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More than a billion dollars in sales! The original creator of bath bombs, Rowena Bird, shares the 27 year history in building Lush Cosmetics (part 1)

by Female Startup Club
April 4th 2022
00:50:31
Description

Today we are learning from Rowena Bird, Co-Founder of Lush Cosmetics. A business that started 27 years ago in Poole, the UK.

Since 1995, Lush has been a trailblazer in the cosmetics indust... More

I can be a bit of a fan girl when it comes to other female podcasters in the business space and I am so sure you're going to know the woman who I'm shouting about today, it's Jenna co host of the gold digger podcast that's brought to you by the hubspot podcast network. The gold digger podcast helps you discover your dream career with productivity tips, social strategies, business hacks, inspirational stories and so much more. But if you don't know her yet you should head over and immediately download the episode called Sales 101, a lesson in selling for people who hate it. Listen to the gold digger podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This is Rowena Bird for female startup club. Mhm Hey everyone and welcome back to another episode of the female startup club podcast. It's doing here, your host and hype girl Today, we're learning from Rowena Bird, co founder of Lush Cosmetics, a business that started 27 years ago in the UK. Since 1995, lush has been a Trailblazer in the cosmetics industry, from inventing bath bombs and creating new innovative products to fighting animal testing and ethical campaigning come a long way since its humble beginnings in pool Russia's journey is ongoing and as it continues to grow and evolve in ways that keep breaking new ground in the cosmetics industry.

It's a journey that is so interesting to dig into. I know you're going to absolutely love this episode and just quickly while I've got you here. If you're on your phone right now listening to this episode, I have a favor to ask you please take a quick screenshot in your podcast app and share this to your instagram stories. It helps me know that you really love the show, it helps other ears find us and it shows you're part of our club, Let's get into this episode. This is Rowena for female startup club. Getting an online business off the ground isn't easy. So if you find yourself working late tackling a to do list, that's a mile long with your fifth cup of coffee by your side. Remember great email doesn't have to be complicated. That's what clay vo is for. It's the email and SMS platform built to help e commerce brands earn more money by creating genuine customer relationships. Once you set up a free clay vo account, you can start sending beautiful branded messages in minutes.

Thanks to drag and drop design templates and built in guidance and with e commerce specific recommendations and insights, you can keep growing your business as you go. Get started with a free account at Clay vo dot com. That's K L A V I Y O dot com. Female startup precincts, wow, this is a pretty exciting moment for me. I feel like I've grown up buying your bath bombs and going into the lush stores and absolutely loving it. And what's funny is, it's one of those situations where like a brand is so big and it becomes so big that you almost forget that it's someone somewhere in the world started this brand with just an idea and turned it into this huge thing. So, I'm so excited to have you on the show today, Rowena to go back to the very beginning of this amazing brand that you've built and how you've done this.

Welcome. Welcome. Thank you very much, lovely to be here, very kind of you. The funniest thing is that when you say I grew up with this brand, and I'm thinking, well, you know, me and the co founders started it when we were really getting on a bit. Makes you feel very old. Yeah, because in my head, I'm still early 30s. Oh my gosh, I love that. Let's go back to, I guess the early nineties, or maybe even the eighties to when you met your co founders and you were starting to work on this as an idea. Where do you like to start the story? So, while I've worked with the same team of people now for 40 years and two and tomorrow we celebrate 40 years of one of the other co founders of us all being together as a group. So when I started working with mark and mo there was six of us in the business, but not the sixth of the co founders now. So there were six of us and I was a beauty therapist, Liz was a beauty therapist, Mark was a try college ist mo was making products in their kitchen at home.

And then we had two people that helped making products. So, you know, that literally was us and we were making products for the Body Shop and then the Body Shop like years and years later Body Shop floated and sold and went on the market. So we were given a load of money. They had to buy the formulas office because we made, you know, about 60% of their products at one time. So they had to buy those off. And I think we've got about nine million for that, Not we, but Mark and and Liz and mo and that was invested straight into a new business for us, which was called cosmetics to go, which was mail order. And that was at a time when mail order, you weren't ordering online. What is mail order? Let's refresh. Um so that's when you had a catalog and used to leave through the catalog and choose things. And then you would phone up to order it or you would send in a form that you filled out and we get those by post. So, although we had computers, it wasn't pre computed.

