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TBG Interview: Rowena Bird, Lush co-founder

In today’s crowded global beauty market, there isn’t another brand quite like Lush.

The British label is literally one of the most effervescent around: it is energetic, colourful, vivacious, dynamic, and its bestsellers include fizzy bathbombs that release a riot of colours and essential oil blends into the bathwater.

Lush is also firm in its beliefs, everything from animal rights to environmental causes; and is loud and proud about it.

Founded in 1995, Lush is actually an incarnation of the six founders’ previous mail order business, Cosmetics To Go (CTG) [more on this in Q&A below].

Today, Lush is available in 50 countries across more than 800 stores.

Rowena Bird, one of the brand’s founders, tells The Beauty Gazette why, in the face of increased competition, Lush still stands out.

Today, the beauty retail market is overcrowded. But what do you think has led to the success of the brand, so it can hold its own? 

Lush is incredibly unique in what we offer – with creativity and innovation running through everything we do. When people buy from us they feel like they are part of something bigger, that they’re joining a movement of sorts and that they can make a difference.

Our customers are not only buying fresh, handmade, effective cosmetics but they’re also buying into what we believe in: supporting small grassroots organisations fighting for human and animal rights, for environmental protection; honesty and transparency; moving beyond sustainability towards regeneration, to help rebuild damaged environments and communities around the world.

We pay our taxes, we never waver on our ethics, we are open books, no green washing going on, we walk the walk.

Something else our customers really value and expect from us is to continue the fight against animal testing. For the whole of Lush’s existence, we have built our testing strategy on using traditional ingredients that have been in safe use for many years. We only buy those ingredients from suppliers who do not test on animals. Then, when we turn those ingredients into a product, we test the finished product on our panel of human volunteers. We believe this leads to a high level of public safety.

Our passion for taking animals out of testing led to us starting the Lush Prize five years ago. The annual £250,000 Lush Prize is a partnership between Lush and Ethical Consumer to reward those making significant contributions in removing animals from testing; be it from developing cruelty-free scientific research or lobbying to help bring an end to this cruel and unreliable practice.

We also have initiatives like the Sustainable Lush Fund (where two per cent of our buying spend goes towards projects starting sustainable farming and regenerative community projects). To date, the fund has distributed over £2.5 million to permaculture projects worldwide.

What led to that very first Lush product? 

The very first Lush products were left over from our first business, Cosmetics to Go (CTG) … For example, the Red Rooster soap, Butterball bath bomb, Banana Moon soap and Ultrabland cleanser.

So many Lush products are churned out every quarter. What inspires the products?

Inspiration can come from anywhere and it’s often not simply one thing, it’s lots of things combined. I often get inspiration from places I’ve been and things I’ve seen, whereas my colleagues will be inspired by people they’ve met or experiences they’ve had … that’s the beauty of inspiration, it can come from anywhere.

For example, I had the idea for Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner in the shower. While conditioning my hair I thought ‘why can’t I do the same for my body?’ So I enlisted the help of my friends and the other co-founders: Helen to create the emulsifying base, and Simon the fragrance. I wanted to recreate the smell of the rose jam made by our rose supplier’s mum … At the beginning of each rose season she makes a batch of rose jam using the first crop, it smells absolutely divine and that’s what this product smells like. Invention is often teamwork you see, that’s how we’ve always worked.

Why do all Lush products come with a sticker featuring the face of its maker?

Our factories are happy places where the product makers take care in their work and are proud to have their faces displayed on the packaging of the products they made. We don’t think of our factory workers as backroom staff, but as the kitchen stars who whip up fresh, amazing products with speed and finesse every day. That is why we add stickers on our products telling customers who made it, when it was made, when it goes out of date, and include the face of the real person that made it.

Where are the Lush products manufactured, and what determines where the products are made?

We have factories strategically located around the world (UK, Europe, Japan, North America, Australia and Brazil) to help reduce our environmental impact.

What are the top three ingredients used in Lush products, and why?

For the highest in volume, it would have to be our soap base (rapeseed oil and coconut oil), bicarbonate and citric acid (2 main ingredients in our bath bombs) … due to the sheer amount of bath bombs and soap we sell around the world.

However, if you’re asking me what are the ingredients I like to use in products, then it would be:

Butters … cocoa, shea, illipe – they come from nuts, are intensely moisturising and we buy ours from women’s co-operatives.

Oils … almond oil, moringa oil, sandalwood oil – I love anything that has nutritional value for the skin, which is why I love to use beautiful oils such as these in my products and never mineral oil, which is a by product of the petrochemical industry.

What are some of the brand’s global bestsellers?

Intergalactic bath bomb, New shampoo bar, Mask of Magnaminty, Ocean Salt face and body scrub, and Honey I Washed the Kids soap.

What makes Lush products different?
Innovation and creativity in all areas of our business. We offer the highest quality, effective product – with minimal to no packaging.

Our customers can feel happy that we are doing something worthwhile with their money:

• we are continuing to fight against cruel, unsafe, unreliable and inaccurate animal testing;

• we are constantly inventing new solid products that don’t require packaging or preservatives, along with innovative ways to remove the minimal amounts of safe preservatives we do use;

• we actively encourage the use of environmentally friendly gift ideas like Knot-Wrap scarves that can be reused;

• we are striving for a regenerative business model – where we are more than sustainable, we are putting more back into the earth than we take;

• we actively campaign with partner groups and charities in the areas of animal protection, human rights and environmental preservation in an attempt to stop these things happening in the first place and not just fix the symptom;

• we also donate money through Charity Pot hand and body lotions to small grassroots organisations who are working in these areas.

• we pay fair taxes and even tax ourselves for the amount of carbon used when flying, which is donated to environmental protection groups.

What are some of your personal favourite Lush products?

Magical Moringa – I wanted to make a product using some of the world’s most renowned beauty oils that I’d encountered on my travels, while at the same time supporting the communities where they are grown. Each pot contains a selection of beautiful ingredients, some of which are sourced from community projects around the world. For example, there’s argan oil from a union of 22 village cooperatives in Morocco; rose hip oil from Chile; Fair Trade and organic cocoa butter from an umbrella organisation of small producers in the Dominican Republic; and organic shea butter from a women’s cooperative in Ghana.

I especially wanted to use moringa oil, as after a trip to Africa I’d learnt how this is deemed their ‘miracle plant’ and so incredibly nutritious that it’s regarded a super food used to treat malnutrition. We source ours from the Ghana Permaculture Institute to ensure high quality and that it’s sustainably grown, while ensuring the farmers there have enough surplus to make and sell moringa cosmetics locally. In this way, they can build alternative means of income and improve their financial security.

Other favourites are Ro’s Argan body conditioner and also Ultrabland, as this cleanser makes a difference to everybody’s skin. It’s an incredibly versatile product; I love it because I can cleanse my skin with it, moisturise with it, style my hair, soothe sunburn, use as a lip balm and even add a bit of sand and use it as a body scrub.

The new Shampoo Bar is another current favourite, as we’ve recently re-vamped it with a Be Cruelty Free message on, in association with Humane Society International … so every time you wash your hair you can be reminded of how important it is to shop cruelty free.

©The Beauty Gazette

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