Wanaka woman wants $2 million to expand beauty business

Wanaka businesswoman Anna Ross and her partner Fergus Sully are preparing for international take-off in the beauty products industry.

In just one intensely busy year, the couple have moved from Melbourne to Wanaka, bought their first car, purchased a section to build their first house, rescued a stray cat, got engaged, and taken up rock climbing.

Now they want to raise $2 million to expand their business, the award-winning Kester Black range of ethical vegan beauty products sold in New Zealand and Australia.

Last week the couple launched an equity crowdfunding offer to help fund expansion of the brand into the United States and Europe over the next three years.

"Two million, we could do so much more with that in business than buy a house," Ms Ross said.

It sounds — and is — a lot of money but Ms Ross says on a grand scale, the amount is just enough to expand her product range and scale her retail and e-commerce plans upwards.

"I am looking for a runway for growth ... I want to be a proper cosmetics brand," she said.

The Otago born and bred businesswoman founded Kester Black in Melbourne in 2014.

Since then, the former Otago Polytechnic fashion graduate and jewellery designer has won many awards, including Telstra’s Australian Young Business Woman of the year in2016.

Wanaka business Kester Black's operations manager Fergus Sully and founder Anna Ross (holding...
Wanaka business Kester Black's operations manager Fergus Sully and founder Anna Ross (holding rescue cat Chitten) have launched a equity crowdfunding offer. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
Kester Black offers a premium range of vegan, cruelty-free nail polishes, treatments, eyeliners and lipsticks.

It was the first beauty brand in the world to be B-corp certified, which means it balances purpose and profits for global good. Other B-corp certified brands include Allbirds (shoes), Patagonia Outdoors (outdoor equipment) and Ben & Jerry’s (ice cream).

"Kester Black exists to lead a change for the better in the global beauty industry, to create high performing design-led, ethical products that help our customers look great and do good for the world," Ms Ross said.

After seven years supplying Australasian consumers with sustainable products made from clean formulas and ethical products, Ms Ross wants to reach more ambitious retail milestones and claim a slice of the clean beauty industry’s earnings.

A report by Statista has projected these could reach nearly $22billion by 2024. Kester Black’s revenue has grown 53% over the past year and the global beauty market is accelerating, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 6%, Ms Ross said.

She has already established relationships with retailers in the United Kingdom, France and Sweden and is preparing to enter Europe and the US.

Investors’ funds will go towards stock, infrastructure, product packaging development, and marketing.

"It’s incredibly important that our customers receive an exceptional brand experience, no matter where they are in the world, but this requires solid internal infrastructure," Ms Ross said.

She has chosen the Australian crowdfunding platform of Birchal.

Crowdfunding appealed to "normal people" because the online process was streamlined and easy to understand, she said.

Mr Sully, a former Australian representative road cyclist, quit his medical research career two years ago to be Kester Black’s operations manager.

The small leadership team includes Australian lawyer and director David Chin and digital director Simon Smallchua, also of Australia.

The company employs one person in Wanaka to pick, pack and dispatch around New Zealand, and several Tauranga and Melbourne-based contractors who help with social media and marketing.

Ms Ross and Mr Sully moved to Wanaka in 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic emerged.

"I wish I had been here sooner," Ms Ross lamented about her move.