We had them. It was really for storing names and addresses and printing off labels. It wasn't, you know, no, no big deal like it is today. So when we ran that business for about five years, it was very successful. It was very lovely. And it had a great fan base. We explored a lot of things there with packaging with solidifying different things that set us in good stead really. So that when we lost that due to overzealous customer service, I would say. So, customer service is one of the most important things in your business when you're starting it up, but you have to be aware that it can cost money. And we were putting so many free things in each parcel which made it all lovely. Then we were doing that wasn't too bad. The bit that tripped us up, there was we were doing next day deliveries. So, and then if you haven't got every item that they've ordered and you're doing free postage and packaging, you're basically you're sending out what you have got today.

Then another parcel later. Well, you're just wiping out your margins from what you're selling. So first pitfall that we recognize there was don't do that. And so you've got to look after your margin. The other thing was we didn't really, we very much and we still do it today, but we very much believe in promotional from within and that's very important. But don't do it in the accounting to pop what do you mean? What do you mean? Well, we had an accountant who had been with us for so long and really the business was just too big for them. And they were, they were very good bookkeepers. Excellent. But could not help you steer the business drive the business keep an eye on your margins and make sure that everything you were doing makes sense. We didn't have that element in the business. And then then one Christmas, we had a huge flood, we were in a great big, it's a house, multi story house that we were working out of and one of the radiators was taken off the top floor and we thought that would be the plumber thought that would be okay because nobody was going to be in the building.

But he didn't turn off the water supply. So of course the electric came on, the water supply started going around the heating system came on and water started to come through the floors. And the police phoned Mark and it was christmas Day Boxing Day saying the building that you occupy in town is there's a blue light coming from it. We don't think all's well and the water had slowly dripped through all the floors and was over the computer system that we did have. So the electrics were going up. So we lost all our names and addresses and mhm. So that's all our contacts gone. How many customers was that? So that was a big deal. And and then we did a sale where we did purse openers, they're called where you put cheaper things in to get people into like we'll have one of those, one of those, one of those and then I'll have bigger things is what you would hope. Um but it just led to lots of people having lots of purse openers and us doing free posts and packaging and sadly we just went under. So you know, those are pitfalls that we learn in that business.

We all knew then that, that was it. We went into Receivership, everything went down now, we started looking, what else are we going to do? Then everybody started looking in different ways, Liz went off to be about being a trainer um, somewhere else for a time management company. I went off to meet per Lindstrand to try and be a balloon pilot because I always, I love balloons and so I wanted to work in the, in the area. Um so I went to do that, but I mean, and paul went to the National Health Service, he went off to the NHS and none of us were really quite happy going and working for somebody else. We were so used to the autonomy that we appreciated in cosmetics to go and we kept coming back together and in the end it was like, well, I don't think, I think we're unemployable, so I think we're all going to have to get back and start again. So that's what we need each other. We did need each other. Yeah, at that point we'd worked together for like 12, 13 years.

So yeah, when I came down here, I was 22 when I started work with them. So, you know, I've grown up with the same people. We and it was very much like a family. So the core of us came back together And that's who the founders are today, so 40 years ago. So there's five of you or six of you, the six of us. So there were six of us then and there's six of us now because we have a new founders, there's a little bit complicated, but one of the guys that had worked with us for that long carl, he had a young family and he had to go out and get a proper job. So there was five of us and then Carl came back a couple of years later, so we have we class ourselves as six founders, but we lost a couple of years ago. The important thing about getting together as a group of founders and when you're starting your business is think about who you're starting the business with, whether it's just you that's going to own it or whether you're going to own it with other people and what everybody brings.

Now with the six of us, we had Mark Constantine who has great vision and strategy, so he knows what it's going to look like. He has, he can see it in his head, he has the big picture and we're all very confident in his big picture. We're confident in delivering that picture for him and then you've got no Constantine, his wife, she is very practical. So for manufacture, absolutely ideal, no nonsense. You know, knows how it should be done and we go off into manufacturers and more runs run that Helen, she is the most sci fi one of all of us. So her attention to detail is bar none. So when it comes to creating products that isn't just like a bit of this, bit of that, she is more of the fine art chef. So she could do all the correct levels of preserving our products. So we don't just whacking the preservative and just churn out the same as everybody else were more considered about our levels of preservative.

