We’d Never Wear Real Fur, So Why Aren’t More Of Us Thinking About Ethical Beauty Products?

Now 21 years old, Lush are pioneers of ethical and sustainable cosmetics.


by Chemmie Squier |
Published on

There's no denying that the beauty industry is changing the way it works in terms of ethical and sustainability issues. At least, it's trying to. Take microbeads for example; ministers annouced that they would move to ban them from cosmetics, a small but significant victory.

Lush is a cosmetics company that have pioneered ethical and sustainable products since it's conception in 1995 and Gabbi Loedolff, Senior Ethical Buyer at Lush is at the forefront of their ongoing campaign. She's worked there for over 16 years and is responsible for looking after raw materials and safe synthetic sourcing which is basically every ingredient that isn't a fragrance – oils, butters, lustres (which they replaced traditional plastic glitters with years ago), you name it.

But in practice, what does that actually mean?


‘Sometimes it will be an ingredient that we want to get hold of and in the early stages you might just look for companies that can already supply that ingredient so then it’s making sure they comply with our animal testing declarations and then the longer term would be, where does that actually get grown? Could we find people that could grow it?’ Gabbi explains. 'Sometimes you do just have to start with who could make it and then you start to analyse your supply chain and ask, how can I go more direct to source?'

Crucially, they look to go as direct to the source as possible as a way to ensure transparency and the fair treatment of those providing it. ‘I can’t say we have transparency completely to the actual growers on all the material that we buy but we’re constantly working to develop that,’ Gabbi tells me.

One of their most prominent projects is their partnership with the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó who they create their Peace massage bar with. ‘We heard about this community that were trying to be entirely self-sufficient whilst facing great human rights violations and constant danger. We really wanted to support them and they grow cocoa beans which is one of our biggest ingredients. So we set up a trade relationship where we buy the beans from them, we have them processed in Holland and we get the butter back to our factories. We agreed a price that would allow them to achieve the level of self-sufficiency that they wanted and provide some market security.’ But even this wasn’t without its limitations; there were logistical challenges such as transporting the cocoa from community to the market where it could be sold. So in came the solutions: they arranged collections, they funded drying and storage facilities. They’ve also run campaigns calling for the Colombian Government to protect their human rights.

The Sustainable Lush fund is another of their initiatives which began in 2010. The purpose is to facilitate supportive partnerships with communities that produce fair trade ingredients. Lush donates up to £1 million to the fund every year which is put towards starting sustainable farming and community projects which may then produce their ingredients. ‘The SLush fund was something we created to develop environmentally, socially and economically sustainable projects, based on people, their ideas and us helping make them a reality,’ she tells me.

The beauty – if you’ll pardon the pun – of Lush; is that they know their work is never done, there is always something that could be improved. They may well be using one ingredient, only for ethical issues to arise and the search to begin again. Which is exactly what happened when they launched their colour cosmetics line around five years ago.

‘We used mica because it gives a beautiful shimmer to the products but we then became aware that there were concerns about child labour in the general mica supply chain in India. Our supplier at the time was able to have external verification that their supply chain was child labour free so they had a transparency that was really important to us but the company ended up being sold to someone else who couldn’t offer those same guarantees anymore so it became a big issue for us,’ Gabbi explained. With Lush being Lush their quest to eliminate it from the products and develop an alternative had begun.

‘We worked with people to create alternatives based on synthetic mica so that’s been an ongoing process, because we love the finish that it gives the product but the material was problematic. Just when we think we’ve cracked it we discover something else that has it in and then we have to start reformulating. There’s always a challenge!’ Gabbi tells me.

Whilst sustainability is at the heart of what they do, they've decided that simply isn't good enough. Instead, their sights are set even higher which means working to improve soil, helping communities and giving them more opportunities to thrive. ‘Rather than just trying to focus on being a sustainable brand, we're asking "can we actually go the next step to regenerative?" This means not just keeping things as they are when we’re sourcing ingredients, but actually creating a surplus. Basically giving back more than we take,’ Gabbi explains. ‘We’re aiming to get everything we buy to that level but I don’t think it’ll be a job that’s ever done because we source thousands of ingredients between us all from all around the world. But it’s a good challenge to have!’

‘It’s a constantly evolving business, Whether we look at the sourcing, the product creation or the business as a whole, we don’t just set a target for where we want to be and then carry along on that line. We’re constantly reassessing and pushing it further,’ says Gabbi.

Consumers are paying more attention than ever to where their products are coming from. According to the 2016 Soil Association Organic Market Report, sales of organic health and beauty have increased by 21.6% in 2015 to £54.2 million. Millennials in particular are concerned with sustainability and the ethical side of the products they’re buying. A 2015 Nielsen global sustainability report found that milliennials are the most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings with almost three out of four saying they would, up from around half in 2014. Younger generations are also following suit with Generation Z (these are 15-20 year olds) willing to pay more to companies who are committed to positive social change and environmental impact up from 55% in 2014 to 72% in 2015. Figures like these are bound to make the rest of the beauty industry sit up and listen too, because what the customer wants, the customer has to get.

Gabbi agrees that attitudes are changing. ‘I think there’s definitely more of an awareness now. Even when I think about when I was working in the shops, the kind of questions that people ask have really changed and the level of awareness that people have as well.’

It’s easy to forget that the journey of a beauty product, doesn’t end when you squeeze out the last drop. Far from it; the packaging and components of that product have to go somewhere. This is why Lush are into ‘nakedness’ with 35% of their product range currently ‘naked’ meaning that it comes in solid form (like their shampoo, conditioner and deodrant) without packaging and once the last bit is used, the product ceases to exist.

As well as that, there’s no energy output to make packaging in the first place but this isn’t the only positive part: the preservatives traditionally used to give liquid products their shelf life aren’t necessary either and there are other ways that the environment benefits which Gabbi explained. ‘Solid products are just excellent value; they are very condensed and would otherwise be quite bulky so when you’re sending them to your stores they take a lot less space, you can get a lot more on a lorry so there’s much less carbon or fuel.'

Of course, Gabbi tells me, there have been bumps along the way; changing the status quo is never easy and ‘I can'ts’ proliferate in an industry that is so used to doing things a certain way. ‘When we first tried to get someone to make us packaging from post-consumer recycled – plastic that’s already been used by a consumer and then recycled again – the industry was like “it can’t be done!” and then we proved it,’ she explains.

This 'can-do' attitude is something the beauty industry needs more of and with brands like Lush going from strength to strength, here's hoping the rest of the beauty industry starts to do its bit too. If not, it's clear that us millennials are going to have something to say about it.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Your Favourite Face Wash Might Not Exist For Much Longer

How South Korea Became The Beauty Capital Of The World

Can We Actually Afford To Shop 'Ethically'?

Follow Chemmie on Twitter @chemsquier

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us