Since I discovered Lush a bunch of years ago, I’ve always loved their innovative products – as well as their bare-minimum, stark, yet eye-catching black packaging. For environmental reasons, they use as little packaging as they can, and when it’s absolutely necessary, they use as much recycled material as possible. I was interested in how the company got started; they have a long history (beginnings dating back to 1977!), so I abbreviated it a bit…but it all started with two coworkers and their unique ideas!
Abbreviated from the Lush website:
Once upon a time, in a faraway land… Or something like that, is where it all began. The LUSH founders have been working and creating together for over 30 years, in a variety of ways. This is the story how it all began, and how chance meetings and fate culminated in the creation of LUSH.
A certain Liz Weir and a fellow by the name of Mark Constantine met when they were both working in a hair and beauty salon. Mark was a trichologist (someone who studies the science of healthy hair and scalp) and Liz was a beauty therapist. Having started at the same time, they soon became friends; Mark even used to do Liz’s hair. When it came time to renew their contracts Mark was ready to move on. He had found some rooms full of beauty equipment on the High Street in Poole, UK and used his numerous charms to persuade Liz to join him in a new venture, which the naturally cautious Liz was reluctant to jump into. Nevertheless, she took the plunge and they started a business called ‘Herbal Hair and Beauty Clinic’. Liz now jokes that they nearly starved at first because their products were so innovative and rather different to anyone else’s at the time and as a result their commercial value wasn’t as great.
Then in the early 80s Mark read about Anita Roddick who had just started The Body Shop in Little Hampton and Brighton. He thought she sounded like a like-minded individual so called her and offered some of his products. She put in an order for £1,200, which was a huge accomplishment for Mark and Liz. As Anita Roddick was a fledgling entrepreneur, she was worried that she may not be able to pay for the products but their relationship with The Body Shop lasted for many successful years. Constantine and Weir became The Body Shop’s biggest suppliers and designed hugely successful products for them – Peppermint Foot Lotion, Honey Beeswax cleanser (Ultrabland), Herbal Hair Colors (henna), and Body Butters. They became so busy that they had to employ more staff as their business, Constantine and Weir, grew. At this time, Constantine and Weir also had an herb farm in Cambridge and sold cosmetics through gyms and fitness centers, sold their Bodkins range in Seattle and had a clinic in Wimbledon (Trichology Clinic. After being bought out by The Body Shop, it was time for the founders of Constantine and Weir to explore new opportunities. Cosmetics to Go (affectionately known as CTG), was set up as a mail order business. A victim of their own success, a special sale catalog was launched and sold out in 2 days. The problem was that they expected it to last a month. More calls and post orders came in than they could handle, so much so the telephone system crashed. The final disaster struck when the computer system crashed. Many people had to wait for their products for a few weeks longer than normal. The next catalog came out at Christmas, but there weren’t enough orders to sustain the business because customers were worried they may not get their gifts in time for Christmas. The company was considered worth saving, and was put into administration.
An attempt to pull the funds together to do a management buyout was unsuccessful. The company was sold to Jeff Brown who had been creating fragrances for the CTG products. He took the product formulas, as well as the ‘Cosmetics to Go’ name. The team had to find other jobs. What they were good at was making cosmetics, so they looked around to see what they could find. The team started buying fresh things like oranges, lemons, juices, and cinnamon from the supermarket and they put this into the soaps. The first soap creations were Banana Moon in its cylinder shape, molded from unused drainpipes. Red Rooster was molded in new cat litter trays (don’t worry, they were never used by cats) and Bohemian was made in a window planter. Liz always says the team was like the characters in the English children’s book The Borrowers. They worked hard at this new beginning.
They opened the doors of the store in Poole and were a little worried, as many people in the area had lost their jobs. But customers started to roll in because they had been very good to the Poole community. Many people came in, gave them a hug, and said “Here is £10, what do you want me to buy?” From this point they worked hard, wanting to call themselves ‘The Cosmetic Warriors From The Temple of Temptation’ but this was already registered. They called themselves the ‘Cosmetic House’, because they had always felt like designers at a fashion house. Liz sent 2,000 letters to old CTG customers, enclosing a photo of the team saying: “Remember us? Do you want to buy some soap?” Still not satisfied with the ‘Cosmetic House’ name, they launched a competition for customers to give the company a new name, and someone from Glasgow named Elizabeth Bennett came up with ‘LUSH’, which is defined as being fresh, green, verdant, and drunken women, and is more than a little fitting for who we are and what we do. The LUSH team started to use the factory premises again when they opened Morris Road; this factory is still used today to make the secret Essential Components (perfumes) for the products.
LUSH progressively grew and, in time, bought back their old product names and formulas from both Cosmetics To Go and Constantine and Weir. Now we have over 700 stores and several factories in over 40 countries, and we’re growing more every day. There are roughly 6000 people working for LUSH from making products by hand, selling soap on shop floors, to filling presents, to traveling in the jungles looking for fairly traded raw materials. We pride ourselves on being dynamic, innovative, original and progressive. What’s going to happen next? You’ll just have to wait and see.
By: Sarah Kofoed, Social Media Assistant, LAUNCH Private Label.
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