And now really to this present day where she's creating products that are self preserving. So we don't even need to use the preservative systems. I mean her attention to detail and her skill is phenomenal. Then we had paul who was our he's our techie guy, so he could do labels, he did our first online. So that was all great because the rest of us were no good at that. We had Liz who's all about education and training and making it into a learning business to make sure that everybody understood what it was we were doing and could pass that message on. And then there was me, I'm adaptable. I say yes to most things, I'll give it a go, I love customer service. It's the most important thing to me. I love a good system. It's like a tick list. So I and, and I was only just getting married so I could move so I could move to London and open our shops there and work on the shop floor and put in all the systems and the customer service levels and all that sort of thing. Boots on the ground. Yeah. So between us all, we all had a skill set that combined together, made a total unit, which was, that's a great starting point really.

And as well, when you start something, it's not as lonely if you're all there together because you know, you're all trying hard and sort of thinking about it because it's very much a real thing to all of you. It's not just one person's dream and the rest of you are trying to make that happen. So yeah, there we were, that was the six of us. I got married, we opened in May, I got married in the july and then moved up to London straight away after my honeymoon, luckily I have a husband who is Very flexible. So we went and lived in London above the shop # two. And and then took it from there really. I just started opening more shops. So I won the shops for the first little while and then started opening them from there. So we were all very hands on and here we are, 27, years later, we're still very much hands on. So yeah, this it's we're very much part of it. We're still inventing the product. We're still running and managing the business day today.

Gosh, what a journey! That is crazy! I have so many questions. And we're going to stay in the in the 90s for awhile longer. We're going to stay in 1995. Let's just like go back to the early beginning here. Like why lush? How did lush come about? And what was that dreaming phase of? Like what this business was going to be And like how did we land on bath bombs? And like let's let's stick around here for a while. So it was called Originally we were going to call ourselves the cosmetic Warriors from the Temple of temptation because we felt that's what we were we were we were creating products not seen before. So we were warriors in the cosmetic industry. And everything about the products we made is a temptation and a delight. So we were the cosmetic warriors in the Temple of temptation. Now try getting that on the label along with all the other information that you've got put on. That's a tongue twister. So in the end, what we did, we we managed to find an old customer list from cosmetics to go. And we sent our mailing out to everyone saying, look, we're back in business, we're just making a few products here they are, if anybody wants one.

And while we're at it, we've got a competition, what name us? We haven't got a name, this, we know we're cosmetic warriors, but we haven't got a name and we had different names and we all sat around looking at them. And the one that came in that we loved was I think she called us a lush garden or a lush something. We just thought, you know what, just lush. It's great because when you look up the word lush, it is all about excess and verdant and green and rich and you know, it was all those things that we felt we were. And so yeah, we called ourselves lush and it's, it's a short word, it has a different meaning and it was becoming a bit of a, a buzzword where people like to use that slush. And so it was like timing. So yeah, and it was used in the way that we wanted our products to be seen as lush. So yeah, it was a competition with our customers that gave us our name. Do you know who that woman is? That named the business Elizabeth Bennet. And well, the funny thing, the reason we remember her name is because Liz Bennet was one of the co founders.

And so there was, we had Alice Bennett who was the training and then we had Elizabeth Bennet from Edinburgh who sent it in and it was like she one of everyone, one of everything that we made at the time. Oh my gosh, yes. And we were in touch with her just a couple of maybe three or four years ago, she actually wrote us a note. She doesn't live in Scotland anymore, she's living in America actually and she wrote a note and just said, you know, I'm, I'm so delighted I found you over here and you know, it's so lovely, it's still going and you've still got the name I gave you so Oh my God, amazing! That's so cool, wow, What a moment. It sounds like, you know, you've gone through this really awful experience, closing down the first business cosmetics to go and then you've come back, you've had some time away from each other, you've come back, you've realigned what's the money piece of the puzzle. Did you have to invest a lot of savings to get started? Was there like a big capital or was it scrappy? Not a lot, you know, roll up the sleeves, Scrapping not a lot.

