Lush is like a child asking a parent, ‘why am I not the largest cosmetic company in the world’.
“We need to create a cosmetics revolution to save the planet,” Mark Constantine, the cofounder of the Lush brand said during his keynote talk at the Lush Showcase event in Manchester today. “We are running out of time. We need a revolution.”
The annual festival of soap is like Apple Special Event on acid. Constantine wore a bright flowery suit jacket for his presentation before a capacity audience of 1,200 people at the Manchester Central convention centre.
Mr Constantine said Lush knew it could not give its customers everything they want. “We want rainbows, unicorns and waterfalls,” he continued. “It’s not what everyone wants - because we cannot always do it - our competitors are lying. But it is everything you need.”
The founder confessed that the company “did not know what natural meant”, had spent years “muddling through” while he personally was expert at “throwing shade” at competitions.
Today, Lush is ranked 33 of the cosmetics companies in the world, has donated £50 million to 3,500 good causes over the last five years, including £1.86 million to 93 Lush Prize winners for advances in ending animal testing in the industry.
Lush has sold itself as a more ethical brand, reducing the use of plastics and preservatives, and taking up political causes that most corporations avoid - most recently challenging police forces over the immoral and inhumane deployment of undercover officers.
Mr Constantine confirmed the company had used palm oil from 1995 to 2008, and also confirmed the products use 7,735 kilos of parabens globally each year. However, it was doing everything it can to move towards “self preserving” products, and sales of paraben-made products were falling.
“All our lives we’ve been working hard to remove preservatives from your products. Preservatives have to be poison - that’s how it works. It has to the poison the microbes,” he said.
The cosmetics store had sold 37.9 million “naked” - packaging free - shampoo bars in 13 years, which had saved 2,850 tonnes of plastic, which is the equivalent of 3.6 percent of “great pacific garbage lake”.
The cofounder drew a huge gasp from the audience when announcing the new “naked” mascara. In total, Lush had sold 93 million units unpackaged this year, which is still only 60 percent of products. This is the same proportion as 2010 when the company sold 49 million products. This required further innovation. “We have some specialist techniques that I am really fucking proud of,” he added.
He concluded by admitting that “Lush is like a child asking a parent, ‘why am I not the largest cosmetic company in the world’.” He suggested that the work of his entire team, and the commitment of the customers, meant that this was still a possibility.
This morning, thousands of people poured through the doors at the centre. The guests were treated to a psychedelic fair ground inside, with technicolour air balloons, a kaleidoscope of interactive stands and of course a shop with intently coloured bath bombs and make-up.
The Fun House did not distract from the more serious stalls, which focused on a wide range of social and environmental concerns, from human rights, through migration to animal testing and the need for regeneration.
*Update: Shaun Ryder is actually in the building.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague.