Lush Hour

Lush Hour

17 August, 2016
Rowena Bird
Lush cofounder shares insights about making cosmetics ethical

We recently caught up with beauty expert and environmentalist, Rowena Bird, one of the cofounders of the popular beauty and body care brand, Lush Cosmetics. We got talking about how one of the biggest beauty companies in the world gets down and dirty to help tackle global humanitarian, animal, and environmental issues.

Firstly, how did you get involved with Lush?

I've worked with the founders for 35 years. Back then the company wasn’t called Lush, it was called Cosmetics-To-Go, where I worked alongside Mark and Mo Constantine, Liz Weir, Helen Ambrosen, and Paul Greaves. When I first joined there were only four of us in the business, and we all did a bit of everything.

Lush often comes out with catchy, meaningful campaigns like Charity Pot and Plastic Recycling campaign. Which campaign have you been a part of which has most succeeded in its mission?

It’s a hard one to pick because all of them do make a difference. But I’d say that my favourite campaign has been the FUN one.

FUN is play dough for the bath; you can use it as a bubble bath or as soap, you can mold it into different shapes, and you can wash your hair with it so it’s a lot of fun! It took us ages to name it, as we really wanted it to have a fun name, and so finally someone said “should we just call it fun??”

This was around the same time as the devastating 2011 Japanese earthquake and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster, so we decided to run a fund alongside FUN’s launch to raise money to build safe playing areas for children in the affected areas. It had reached the point where kids couldn’t go out and play, as the ground and the trees and everything around it was radioactive.

So for every bar of FUN that we make and sell, we put UK 10p (HK $1) into a savings fund, which goes toward making safe playgrounds.

The other thing that I’m really proud of that we do is Simon Constantine’s idea called the Slush Fund. For everything that we buy, we take two per cent of that value, and we put that two per cent worth of money into the Slush Fund. It was launched in 2010 and we’ve donated 3 million pounds for 65 projects in 32 countries so far, and it’s growing all the time.

We’re one of the largest buyers of ingredients and essential oils around the world, and you become really aware that you’re taking a lot from the planet. With this money we can support things like sustainable farming where we source ingredients.

So for instance in Japan, this last year we funded rapeseed growers, because the rapeseed takes the nuclear element out of the ground. We use it to make soap, and then money made from selling the soap also goes towards supporting the farmers for them to be able to clean their grounds.

The Lush prize is a great tool for Lush to tackle animal welfare issues. Can you share a bit about how the prize started and what it does?

It actually started six years ago where we did a presentation in a restaurant in London to talk about ending animal testing, and we realized that [more action was needed].

We decided to offer a prize of £250,000 (~ HK $2.5 million) to anyone who could come up with safety testing without the use of animals. We then made it publicly known that this fund was available to people, in five categories: lobbying, public awareness, science, training, and young researcher.

Last year the whole UK £250,000 prize went to a group of people who mapped a toxicology pathway through the body using computers, showing the impact of the toxin on the body. Science now offers more reliable and safer testing methods that don’t cause animals harm.

We all know that Lush products are sold using minimal and recycled packaging, and in some cases none at all. Can you share some of Lush’s sustainability commitments that people may not know about ?

Being sustainable affects everything we do. All our shops have a star rating; the timbers used are recycled, and the lighting is LED. Where possible we put solar panels on the roof.

All our packaging is also recyclable and we encourage people to bring it back. We have the knot wraps that are made from spun fibre sourced from plastic bottles, which we can use to wrap gifts with.

We also use Skype a lot, to reduce the amount of travelling that we have to do, thus lowering our carbon footprint. When we do have to fly, we tax ourselves, and this money goes into a pot that’s used to fund environmental issues.

We constantly update our products based on new information or availability of alternative products. We used to use mica (the sparkly stuff in cosmetics), and I was very proud that it was certified so I knew that it was from a safe quarry. But then a journalist phoned me up and challenged me about it, and said what you don’t understand is that families around the quarries are digging for the mica, putting it into sacs and brining it down to the quarries to sell it, so you can’t guarantee anything. He also explained that regularly children are used, and they can suffocate or die in the mining process. So then we immediately responded by stopping the use of mica, and moved onto using synthetic mica.

And finally, what’s your favourite product selling in Lush at the moment?

That’s always a hard one! My favourite product that I had to bring to Hong Kong with me is the Magical Moringa, a mattifying moisturizer. Because it has cornflower in it, when you put it on it makes your skin feel very smooth and silky. I wear it underneath my foundation, because it helps it stay on better. It has the amazing moringa oil in it too, which we source from one of our permaculture farming partners.

For more information about everything Lush, check out their website at

By: Kyrah McKenzie


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