So we, I mean for me, my my contribution was on my credit card and I think I had a limit of 10,000 and we had a building which was owned by Mark Moran Liz. So we sold most of the contents of that. I was doing car boot sales, who was collecting stuff from any of us was like, right, I'll do a car boot sale this weekend, let's see what money we can get in. And we'd buy raw material with that. I mean the others had a little bit of money as well. None of us had very much because we've been trying to sort out, you know, paying off debts from the last business. So it was quite hand to mouth. And what happened was we opened up downstairs as I said, because the building that we're in that we own it, it's an old pub in pool and we have a shop downstairs and we have the labs upstairs and offices upstairs. So we opened that up and we sent out a notice now somebody, an old customer Andrew Geary saw that and said, oh he made a phone call and he said, are you going to make the shaving cream that I used to buy from you and cosmetics to go.

And that started a conversation and then he revealed that he worked with a man called Peter Blacker who invested in startup businesses among other things and he might be interested in getting us back on our feet again. So there was a meeting had between Mark Peter and Andrew and the outcome was Peter Lent us I think around 250,000 if my memory serves me. So with that we opened our first little shop in covent garden. So we had a tiny one, it's Unit seven and it's now um a little cafe and you see outdoors, but it was tiny, little one and the story for us was that's where in Eliza Doolittle sold her flowers outside of their, in my Fair Lady, which delighted us. And but on the other it was Alfred Hitchcock in one of his films. The bodies were dragged in there and put under the floor. So this lovely little unit at the end had had all these stories surrounded. And it was in Covent garden, which is just, you know, absolutely annoying. It is. And then we had that was popular.

So people were coming in and seeing us and we then found another shop on the King's Road. So it was up the further end of King's Road, sort of past the bit that's the best bit really. But it was opposite Waitrose and just up from Marks, a spencers. So that sort of suited us. And next to the potter the pub. So we opened in there, 1, 2, 3 Kings Road and that's where Mike and I lived above there when we moved into London. And from there we started to be seen because Kings Road was the road. Everybody if you came visiting London you came to King's Road. So we had visitors coming in there all the time going, wow, I've never seen this before. Can I take it to my country, You know, I want to open lush in Croatia and Canada were our first ones, but people were coming in all the time. And so it was always, you know, I lived up above and I'd be doing work and I'd like ro, can you come down? I've got some people from Canada and they want to take lunch to Canada and come down and talk to them. And we had like particularly insistent ones, they were here for two weeks holiday and they must have come in, spent the holiday coming into love in the end.

I would say to Mark and Andrew Look, will you just talk to these guys? Because I know what to say to them and it was decided that, okay, let's give it going. You seem to have the ability and the wherewithal to understand business. So we don't know anything really about retail. We're just testing feelers with it because we're not retailers were manufacturers and inventors were not retailers. So retail was new to us. And I said, well, if you take it, this is how your shops have got to look. But it's up to you to understand business dealings in Canada. So we had the same in Canada with the same in Croatia, I suppose I've skipped a bit there because it was like, how did we get the look of Ashok? Yes. Oh my gosh, how did you get the look Look? Because that, because they are quite different. The look of our shop came from Mark and joe who was our first employee and I going around favorite shops. So the blackboard idea came from odd bins wine shop where they put blackboards and they say this wine has, is full bodied and great with spaghetti bolognese and you know that.

So they write a little bit about the wine. And we thought, well the blackboard is such a lovely idea. So we borrowed that idea, paul smith was Mark's favorite clothes shop and that was all wooden furniture. So we thought right, we'll we'll have that idea, We love markets with all the fresh fruit and veg and stuff. So that was the ballistic idea. There's the cheese shop in NEal's yard where it was just a big truck als of cheese, that was the soap idea. So basically we were sort of looking at our favorite shops and thinking, oh, let's take a bit of this, let's take a bit of that, we can do that with our soaps, we can do this without ballistics. And then, and we didn't have very much money. So packaging had gone out the window, it was like, well we can't afford to package it. And by the quality of ingredients that we insist on putting in our product was more important to us to have beautiful ingredients, a class ingredients, organic where possible, Fair trade, local, it was more important than having a shiny wrapper or a box or a packet and bear in mind that from cosmetics to go, I did all the packaging, you know, I sort of felt a bit redundant, it was like, will anyone buy big blocks of soap that you cut as you come in, and I was like, I don't think they will, you know, because people could have touched it, they're not going to be keen on that.

