From the source: Peta Granger, Lush

The cosmetics company famous for its minimalist packaging is leading the fight against plastics pollution. We discuss this, as well as its forays into large-scale experiential retail and the 30th anniversary of the bath bomb.

Inside Retail Weekly: What has the past financial year been like for Lush?

Peta Granger: It’s been a big year of innovation for us. On a global scale, we’ve been focusing on the future of retail and trying to push ourselves in terms of what we believe in, and how we showcase and communicate our products and values to the public.  

One of the main ways we’ve fuelled innovation has been creating a series of large-scale, flagship stores and then filling them with lots of innovations that transcend the skin, hair and bath products that we’ve sold for so many years. 

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Over the last 18 months, we’ve launched new experiential concept stores, two of them in Tokyo. In Harajuku, we have launched a bath bomb concept store; and in Shinjuku, a four-level, tech-led shopping destination with a spa. And in Liverpool in the UK, there is a similar, multi-leveled megastore with a spa and hair lab. 

These multi-level super-flagship stores are not your regular cosmetic shop. They’re department stores – global shopping destinations where customers can spend an entire day. 

Then there are the products – these stores feature everything that our customers have come to know and love from Lush, alongside whole ranges of new product innovations, like our packaging-free Naked makeup and perfume libraries selling exclusive perfumes. 

In Liverpool, we launched our first Hair Lab, offering treatments and cutting services. We’re selling music, books, coffee and locally sourced fresh flowers that can be plucked and put into bath bombs. We’re regularly hand-making fresh products onsite and offering unique full-sensory spa treatments. 

We’ve used these huge projects to progress Lush to its next stage. These megastores have given us the opportunity to collaborate on a global scale, with teams coming together, gaining inspiration from one another and working to create totally unique, interactive and imaginative retail experiences that welcome visitors from around the globe.  

Shinjuku has a large tech focus, too. Tokyo is such a digitally advanced city with so many tourists, and we really wanted the store to be a borderless space, a retail space that can be easily understood by visitors from around the globe. To overcome language barriers in such a high-traffic tourist location, we aimed to minimise the prominence of language displays, instead using icons and visuals rather than text wherever possible. We also use digital screens and projection installations throughout the shop to communicate key messages. 

Thirty years ago, Lush co-founder Mo Constantine invented the bath bomb, and we’ve used this anniversary year to invigorate people’s love of bathing. It kicked off with the Harajuku shop opening last November. In celebration of the invention of bath bombs, the people they’ve touched, the benefits they offer and how they’ve evolved over the years, we invented and launched 52 new bath bombs globally. The ritual of bathing is so sacred in Japanese culture – and so naturally Tokyo was the perfect location to lead this bathing revolution. 

We had managers of each store curate their own range of bath bombs. So we had the new bath bombs to release plus our existing range, so all up, there were around 80 bath bombs to choose from. It pushed our managers to really think about their customers, not only their demographic, but deeper, into what brings their customers into Lush, how they feel when they enter the store and how they want to feel after a bath. Our managers really embraced the experience and have been curating their own ranges ever since, which means that the bath bomb collection in each store is different. 

We also wanted the Harajuku store to be a seamless digital and visual experience. To support this our R&D tech team developed Lush Lens, with the aim of helping customers shop packaging-free with ease. To use it you simply download the #LushLabs app, then use the Lens feature and hover over any of our Naked products to learn about their ingredients, benefits and use. As well as being able to identify packaging-free products, you can watch digital demonstrations of our products in use with the touch of a button. Using this technology to demonstrate product information is a huge step towards minimising packaging, signage and reducing water use by showcasing products in use through videos. 

We’ve just launched Lush Lens in Australia, in line with our Christmas launch, which features much loved festive favourites like Snow Fairy shower gel alongside a solid, packaging-free alternative for customers wanting to reduce their use of plastic. 

We also recently released a short documentary called We the Bathers, directed by Phoebe Arnstein. It’s visually stunning and very emotive, celebrating the physical emotion and communal spiritual impact that bathing and water has on the human experience around the world. It invites you to step inside bathrooms across the globe to observe how bathing rituals shape identity. Most of us are born into bathing rituals we do automatically, and watching this short film really highlights the connecting and healing power of water.

IRW: I feel like Lush is well-placed to offer a lifestyle beyond just bath bombs. You have such a tight-knit community. 

PG: So much of Lush’s success is driven by our customers and their passion for our products. We don’t do any paid advertising; we don’t commission models or influencers, so we absolutely rely on our community – they’re our most important advocates and influencers.

When people hear about our products, we want it to be customer-led, genuine and based on real-life experiences. That’s why we see our customers as the ultimate influencers. We love this era of star ratings and the value put on customer reviews – it prioritises the customer experience and empowers their feedback. 

Our customers pay for the ingredients that end up on their skin, so they should feel the benefits, but we also want the communities from where those ingredients were sourced to benefit too. We pay a premium price for our ingredients because of the ethics and transparency of our supply chains, and the regenerative farming methods which follow permaculture principles. We then use our platforms and staff to share our suppliers’ amazing work and stories so customers understand the true value of the ingredients and the impact of their purchase. 

IRW: I feel like in some ways, there’s a resurgence in bricks-and-mortar from big retailers. Would you say that Lush is investing more in physical stores?

