Whether it’s squeezing lemons, chopping fresh fruit, stirring vats of cocoa butter or shaping bath bombs, making a single Lush product is much like making an intricate meal. And, as practised chefs will know, no matter how many times you follow the same recipe, no batch is ever identical. The different expressions you’ll find on some of your favourite products (take Polar Bear Plunge bubble bar for example) is just another quirk of the handmade process.
When you pick up a potted product in store, you’ll also find a face sticker attached which tells you who made it, when to use it by and - unusually for the cosmetics industry - when it was made. If it’s a naked product, like a bath bomb or shampoo bar, all this information is recorded by the shop. It means every product can be traced back to the person who whipped up the batch in the factory. Some of our regular shoppers even have a favourite compounder for certain products – have you tried Nev’s Ultrabland?
It takes a lot of dedication to earn your Lush face sticker as Ashley O’Sullivan who swapped a career as a postie for one within compounder development knows. “Within compounding we have many different tasks and skills we need trainees to learn,” he explains. “The trainee first learns how a product is made from a trainer, then makes the product assisted, then makes the product on their own whilst being watched by the trainer before finally working completely on their own.
“Many products have different processes so learning all the products for a department is a great achievement. We also have master compounders who have worked in many different departments and have a great knowledge of the processes and products.”
People might come for a job, but they stay for the atmosphere. Ashley explains:
“There really is a family feel to Lush manufacturing. Many families work within the company and it’s not uncommon to find partners, parents and grandparents in the same department. The atmosphere is very unique for a manufacturing business: we have some extremely talented people and some real characters and both are key instruments for a successful team. Each year many people move into different roles around manufacturing and it’s great to see people’s skills and confidence grow over the years.”
A workforce of many voices
The heart of Lush manufacturing is still in Poole where the company started, though more factories opening worldwide such as in Dusseldorf have enabled faster and fresher international deliveries. Still, in 2017, Poole catered for 376 different shops in 23 different countries (not to mention customers who order online) - that’s a lot of a muscle required from a sleepy Dorset town.
Mo recalls: “In early 2000, we found there was a shortage of local staff here in Poole. At the time, Europe was in crisis and many Polish folk arrived looking for a good solid income, and so the match was made. We currently employ nearly 1,500 people staff in Poole around half of whom are from Poland and 52 other countries around the world. The Polish connection brought strength to our business and made it possible to support the growth.”
What about the much-debated gender divide in the manufacturing industry? Boxes are for Christmas gifts, not people, and, so, while simply rolling out statistics doesn’t represent staff members who identify as non-binary or do not wish to disclose their gender, the latest UK reports are promising. While recent data from the Office of National Statistics says the national gender split in manufacturing is 76% male and 24% female, the UK Lush factory has a more balanced breakdown, with sisters doing it for themselves representing 45% of employees. Lush is proud to be a company of many voices and as always, there’s more work to be done in these areas.
Handmade is the future
What’s next? Lush are always thinking bigger, bolder, fresher. Handmade enables us to push the boundaries of what’s possible in cosmetics so don’t expect to see an automated assembly line any time soon, particularly when passion for handmade expertise runs through the business.
Ashley argues: “Being handmade makes us unique and adds passion and expertise to our finished products. If everything was to become machine made we would lose so much creativity and passion, not to mention permanent and temporary jobs for the local area.”
It’s a sentiment Mo strongly endorses. “Today sees around thousands of staff in seven factories around the world making our products: the finest, freshest products, innovations and inventions never before seen in the cosmetic world. We are right to be proud.”
Amen to that.