I mean, how wrong can you be thousands, hundreds of thousands of tons later. Yeah, wow, I want to buy their safe. Like, that hypothesis paid off. So yeah, so that was that was how we got the look of the shop and then jo's boyfriend at the time was he was a carpenter, I needed kitchens or something. So he came in and started, you know, working with us on creating the shops. So the look came about as a mishmash of other ideas that we've seen everywhere and and put it out and we both we all love theater, so we wanted it what we really wanted, I suppose because we felt a bit sad because we lost business. So we wanted people to come in and feel like they were coming into an experience, not the same old thing. We wanted to do demonstrations. We wanted people to come in and see a platform fizzing in water, have a hand massage, come and put your fingers in the pots and just try everything out, smell it all, enjoy it, pick it up, touch it, not be precious about it.

And I think people just really enjoyed that. Yeah, and the staff loved it because they would come in and be talked about all the products and we still do the same today. You know, it's like get people involved when they come in. You said that when they come in they're coming in for a full on experience. Experiential. Yeah. Yeah. And I guess that's what would have attracted people from overseas because they would have seen this story been like, wow, this is really new. I've not experienced anything like it. We should bring this to wherever we live. Canada Croatia the world. So was that then the, you know, you went to Canada, you went to Croatia in like a franchise kind of agreement. And was that then like, okay, this is a blueprint that works, let's do this at scale because you have like 1000 stores now around the world. Right? It's huge. Yeah. But that was never our thought. I mean what we have is license agreement. So we don't do franchise if you franchise, you know, great do it. But if you franchise and what you're doing is you've got lots of people that you work with.

If you license, you license the whole country and it then becomes their responsibility to grow that country, not yours. Oh, okay. And that's that's what we did. We knew we didn't know retail. So it was like, well will license Canada to you will license Croatia to you, this is how the shops look, this is the product you can sell, you can't sell anyone else's product. So basically we're licensing the name and the product you buy your product from us only. And then we sat there and we started off a little while thinking once you've got three shops you start manufacturing. So Canada still has manufacturer Croatia does have manufactured. But we then soon worked out that actually manufacture is not the easiest thing to pass on that knowledge. So you know, we have manufacturing units now based around the world to try and minimize our travel in the environmental impact like that for distribution. But we don't insist that every country has manufactured because sometimes being retailers is enough without being manufacturers and retailers.

So we learned that too. So um yeah, Learning what you can cope with. But what I would say is an organic growth is much better. So our first ambition was just to have shops within the M- 25. So we recognized in within the M25 there was great locations And we could make a nice business out of I don't know, 7810 shops within the M- 25. The Canadian and the Croatian visitors may just realize actually we could go beyond that. But it was step by step as people, we have never gone out looking for customers over partners, they've always found us. And one of the criteria which I think is, you know, obviously I think it's really important though when you're looking at a partner is to think, do I actually like you and would I like to have dinner with you and that's where it starts, you know, are we going to have a relationship in a way of like, yes, it would be really lovely when you come over and we come over to see you that we all have dinner at a lovely time and we can work really nicely together.

That's the starting point. And then it's like, well, how much money have you got? Can you afford to do it? You know what skill sets if you want that moves on from there? Because it's it's really important to actually like who you work with and have respect for them because otherwise you don't want to talk to them if you don't want to talk to somebody, you're not actually facing up to issues within the business maybe, or you can't you can't grow it well and I think it's so important to enjoy the journey, like you've got to enjoy that kind of thing because if you're not enjoying your day to day, you've lost because once you started it, you've got to keep it going because you're now responsible for those jobs. So, you know, once you've started employing people, they're your responsibility to look after them and make sure that they are cared for and you keep their jobs going. So yeah, it is a it is a huge responsibility. So the more you like people that you work with, so relationships so important. I mean business is just all about relationships and people, there were so many things I wish I knew when I started my business.

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It'll save you hundreds of dollars per year that you can reinvest into your business. Go to 0.com. That's Z. Y. R. O dot com and use our code F. S. C. To get an exclusive discount plus three months free and a personalized domain name with any yearly plan. If we're to think about, you know, you've opened those few stores on Kings Road, you've expanded into Canada, you've expanded into Croatia. Obviously there's about 25 years from then until now. There's a there's a huge a huge portion of time. If you were to kind of think about just the key like dot point blueprint of how you got from those first few stores to now, all over the world, more than a billion dollars in sales. You know, just a huge business. How does that happen? One of those key milestone moments over these years? I think one of the I suppose so your first one is getting your shop open, choosing the right location. So you know, just because it's cheap, don't go up a Backstreet or don't go somewhere where you haven't got the football shops are expensive because of their location and it's worth the money because if you can be where people can see you more, people talk about you, your reputation grows.

