It’s estimated that, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. A stark, sad, and scary prophecy – but one that, with conscious decisions and better choices, we can hopefully avoid. One brand that’s doing all it can to fight the cause is Lush – a pioneer in the world of sustainable beauty.
Known for its eco-friendly, zero-waste packaging (or lack of it – but more on that in a moment) and its 100 percent vegetarian and cruelty-free products, it actively fights against animal testing, supports fair- and community-trade initiatives worldwide, and spreads awareness of global issues such as immigration, pollution, and human rights. And, of course, the packaging problem.
As Lush Co-Founder Mark Constantine says, “Packaging is rubbish and for too long we have had to suffer excessive amounts of it. Now that the true financial and environmental costs are becoming obvious, customers are challenging manufacturers and retailers to cut the wrap.”
And Lush is doing just that with its naked beauty products – a.k.a products that can be sold and used sans packaging. To find out how, Goodness sat down with Lush’s Product Inventor Alessandro Commisso to discuss everything from the challenges he faces creating naked products to their benefits for the planet (and for your skin and wallet).
When did the naked journey begin?
Lush started over 20 years ago, and it actually started from a failure. The founders of Lush – Mark, Mo, Helen, and Ro – were running a mail-order business at the start of online shopping called Cosmetics to Go, and it went tragically wrong. But that’s why Lush is what it is now. They realized that they were spending more money on the packaging, as was the rest of the industry, and that, if you want to have good packaging and amazing ingredients, it was really difficult to make it work.
So, they thought, can we just strip it back? Can we actually tell customers that what they’re buying is the product and not the packaging around it? And this is something that’s been going on from day one. It’s only now that consumers are more aware of this topic.
The naked concept is something that has been in the DNA of the company since the beginning, and what we have realized is that we are able to provide a zero-waste routine that can cover almost everyone’s needs. When we look at concepts like “naked” and “zero waste”, customers need to actually like the product in order to make that switch, so our job as inventors is to create things that people can’t resist and that are also zero-waste. In an ideal world, I want people to buy the products because they love them, not because they’re naked. That’s why we use the best materials and create products that are really effective.
Is your aim to make all of Lush’s products naked? Or are there some products for which that’s simply not possible?
We have discussed this internally because, during the course of the last year, we’ve actually opened three “naked stores”, where all the products in the store are naked. That was a challenge and highlighted some gaps we are trying to fill. We don’t think that everything can be naked, but we’d like to offer a naked option. At the end of the day, the customers need to tell us that they like it.
If you look at certain categories, like bath products, we don’t have a single packaged product in that range. But that’s because people love our bubble bath, bath bombs, and bath oils, so we didn’t need to have packaging! However, for other things like skincare and haircare, there are specific needs we have to fulfill. Our products are either naked or they’ve got good packaging. Good packaging means that everything is recycled and recyclable. We’ve got a closed-loop scheme, so you’re able to go zero-waste but in different ways.
When you do use packaging, how do you make sure it’s eco-friendly?
First of all, we don’t use a lot of different types of packaging, whereas many brands will have a different type of bottle or pot for every product. We are quite famous for our very basic black and clear bottles with a black label. All of the materials that we use are post-consumer recycled materials (almost all of them – with little pieces, like the spritzers, it’s not possible yet). Packaging is rubbish – so when you finish using a product, what you’re left with is rubbish.
It’s also important to note that our packaging only has one layer. It’s very rare to buy a high-end moisturizer that only has the pot. You usually have a pot with a lid and then an extra bit on top in the box, then the box, which is wrapped in a layer of plastic! By using just one layer, we make it a lot easier for people to recycle, as you know what type of material it is. The worst thing you can do is have multi-material packaging. If you can’t discard the packaging easily or clearly, even if you put it in a recycling bin, it will end up in a landfill. So, when we use packaging, it has to be good, and it has to be something that the consumer and the recycling industry can easily dispose of or recycle properly.
Packaging is rubbish – so when you finish a product, what you’re left with is rubbish.
