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Behind the seams: how swag became Lush's latest campaign

In an industry swamped with disposable trends, sweatshop horror stories and unrealistic (not to mention unrepresentative) body standards, it’s easy to think that clothing with a conscience doesn’t exist. Until now. Meet the gamechangers behind Lush swag: a range of patches, stickers, tees and totes which are challenging the fashion industry as we know it.

It started with a jumper

A jumper covered in glitter to be exact, worn by unsuspecting Lush Kitchen compounder and accidental model Sophie. Busy glittering Karma melts with her Lush-branded jumper covered in lustre, Sophie and the Lush Kitchen team had no idea that a photograph posted online was about to spark a swag revolution.

Creative lead Gemma-Lea Goodyer reflects: “Everyone had seen the picture of Sophie with the glitter everywhere and was going nuts for it, saying “I want that jumper.” So we just decided to give them what they wanted. The hardest bit was figuring out how to do the splattering of the glitter. In the end, it was a really nice piece to do because you knew everyone wanted it and was really excited about it. It was nice to be like, 'Ok, here you go!'”

Sophie’s Jumper was the first of many so-called ‘swag hours’ launched by the Lush Kitchen, offering aprons, tea towels and more pun-covered exclusives in response to what the community wanted. But it was also a starting point for clothing and collectables that combined clever wordplay and creative design with strong messages about campaigns, identity and diversity.

Brand design producer Kirstie MacLean explains: “Sophie’s Jumper was really a turning point for us, in that previously we had released tees and canvas bags to highlight a particular campaign message or value (for example, Fighting Animal Testing), but it made us start to think about what our customers were talking about, and in turn how we could be more reactive to that. Pretty much every collection since has been formed in response to what our audience are talking about themselves, or what we see happening in the world.”

The Lush swag team at play

Green credentials

With a new product came a new supply chain to monitor, albeit one of organic cotton, not cocoa butter. Cotton, a notoriously thirsty and difficult crop to cultivate, is most commonly cultivated in India where farmers produced 5.97 million tonnes between 2016 and 2017. Market demand means cotton is often grown using pesticides and insecticides that damage the local ecosystem and endanger the farmers who commonly distribute them without protective gear or training. 62 deaths last year were attributed to pesticide poisoning (most victims were cotton farmers), as well as hundreds of hospitalisation cases. The statistics give killer new looks and high street styles a sobering reality check.

With this in mind, finding the right suppliers and producers was paramount to extending the swag collection. Kirstie explains: “With any product we create, every care is taken to understand the source of the ingredient and support people involved in any production process along the way. We also want to help give opportunities to small groups of artisans or draw on skills vital to the future of communities.”

Enter Rapanui: the sustainable fashion brand started in a shed on the Isle Of Wight by brothers Rob and Mart in 2009. Keen to address the local youth unemployment problem and get themselves a job into the bargain, the duo launched their first collection, printed on organic cotton and manufactured in a factory powered by renewable energy in 2010, and promptly made the headlines. Nearly a decade later, they’re still making waves.

For co-founder Rob Drake-Knight, working with like-minded companies is an important part of taking on what can be a vacuous and destructive industry. He explains: "Our business started small, but with a big ambition: to redesign the clothing industry. The team at Lush reached out and showed incredible faith by placing orders and working together with our design team at a time when we were really only just getting started. In more recent years we've been working together on some new products that take all the work we've been doing on organics, circular economy, renewables and tech and mixing in the bubbly rainbow unicorn spirit of Lush with beautiful colours and new styles that represent our shared values. The way a big company can empower and encourage a small one and give it a hand up the ladder is really quite powerful."

After years of collaboration, Kirstie has a good relationship with the brothers. She says: “There are very few businesses like them who are hungry to push innovation, to make change or challenge as they do. Whatever crazy idea we throw at them (and I aim quite a few in their direction), they are always excited to work on a new project with us.

"They also see tremendous value in the work we do in The Green Hub [Lush’s in-house recycling hub], and how there are parallel goals for changing process and tooling. They’ve shared learnings on engineering solutions with our team to improve production methods in our factory. And of course, the Indian factory we use to produce our fabric from seed to shop is their contact. We trade through Rapanui, and the exact same ethics apply throughout the chain.

Statement clothing

With innovative, sustainably-minded partners in Rapanui, the next step was to ensure the designs themselves did the behind-the-scenes work justice. Creative Lead Nat Cook started work on swag during the Sophie’s Jumper days, and has been a driving force in its metamorphosis from fun collectables to statement items that support environmental concerns, and human and animal rights in bold new ways.

She addresses the change in tone: “I think individuals are more socially conscious today and, as the political agendas of the world change, it’s becoming more important to exercise your beliefs whether that's by going on a protest or showing your solidarity with a women’s rights t-shirt. I find inspiration for new collections by watching the news. What are the current events, what are current protests about, what are people happy about, what aren’t they?  I then use social media platforms to look for people who are passionate about certain topics. I also look for treatments that will work well for clothing - so simple bold graphic images that can be easily screen printed with Rapanui.”

As well as collaborating with passionate, exciting external designers, Lush’s in-house designers and writers get hands-on working up ideas.

In-house creative Molly Campbell gives some insight into the process of creating a new collection: “I quite like scrolling through Instagram and looking at artists’ profiles. Usually, their work won’t be related to the subject matter I’m exploring, but they’ll spark an idea of my own, whether it’s from the colour palettes they used, the type of line stroke or the composition. I also like looking at different product labels, tattoos and packaging: things that really consider type layout and use the confines of space, as these can sometimes help generate ideas you didn’t know you needed. Something will then pop up when you least expect it. Usually when I’m in bed about to fall asleep.”
 

In the bag

Three years after Sophie’s Jumper, a new collection is now debuting online for the first time since its premiere at the Lush Summit 2018. The suite of tops, totes and fabric stickers are a bright, ballsy statement of support for gender and transgender equality and LGBTQI+ and animals’ rights, as well as three limited edition pieces launched in line with Lush’s Ocean Plastics campaign. Collaborative pieces created by designers Lucy Kirk, Marylou Faure and Ruby Taylor also feature - adding a diversity of voice to the collection which is important to Kirstie. She says: “Listening to what our customers are talking about really allows us to be reactive, fresh and cutting edge with messaging and also who we choose to collaborate with: new illustrators and artists who share the same inspiration for their work.”

With just weeks to go, the team are still hard at work, perfecting each product. “We have worked hard (and are continuing to do so) on the detailing on the finished pieces,” says Kirstie.”We’re thinking about adding the branded tabs to items, just as an example. We’re also always thinking about how we can show the transparency of production, with opportunities to talk about seed-to-shop, the cotton farmers, spinning and weaving process...sharing the whole story.”

All that’s left is to see which pieces the customers will be wearing this season. Pick up yours here.

 

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