If you go somewhere if you try and be all nation clever about it and people don't see you, there's there's no one to talk about you so word doesn't spread. So think about your location of where you are, if you have accepted somebody's money to help you get the first building. Buy them out as soon as you can so that it's back to being your business. So we promised peter the best deal he'd ever done. Bear in mind that he was always doing deals and helping things. So he got the best deal he'd ever done from us in the in the sense of a return an increase on his return I think he doubled his money. So that was good. Then you haven't got somebody who has lent you a relatively small amount of money which it is by the time you've grown into the bigger business that you're going to be. But they have a big share in your business. And then because that you start to build resentment because you're doing all the work you've got all the worry and they're sitting there and taking lovely big dividends so that that can wear you down.

So think about those things, think about the future and how it's going to be. So although it's all very lovely now the minute you don't need that money pay that investment back so that it's your business, wow. I didn't know that that you paid him back. Oh yes. Yeah. Yeah. Within the first few years we we made sure that that was the first debt that was paid um choose who you work with. You can't always get it right friendships breakdown and that happens. But if you like who you're working with that makes life so much easier when the times are tough you will rally in and support each other at different times, people are flying high and then they crash and that means then somebody else comes up and takes over the burden for a while while they recover. So you're always supporting each other. And and that is, you know, there's so much to be said for that because business is a challenge and at different times, you know, you're going to be challenged and when you're building your team don't be frightened you as a founder.

If you're a single founder or as a group of founders don't be frightened of employing people better than you because you're still the founder, you're still the one that calls the shots. But what you're doing is building a very strong team of support around you. So your business stands a much better chance of survival. So, you know, when you hit, if you hit skids, you've got a better chance of surviving, so choose your people. So I think that, you know, we've always done that as we've worked through open as I said location. So we opened on the King's Road, people then started to see us. You know, it wasn't like Everyone from the 49 countries where it came in on the same day and we went, we wouldn't have been able to do that as a country came in. The first things that we were doing. Once you hit three shops, you got to open manufacturing after a few countries we realized actually this isn't it is hard to be a manufacturing retail. So we stopped doing that and just concentrated on building manufacturing in the U. K. And then shipping Although Canada still have theirs.

But for instance Sweden opened one. Italy opened one. It just didn't work. So it was sort of like okay we're asking too much here we will control our product and make our product, we're inventing it. We might as well invent it, make it and ship it. So you know keep an eye on that. If if a partner isn't right then don't don't ignore it. If the relationship isn't working don't ignore it sort it out because the longer it goes on the worse the situation gets. So you do have to face up to that. Not everyone will work. We have had changeovers of partners and I think in the end everybody is pleased with it because you know they've got out of the nightmare they were in because they didn't understand what they were doing and we haven't got to put up with somebody who didn't understand what we were trying to do. Yeah. I think it's organic growth. Don't try and do something too big. So for instance our first big store we opened on Oxford Street we suddenly went from our normal I don't know let's say 200 square foot shops With 200 m2 shops Certainly took 4000 square meter shops.

Oh my goodness me, you can not like, I mean they're the same shops, the same stock. You know, they've got spars in them, but you know, we had spot before. So it's sort of, but suddenly the managing of them is completely different. So a big jump like that, Such a steep learning curve. It took us 4-5 years start breaking even on that shop. Now, luckily you've got strong elsewhere. You know, you can support that. It's sustainable, but only for a length of time. But now it's all right because we've, we've mastered the art of running it. So don't be too eager to grow really huge. It doesn't matter if it takes time. It grows well slow and steady wins the race. It does, it does an organic growth is by far better than a big burst. Yes, absolutely. That word of mouth inherently built into what you do. This leads me to something I wanted to ask you about last year, you decided to stop running social media, go off the channels, what has been the impact of that?

And was it good or bad decision? It's an excellent decision for us. I mean, we're very lucky that we already have following. So people know us. So that's fortunate. So people really have just taken it over for us. So people, you know, our customers are still like, oh, look, I've got a lush hall, I've got a ballistic, this is my ballistic in the bath. This is this is me using their, you know, so we've still got content out there. We're just not putting it out there. And the decision, it's not made lightly. But we knew we had to do something. I mean we have come off it twice. So the first time we came off, it was a little while before the pandemic. And then once the pandemic hit, the only way of keeping in touch with people was through social media. So we had to come back on. Um now it's not the case because we're open again and we're not saying we'll never go back on it. We will when the algorithms change. And then, and negativity is not pushed at mainly young people.