What are the other benefits of using naked products?
With most beauty brands, what you’ll find is that you’re paying for the packaging. They won’t have that many interesting ingredients or materials in the products – you’ll find most of those in the layers of packaging! For us, by not investing the customer’s money into a lot of fancy packaging, we have the opportunity to use top materials inside our products, and those will actually have a positive effect on people’s skin or hair, without us having to charge them a crazy amount. That’s why our model is completely different.
With skincare, the naked products are more concentrated. When you remove the water or minimize it, you remove the preservatives (because they are there to make sure there’s no interaction between the water and the oils), and you get the most concentrated formula possible. For example, with our shampoo bars, one little bar is the same as three bottles of shampoo – because there is no water! And no water means no bottle, no preservatives, lower transportation costs (because you are just transporting a small item rather than three big bottles), and it means no recycling cost, no waste, and, when it’s gone, it’s gone!
Do you think that, going forward, more pressure will be put on the beauty industry to change?
We hope so! We don’t want to be the only ones doing this in the market. We show the way, and we hope that others will follow suit. If other players want to do it and are able to, then I hope they do so, because this is a much bigger problem than just a Lush one. Packaging is an issue, but it’s also an opportunity if you do it right. It’s the small things that we need to change. For example, in supermarkets, it’s preferable that your products have that outer layer of plastic so that they can put their own price sticker on it. Without that plastic layer, the sticker goes directly on the box of the product, and if it needs to be removed or changed, it could damage the box, which puts a customer off buying it.
We have to start somewhere, so we are always inventing and giving people the option to go naked. Our shower gels, for example, are now available in both naked and packaged form. We need to give people the option, to ease them into making that switch. We have to start somewhere. Even if 20 percent of people decide to go for the naked option, that’s still a massive contribution we are making.
Even if 20 percent of people decide to go for the naked option, that’s still a massive contribution we are making.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced when creating naked products?
It’s hard, but it’s also a creative process. What is quite unique is that you have to find a way of applying the product that the customer will enjoy. How do we create different ways to deliver the active materials in products that are also fun and engaging and don’t crumble or melt everywhere? It’s about finding the idea that makes sense. We can’t force it. Some of these naked concepts have been over 20 years in the making!
We have a very vocal and engaged online community, and throughout the last year, when we released a lot of naked products, they’ve actually helped us develop them. We listen to their feedback about what works, what doesn’t, and what they like and don’t like. We hope that you get what you need, but not necessarily in the form that you’d expect. Sometimes, people are afraid to touch certain shapes and textures and to apply them to their skin, so we have to work around that.
We know that we don’t have a naked option for every customer need yet, so we are very open and willing to hear about what people want and we will develop that. We want that feedback about what’s missing and what we aren’t covering in our current range.
What do you think is the future of packaging?
Less, better, and recyclable. There is no other way. If people want it, the companies will do it. There is nothing stronger than consumers choosing to spend their hard-earned cash. We are creating awareness about what the problem is, but at the end of the day, the customers have to make that choice with their wallets.
In other countries, there are more laws surrounding packaging. In Korea, for example, there’s what’s called “void space”, where you can’t sell things in a box with loads of empty space. That void space in the box has to be within certain parameters. But then you have the other end of the spectrum, where it’s really difficult to sell naked products in certain markets because their legislative framework does not consider naked cosmetics. That’s because they are still very, very rare in the beauty industry. I believe in the consumers. They have the power. They are our bosses. They decide if they like the stuff or not and if they want to buy it.
At the end of the day, it benefits the consumer too, because if companies aren’t spending so much on packaging, there will be more essential oils in the product, better ingredients, a better supply chain – it’s a win-win situation! It’s almost crazy that more people aren’t doing it. But maybe it’s because they like that pretty box…
Go Naked with These Package-Free Products
Feeling inspired to make the switch? Visit the Lush website for tips on how to use your naked product and to learn more about the packaging problem and what you can do to help.