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Keeping your edge

Simon Constantine, head of ethical buying and perfumier at Lush, bangs the drum for diversity; celebrates its creative benefits and explains how that ethos now runs through the core of all parts of the Lush business.

Permaculture first introduced me to the term ‘the edge effect’.

This is a simple ecological principle stating that if two ecosystems meet, the edge between them is of higher biodiversity than either of the two on their own. In action, if you imagine where the land meets the sea, or salt water meets fresh, or where the forest meets the open plains, often these areas support more life and are more biodynamic than either are on their own. It’s actually just a simple numbers game, You have the benefit of both those ecosystems and sometimes even create new species as a result. Some of the most biodiverse areas on earth are between two places, the fertile edge.

Take the mixing of salt and fresh water for instance; this brackish mix gives rise to some of the most biodiverse and fertile areas of life, from mangrove swamps to river estuaries thick with migrating bird life. For a few years now, we have been working with BirdLife projects to identify migration routes that support both birds and human livelihoods. We found that one of the best ways to do that is through the purchase of salt from traditional salt pans. These large pools of saline water provide us with quality salt for our products and also habitat for birds migrating across continents; the wavering edge of the coast line providing shelter, food and breeding grounds for thousands of species.

These edges are important, not just in ecological terms but in human society too. The diversity that arises from the mix of two ways of thinking is invaluable. When two cultures meet, often something new and dynamic rises up. New music, art, literature or language can result. It’s an effect that Western Society seems deeply at odds with at the moment, but one that delivers much more benefit than we ever admit. If you think of any truly transformative idea or event it has driven us forward, it’s as a result of the emerging edge of two world views, of two cultures or of two opposing ideologies.

In Lush, I have observed first-hand the rambunctious edge that emerges between cosmetics and activism. Who would have thought that bubbly bath bombs could support causes as diverse as freeing those who have been illegally detained or protecting endangered bird species? And the edge that we found between charity and buying, for example, led to our SLush fund -  recently rebranded RE:FUND.

Projects that work with Permaculture to enrich both the land and people led us to explore new ways of agriculture, first with the purpose of helping others but then soon these ideas made sense for us to apply to everything we buy commercially too. Why wouldn’t you try and encourage all your suppliers to remove pesticides or to increase areas of conservation on their land? In Lebanon this has helped us establish projects for orange flowers that both prevent hunting and support refugees.

“And if there come the singers, and the dancers and the flute players - buy of their gifts also. For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.”

- Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet

This quote from Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran led us to bring musicians and artists into our business and from there spawned new ideas such as the Lush Spa; with bespoke music for each treatment; so woven together that you can’t distinguish between music and massage; or Gorilla Perfume; conceptual fragrances that are inspired by both music and art.

I find music very inspiring for creativity and for Gorilla perfume we have worked with a plethora of artists and musicians or been inspired by them. Whether it be musician Sheema Muhkerjee and her story of the women of Sikkim or US film-maker Hal Samples’ art made with the homeless communities of Dallas, we have found inspiration and exchange that brings about something distinctly different that could not have existed without both these worlds colliding.

Creating the environment for this to happen is often challenging. Overcoming prejudices and allowing for sensitivities can be difficult. With the perfume ‘Sikkim Girls’ for example, we drew some negative attention when a Sikkimese customer felt the story told to Sheema by a Darjeeling cafe owner was derogatory. As in nature, bringing these edges together creates friction along with fertility and Lush is no different.

As a company we are still at the beginning of our journey, and so I want to bang the drum of diversity and celebrate its power to bring new, vibrant creative acts to the table, as well as acknowledge the ecological advantage the meeting of two worlds presents. Without this dynamic there is a very real danger that whatever world you live in, you’ll lose your edge.

Image credit: Flamingoes in flight - Salarte

 

Edges are important, not just in ecological terms but in human society too. The diversity that arises from the mix of two ways of thinking is invaluable.

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