But you know, people are influenced by what they see and it's an algorithm. I mean I'm not ever so technical about it. But the algorithm that is used is the same as betting where they don't want you to stop betting. They might say, oh take a break if you don't feel happy with this, they don't want you to stop. Why would they want you to stop? So and the algorithms are the same. They're pushing the messages that can be harmful to you if they affect you so that the suicide rate for young people from social media is high and we do not use any raw materials that cause any harm to your body. So why would we be using a tool like social media that could potentially cause harm. So for us it just didn't make any sense. And it was like, do you know what? We're not happy with this? Something needs to change here, We're not happy being on it, therefore we're going to come off it until such time as there's a change and it's it's a safe environment for people to be in because it's a great environment.

People love it and thank goodness for it for so many people's mental health through lockdown. That might have been their only avenue they had to the outside world. So we're not knocking it, it is great, but there's a horrid side to it and that's what we didn't want to be part of the only brand that's done this like at your size. I'm trying to think if there's anyone else who's taken this kind of stand, I can't think of anyone. No, I shouldn't think we're the only ones. I mean it does have a cost. We reckoned it would take 10 million off the bottom line. So there is a cost and you have to have the guts to do it. But I mean we started with a list of ethics at the beginning and we haven't veered from them. We've always we've only ever added other things, you know, like sort of saying that There should be a freedom of movement that wasn't the thing 27 years ago now, it is so you know, we add things to it, but we don't, we never take it away and we stand by those things and and sometimes they cost you money.

But if it's your integrity, that's at stake and it's what you believe, then it's worth, it's worth that money because that's what you believe. And you don't feel like you've sold yourself out, you're not greenwashing, you're not saying one thing and doing another. And that's really important to us that we never do that, Wow. When you look back over your 27 year, 28 years in business, what has brought you the most joy? If you have to pinpoint something at the way we buy our raw materials, I just, you know, it's so when we first started, we didn't have very much money and we were trying to buy the best quality. Well, we always brought the best quality. But now I think how many years ago, 20 years ago maybe we coined the term creative buying. And that was because, you know, I wanted for me, we were doing a male or we were doing a makeup range on the side and all I was being shown was the same normal packaging that everyone else had.

I went, surely we can be more creative about our buying than this. And then I went off and traveled and I found things that I wanted to use in the shop. So creative buying was a term that we started to use and with that then came out raw materials. So we started going out to countries where we could meet the farmers, meet the growers, meet the producers and that's how we buy. So instead of just always buying from the middle man who has an ingredient, you could be essential oil can be a cocoa butter, butters, oils, herbs from the farmer. And given them, say they give them 10 something and then they sell it to us for 40 something, That's, you know, it's worth 40 something to ask that the farmer only got 10. We find that farmer and we go, right, well, we'll buy it direct from you and we'll give you the 40 because that's what we want to pay for it. Anyway, so that relationship has always been important to us. The term that we use is leaving the world lusher than we found it.

And that is our aim throughout everything that we do. And so by buying that way, that's what you're doing, because we then can talk about regeneration, not sustainable, sustainable. Was a great word for a while. And then we realized actually lots of things are sustainable. A palm plantation is sustainable, but is it good for you? Is it regenerating the earth? Is it doing anything above just growing up? No. So we then started using the word regeneration. So it's we can talk to farmers, we've got different education sites now around different areas of the world where other farmers can go and we can set up, this is how we can grow lavender Moringa, alot different things, how you can grow it in a permaculture way where you get more than one crop, it's not just a monoculture in the ground, you can grow a crop that puts goodness back into the soil and you've got like a money crop in a cash cash crop in a food crop. So we're teaching how to grow different things together and that's really important to us which gives everybody then much more wealth.

