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Is packaging free makeup possible?

Lush is introducing a new makeup range. It will benefit your skin, fight animal testing, directly support small communities and do just about everything that other make up ranges do. Except with no unnecessary packaging.


Packaging recycling is on the rise in the UK. According to figures published in February 2018 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 71.4% of UK packaging was recycled or recovered in 2016, up from 64.7% over the course of 2015.

This is undoubtedly a good sign. But, unfortunately, these numbers only tell half the story. Plastic is still one of the two least recycled packaging materials in the UK (wood is the other) with only 44.9% recovered or recycled over 2016. What’s more, an investigation by the Guardian revealed that Britain’s leading supermarkets together create more than 800,000 tonnes of packaging waste. Even your tea bags contain a thermoplastic called polypropylene, which helps tea bags keep their shape yet means that most popular brands are just 70-80% biodegradable. Every year, globally, 8m tonnes of plastic is offloaded into waterways. That’s the equivalent of one refuse truck being dumped out every single minute. Even with microbeads banned and plastic bags costing pennies, this is expected to rise to two garbage trucks per minute by 2030, then four per minute by 2050. In the same year, pieces of plastic are predicted to outnumber fish in the world’s oceans.  

Enter Rowena Bird, Lush co-founder, product inventor and makeup enthusiast.

Rowena’s makeup stays in her bathroom. She puts it on in the morning and then doesn’t look at herself again. Sure, she might re-apply a slick of lipstick later in the day, but she won’t need a mirror to do it. “I just sit there and put it on,” admits Ro.

The idea of applying makeup sans-mirror fills some people with dread. Not so for Rowena, who is a self-admitted makeup lover and a practised hand, having already invented Lush’s Emotional Brilliance makeup range and innovative products such as solid tricolour lip blocks, She can spend hours exploring makeup counters, thinks that a new lipstick is a sure-fire way to cheer yourself up if you’re feeling a touch low, and tends to steer away from red shades; “Maybe I just haven’t found the right red,” she wonders aloud.

When it comes to the products she has invented for Lush, Rowena doesn’t believe that rules apply: “I don’t mind how people use them, as long as they enjoy them.”

What Rowena does believe is that unshackling ourselves from our over-consumption of plastic can begin with our makeup bags. The future is our own to make up, so why not start with our makeup? One impulse therefore drives the entirety of Lush’s new range: can Lush make solid, naked products, moving away from packaging as much as possible, while continuing to offer customers choice?

Rowena’s answer is a resounding yes, but her possible solution is two-fold.

First, there’s the products: Lush’s new makeup products will be as naked as possible. And when they do require packaging, this packaging should always be pioneering: compostable, reusable, recyclable or refillable alternatives to traditional wrapping and containers.

“My aim is that products don’t necessarily come packaged in their packaging.” says Rowena, “What I mean is that, say we have to waste a product because it is no longer fresh enough, we’re wasting the product but not the product and the packaging. We’re not throwing away any plastic.”

But if Rowena wants to transform the way companies package products and customers buy them, she needs shoppers to join the revolution.

“When I was in Norway, customers were really good at coming in with their tupperware and then putting their product into it. That’s lovely. Bring your paper bags back in to be filled, or - if you want a face mask - bring your pot back in and refuse to take our pot. That’s what I’d like to see: people saying, “No, I don’t want your pot,” and emptying it out into their own,” says Ro.

The Communities Behind The Cosmetics

The transformative power of makeup - to create an outside look that reflects the depths within - sparked another question. Research conducted by the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women reveals that more than ⅔ of the world’s 796 million illiterate people are women and only 39% of girls in rural areas attend secondary school (compared to 45% of boys). So, what if the decisions you made when picking cosmetics could also be choices that empower women’s co-operatives and support girls’ education?

The new upcoming Lush makeup range utilises a range of artisan ingredients from community co-operatives, such as coconut oil from Nias, Indonesia, where a portion of the profits fund social amenities like a local dentist and literacy classes. Ro is particularly keen for product inventors to develop more items using beautiful ingredients that support community projects, in particular, Fair Trade and organic shea butter, aloe, and moringa and argan oils.

Rowena explains: “My brief to everybody involved in making these products was to include: shea butter, argan, moringa, and aloe. All four would be lovely, but at least one of them should be in each product because all of these ingredients support women’s co-operatives or education.”

Ojoba Women's Cooperative | Empowered Women in Ghana

Women of the Ojoba Collective expertly harvest shea butter

Gabbi Loedolff, who heads up Lush’s buying of raw materials and safe synthetics, explained to Metro UK just how one of these ingredients - shea butter, hand churned by the women of the Ojoba Collective in Ghana, benefits women: “The Ojoba Collective is a women’s only co-op and these sorts of business models are important, because they give marginalised groups - like women - more of a chance to get ahead. If men were in the group, the traditional patriarchal system would remain and the women would not become empowered and have a unified voice.

“Co-operatives can be powerful vehicles of social inclusion and the economic empowerment of their members. In the Ojoba Collective, the women would often not even talk to one another before joining

the co-operative. Now they all help one another and grow together. There is a real sense of community and camaraderie. The economic benefits impact not only the women but also their families and the wider community,” adds Gabbi.

“But we’re not just putting these ingredients in for the sake of buying them,” says Rowena, “We’re putting them in because they’re going to make a difference to people’s skin as well.”

“It’s a win-win. There’s a lot of wins. Schools wins. The girls who get an education win. Your skin wins. We win because we’re selling the product. And I love winning!” laughs Rowena, “So if everyone else can win around me, well then that’s even better!”

You’ll find the latest naked makeup launches here along with a range of monthly #LushLabs exclusives.

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