We sat down with Director of LUSH Asia Annabelle Baker at the new LUSH Naked shop that opened its doors in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district. As excessive packaging remains a widespread practice for the beauty and cosmetics industry, the store opening marks a great step forward for the region. We did some #realtalk about packaging-free beauty, lobbying for animals rights and the problems facing the industry and our planet. Annabelle also dished on what we can all do to live more sustainably, and had some inspirational advice for young women.
GQ: Just to introduce to everyone your role in leading LUSH in Asia, could you explain to us a bit about what working for LUSH is like, and what the company represents in terms of sustainable beauty and skincare?
AB: No two days are the same at LUSH! If you want things to stay constant, then we aren’t the brand for you. In terms of how we move as a company, we are adaptable, dynamic and fast-paced. We have no global marketing plan, which keeps us reactive to what is happening on the ground. It gives us a flexible edge to always remain relevant and time-sensitive to our customers.
In my role, for the past 7 years I have been focused on the Greater China region. We can’t physically be in China because of their animal testing regulations, but we work with many local NGOs and charities to do a huge amount of lobbying work.
GQ: The Naked shop is completely packaging-free. We’re thrilled that this is happening, but do you think that this approach will take off amongst Asian consumers – the mainstream market is still full of plastic and excessive packaging.
AB: It’s a real challenge for us and the industry more broadly, but there are definitely some inroads to make it mainstream. 55% of the products LUSH sold in Hong Kong were naked with our shampoo bars in particular being really popular. Lots of small local brands are also popping up and selling packaging-free items that come in solid form and are more natural ingredient based. There must be a reason for this right? We also see a host of zero-waste shops in Hong Kong, which are a great example of the more sustainable journey that Hong Kongers are on.
What is interesting is that Hong Kongers are actually used to packaging-free shopping. Traditionally, local people go to the wet markets and buy little bits of what you need here and there. So our LUSH Naked shop is something that brings people back to the old way of shopping. So I think the roots are there for us to push the boundaries and challenge what can be done in Asia.
GQ: Packaging is one of the most important ways that beauty products stand out on the shelf and create an image. How do you develop a beauty brand without packaging?
AB: Many people think that LUSH’s most iconic product is our bath bombs. And this has been a product that comes packaging-free for years, yet has always appealed to customers. The thing is, packaging was first developed as a necessary physical container for certain products. But it later evolved into the mammoth-sized advertorial industry we have today. The reality is as a beauty brand, we aren’t spending money on packaging, design and stockpiling. We are spending money on the best ingredients and formulations. I think that consumers are starting to switch on about this, and they know that if you buy something that has lots of packaging, then the question becomes: what are you not buying? When we do spend money on packaging in our non-naked product range, we consider sustainability. It all comes in one format, same labels and style, just different sizes, made from recycled materials and printed with soy ink.
GQ: One of the criticisms about LUSH is that there are still ingredients in the products that are not kosher amongst the health and natural community (e.g. SLS, fragrances). Why not remove those?
AB: The beauty industry cannot be completely natural, because we simply do not have enough natural resources. To put that into perspective, LUSH buys the biggest portion of rose absolute and rose oil in the world, but we account for less than 0.35% of the entire cosmetics industry. So how is the entire beauty industry going to be completely natural? And it is important to remember that 100% natural does not always mean 100% good. Everything is a chemical, and there are good and bad ones. We also avoid viewing certain ingredients with a hard line, but we take a holistic approach when we consider whether something is eco-friendly and ethical to both animals and humans. We have a diligent buying team to look at all the information, ensuring that our products are made from the best, and we are constantly exploring what to remove from our ingredient lists. With regards to SLS and parabens, these have been used for years with a long history data of safety, but newer alternatives might not have this bioaccumulation data available. While our Naked range doesn’t contain parabens, they do have SLS, but we don’t hold the same opinion as some other people.
GQ: What is your favourite packaging-free product at the store?
AB: The Full Of Grace facial oil. We have had this product for a number of years, used in our facials at the spa, but now it is available for purchase. It is perfect for Hong Kong because air conditioning really dries out our skin, and the oil is super hydrating.
GQ: Do you think that an entirely zero-waste supply chain is possible for the beauty and cosmetics industry?
AB: We have to be honest, very few things are actually zero waste. But I wouldn’t put it past us to try and get there, even if at this moment we haven’t achieved that. We have made packaging-free products, but the reality is that there are still by-products down the supply chain, such as transportation packaging in the shipping process. Even though we use recycled cardboard boxes, they are still producing waste. We are about minimisation, and zero waste is the concept ideal to drive towards.
GQ: What is the push forward you would really like to see?
AB: I would like us to be able to get customer feedback to tweak formulations in order to make them suitable for Hong Kong and Asian climates more specifically. I’d really like for LUSH to be at the centre of innovation when it comes to packaging-free products across Asia.
GQ: LUSH announced that it closed down operations on Friday 20th September to strike for the climate in the US, UK and Europe. Did LUSH Asia also join in?
AB: Yes, across Japan, Singapore and Korea. We did discuss this in Hong Kong, but given recent events it became quite difficult for us. We did allow staff to choose to join the climate strike here, but we did not close our shops because staff safety is our priority.
GQ: Outside of the beauty industry, what do you think is the biggest environmental issue that our planet is facing today?
AB: It is us, humans. As much as we want to force a direction on a particular area, we as individuals need to start taking more responsibility. Everyday we go out and buy things from somewhere, whether it is food or clothing. We make choices every single day, and the more we line the pockets of those causing planetary destruction, the more we exacerbate the issue. Many people think that it is out of our reach, but we entirely have the power. We must be more self-reflective about the ways we can help the planet.
GQ: As a woman leader, what do you think is the main challenge that young girls and women of today face, and what advice would you give them?
AB: It is really interesting for Hong Kong, where I think lots of young women have more female entrepreneurs and leaders to look up to. But I do think that there still exists a prevailing ideology about where women should work, what they should do, which is a challenge.
The one piece of advice I would give young women is this: Don’t limit yourself. The most fundamental thing you have is perseverance. If you fail, so what? Don’t let that define you. You can decide your own narrative, just believe it and drive forward. Success is what you do after you have had a setback. So don’t be knocked down, just get back up!
GQ: Team rice or team noodles?
AB: Rice. I’m huge fan of cucumber rolls!
Lead image courtesy of LUSH Hong Kong.