It gives wealth to the planet because it's enriching the earth because you know soil, people take soil for granted it's becoming less and less fertile. We're heading for a big problem unless we can sort it out so unless we start using regenerative and unless we start using permaculture, we're heading for a big problem. So by doing giving education to farmers and saying, hey you know, we can prove to you that this works, but you have to prove it to people. People are there in tradition, farmers often have learned from their fathers and their fathers before them and their fathers before them, so there's a tradition in a way that we do it. So we take those traditions and then we show how you can put in permaculture with that and regenerate the ground so that they get more out of it and can learn a different way of farming and so you know, I am so proud and delighted about all the different people that we can help with that. You know, women's cooperatives, women quite often or they're they're the hardest workers in many cultures, they don't get the money and then, but they are getting the money they are earning and keeping it for themselves.

So that's really important. Education is really important and all when you buy this way, those are all the things that you're contributing to and that's what I love about our products because you can buy any of our products and you have got a really amazing product for yourself, but you've also helped unseen people beyond that. So, you know, I just, I just love that, that's for me, that's what it's all about. I can see it, I mean you've been alive all this episode, but now you are just absolutely beaming. I can see that in you. That's so amazing and so cool and I'm sure everyone listening will be so inspired by you know everything you've been talking about, What is your like, what's your end goal? You've been in the business for three decades, do you guys want to sell the business? Are you going to stay in the business for a really long time. What's the journey from here? Well who knows, I don't think we're allowed out, I tried to retire last year on my 40th anniversary still here and to be honest, I much as sometimes I think oh I just want to travel and be an airy fairy but you know I would just miss everything that we get up to.

You can't even begin to imagine an endgame because times are always changing and and things just get more and more exciting and you asked me something else and I had an answer for it and I'd forgotten that. What what else did you say there was just whether you plan to stay in the business, whether the plan was to sell it what what the kind of next phase is? No it was the selling that so no definitely no plan to sell. So a few years ago we started the LGBT which is the employment benefit trust and this As shareholders we gave 10% of the shareholding to all the staff that work in the business and that's all the global business. So it's not the partner countries but it it's our the ones that come under the UK and that means that they have a vote in the running of the business when big major decisions. So if we wanted to sell and we'd have to ask all of them for permission to do that. So as founders, I say we're all getting a little bit older and moving up and potentially out though.

Not really and the second the next generation coming up and the generation into them are coming up now. You would rather hope that you've brought on the generation so well they understand that they're not going to sell them because we're going to stay exactly the same but you can't guarantee that you know things change and and you you can't yeah I guarantee it. But when you put the unemployment benefit trust in you can guarantee it because they can't do anything to everyone that works here. So so there you know when Body shops sold out to Loreal we we were very surprised and upset that you know that happened. But a lot of the people that had spent their lives, their working lives working at Body Shop because of the ethics and the great work they did and the campaigns and all the wonderfulness that was Body Shop and that is Body Shop. They were they were very saddened by that and a lot of them came to us and said I can't believe it. You know I worked there because of everything they stood for and now they belong to Loreal, please can I come and work for you.

And that made us realize that actually people really care about where they work and who they work with and what the ethics are behind you know the job that they're doing. So we put the E. B. T. In place so that for all the people that have chosen to work with us and invest their working life with us we would never disappoint them lush could not disappoint them and that is so so so important to us that we won't let them down. We care, you know tremendously about how how well you know the people who work with us are and so yeah, so we've put that in place so you know we can't be sold, they can't be sold. So yes and that makes us not for sale, not for sale, not on the market. Gosh, I love that. That's so cool, wow my God. And it comes back to people, right? It's like if you don't have a business without your team and without your customers and without the relationships that you have and yeah. Really cool. Amazing. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode.

We are testing out something new here for the next while and we're splitting up each episode into two parts, the main interview part and then the six quick questions part to make them easier to listen to. So That's part one done, tune into part 2 to hear the six quick questions. Hey, it's done here. Thanks for listening to this episode of the female startup club podcast. If you're a fan of the show, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about our D. I. Y. Course the ads, N. B. A. I also truly appreciate each and every review that comes our way. It might seem like such a small thing. But reviews help other heirs find us. So please do jump on and subscribe, rate and review the show. And finally, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing these inspiring stories, please do share it with them and empower the women in your network. See you soon. Okay. Mhm.

More than a billion dollars in sales! The original creator of bath bombs, Rowena Bird, shares the 27 year history in building Lush Cosmetics (part 1)
More than a billion dollars in sales! The original creator of bath bombs, Rowena Bird, shares the 27 year history in building Lush Cosmetics (part 1)
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