PG: Lush is always going to invest in physical stores because our products are so tactile and sensory.  We really value the human connection created on our shop floors, where customers can smell, try and experience products and have a conversation with someone about their skin and hair, how they’re feeling at that moment or how they’d like to feel. 

But that works in absolute partnership with a strong digital strategy and for us, it’s about merging the two, not focusing on one or the other in isolation.  We constantly explore how to bring the digital experience in-store and how to create more human experiences on a digital platform. Our flagship stores in Shinjuku and Liverpool are a testament to this, with so much technological and digital innovation being harnessed to create the ultimate customer experience. 

IRW: The beauty sector in general right now is thriving. What are your opinions on the general landscape right now?

PG: You can definitely see all the growth in the industry and it’s fabulous. It’s important for the retail industry to continue to create exciting shopping experiences that entice customers out of their homes, away from Netflix and into great spaces that support and excite communities. It’s really positive to see an invigoration of beauty retailers; it pushes the whole market to look deeply at their offering and question what the next stage is for their brand and where they want to invest. 

One of the things that has always been important to Lush is the imagery that we use to showcase our products and what we believe in. It’s always been important that this reflects the customer and feels authentic and real. All the imagery we use to promote our products is created with our staff – and in some cases, even customers – and we have a policy against any photoshopping of skin, hair, bodies or faces. We want our imagery to be empowering and to reflect the public, not make them feel awful with impossible stereotypes and heavily photoshopped bodies and faces. 

The beauty industry has traditionally preyed on women’s vulnerabilities through false advertising and promising impossible myths, and still does a pretty good job of making wrinkles and cellulite feel like an unnecessary evil just to sell more products. I’ve enjoyed seeing the diversification of imagery we’re now seeing in the beauty space. It’s increased a lot in the last year and it’s encouraging to see more variety of skin tones, abilities, sizes and gender neutrality. It’s still got a very long way to go, but it’s good to see things heading in a better direction. 

IRW: Tell me about the Naked stores and their aim.

PG: Currently we’ve got four Naked shops around the world – Manchester, Munich, Berlin and we’ve just opened Hong Kong in September. These shops only contain our Naked products and show the customer that it’s completely possible to live packaging-free, and wash and indulge ourselves without excessive and unnecessary waste. At the moment, 65 per cent of our products are packaging-free, and for the last three Christmases each seasonal product that launched there was a Naked alternative available. 

We want customers to have choice, although Naked, packaging-free products are the more sustainable option. National Geographic recently described our solid shampoo bars as the latest trend in bathing, although we invented them 25 years ago!  Over the years we’ve developed alternatives for a lot of the low-hanging fruit in our product range – solid shampoo, conditioner, shower gels and body lotions – but over the last 18 months we’ve been taking on more challenging products, like solid foundation, lipstick, highlighters, mascara and hairstyling products.  As a society we have to reduce our use of plastics, and as a business we’re trying to make it easier for customers to do so.  

IRW: How does Lush look at making change politically and socially?

PG: When we’re trying to take on an issue like packaging and waste, we look at it in three ways. Firstly, we challenge ourselves, how we consume, produce and influence waste and ensure that what we’re inventing and how we’re behaving is having a net positive effect. 

Secondly, we try to have conversations with the public and influence our customers through one-on-one conversations about the impact the cosmetic industry has on landfill, and demonstrate that there are choices out there.   

And thirdly we try to influence root-cause issues, legislation or the systemic changes needed to create real progress. In the year ahead, we’re launching a global packaging and ocean-plastics campaign across Lush countries around the world. Whatever the legislation around plastics, each country will be petitioning for improvement. We have to reduce how much we rely on plastics as individuals, but it’s legislation that will influence long-term change and public behaviour. 

Businesses have to innovate to keep up with consumer trends, but also try to influence them.  We hope to excite customers with really effective and fun products and create a cosmetic revolution with little need for packaging.  We want to impact on shopping and washing habits and make sustainable choices easy. But ultimately it’s up to the customer, they’re the real influencers and are choosing the world they want to live in every time they open their wallets.  

One of the biggest challenges for us in the years ahead is a government that doesn’t have a real policy on climate change or how to reduce emissions and is still advocating for the destructive Adani coal mine, which is terrifying. Our emissions are increasing, we have a water crisis on our hands, and we have to transition to 100 per cent clean renewable energy if we’re going to avert the environmental and ecological disasters heading our way.  

One of the biggest positives I see in our future is the next generation of young people. They seem far more driven and motivated than our current government to rally momentum and demand action to address the climate crisis. 

IRW: Lush recently allowed their staff to take the day off work to get involved in the climate change strikes. Tell me about what happened on that day for the business.

PG: Young people have recently taken the lead in raising climate awareness, with movements like School Strike For Climate crying out for those responsible and those in power to deal with the crisis immediately without any more delay and give them back their futures.

All this year, school children and students worldwide have been striking regularly in the hope that by missing their education for a day adults will sit up and listen. When they called upon adults to interrupt their business as usual on September 20, it really was a no-brainer for the global Lush team to join them in their mission.On the day of the global climate strikes our entire business including our shops and offices, our website and our factories stopped work for four hours to stand in solidarity with the school climate strikers. By doing so we acknowledged that what is happening to the climate is now at emergency status and that we realise that their future needs our attention now – before it’s too late. There can be no call stronger than children sincerely asking us to do the right thing. We heard them and stood with them.

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