, Kester Black founder Anna Ross shares her “slowly slowly” approach to business and life
Anna Ross never set out to work in the beauty industry.
In fact, Kester Black was originally a means to an end — a jewellery brand helping Anna fund her way through her fashion degree at Otago Polytechnic.
The perfect accoutrement to her range of sterling silver jewellery, Anna was inspired to add a tight edit of six nail polishes to her repertoire.
But as she began to learn about bad practices in the beauty industry (animal testing, harmful ingredients and a lack of transparency), her quest to cut through the noise became clear.
“I made vegan and cruelty-free products and published all of the ingredients online — something that wasn’t done back then [in 2009],” she says.
The polishes were an overnight success, sharing shelf space with Anna’s jewellery in selected fashion and design stores. Kester Black’s revenue tripled in three months.
Fast-forward 12 years and today the range extends to more than 50 nail polishes, 10 lipsticks, and four new eyeliners, all with clean, long-lasting, vegan formulations. Skincare and brow pencils are coming soon, Anna teases.
Each new launch serves to inject a little more fun to the brand — case-in-point the 100 per cent natural and COSMOS-standard eyeliners, which double as eyeshadows thanks to their smooth blendability.
“They [eyeliners] were the natural next step for us as we wanted to build on our colour cosmetics before expanding into other product lines. There has also been significant growth in the segment and because of recent global events, I wanted people to experience a little bit of fun in their cosmetics,” Anna says, adding that new colours will be added to the range in 2022.
While the Kester Black range continues to grow, Anna says she’s in no rush. Hers is a much a slower approach than many mass beauty brands, who release newness multiple times a season.
Wisdom offered by a friend and expert in product development guides Anna to this day. “She told me: ‘You only get once chance at launching beauty products. If the quality is crappy, you will lose that customer forever,” which has really stuck with me,” Anna says.
“It’s the reason why it takes years for us to develop products and also the reason why we are unable to manufacture our colour cosmetics locally,” Anna says, adding that Australia and New Zealand lack the infrastructure and technology to keep up with the European manufacturers that produce Kester Black in the same factories as leading luxury brands.
Kester Black’s credentials are lengthy, and in retrospect Anna says she’s glad she applied for Choose Cruelty Free and Vegan Society certifications early on in the product development process.
This allowed for traceability from the outset, Anna explains, knowing that her manufacturer sourced raw materials from European producers who were regulated under some of the world’s most rigorous cosmetics standards.
“Our products are entirely manufactured in Europe, with partners that make up that top one per cent of manufacturers for sustainability and transparency, globally. This has given us greater confidence, insight and control over our entire supply chain,” Anna says.
“We can see where and when every single ingredient and packaging component was manufactured and by who. It’s important because you want to be sure that all of your ingredients have been sourced and produced free from slavery, child labour, or any employee exploitation of any kind. This covers wages, working conditions and accessible ways to report any issues along the way.”
Transparency is just the tip of the proverbial when it comes to the changing attitudes of beauty consumers, Anna explains, citing they’re more discerning now than ever when it comes to using their purchasing power to support brands who align with their values.
“Consumer attitudes towards beauty are changing because we have more access to information. I personally don’t want to be supporting things like child labour through my purchasing behaviours. As soon as I am made aware of an issue, like personal care products that may be causing me harm, I make pretty immediate changes to prevent and avoid them,” Anna says.
As part of its Better Beauty Growth Plan, Kester Black has partnered with The Carbon Reduction Institute to offset twice as much carbon as it emits each year — rendering the brand carbon positive.
“It’s not enough for our customers to reduce, reuse and recycle. As a growing business, we hold ourselves accountable and responsible for leading by example; this means reducing and reversing our carbon footprint,” Anna says.
It's been a busy few years for Anna, but life has adopted a more relaxed pace since she relocated to Wanaka with her partner Fergus. “I moved here to feel more balanced, as I had been getting burned out living in the city,” she says.
“We work pretty hard during the week, but if the weather is great, we might take an afternoon off to get up the mountain for some skiing or hiking. We both love getting out into nature so our days always involve going outside.”
It’s an unconventional work day for most, but the privilege of having such flexibility certainly isn’t lost on Anna, who says her daily meditation practice helps keep her grounded and focused.