Co-founders of Lush North America Mark Wolverton and Karen Delaney Wolverton saw an opportunity to bring Lush across the pond. They've since expanded the business to include 250 North American locations. I caught up with Mark to discuss the brand's success and the importance of businesses using influence for social change.
LM: Let's start by getting a snapshot of you and the company.
MW: I'm Mark Wolverton, Lush North America's CEO and Co-Founder, along with my wife, Karen Delaney Wolverton. Lush offers bath and body products, handmade with fresh, organic ingredients and fine essential oils, sustainably sourced from around the world. Every product is vegetarian, about 85 percent are vegan, 40 percent preservative-free, 35 percent unpackaged. We support Fair Trade, Community Trade, charitable initiatives and regenerative agriculture while following a simple policy: Have the smallest possible impact on the environment while still producing beautiful and effective products.
We have 250 locations across North America which puts us in a real position to increase awareness on issues that are important to us all. Most recently, we launched a national campaign that raised over $385,000 for organizations across North America working to advance transgender rights.
LM: Tell me about finding Lush on a trip to the UK with your wife and how that led to opening North American stores.
MW: We came across Lush in London, in late 1995, and were blown away by the colors, smells and feel of the store. As we found out about the brand's commitment to fresh, organic ingredients, ethical sourcing and the policy against animal testing, we knew this would fit in well with the west coast's commitment to health and the outdoors.
We struck up a conversation with the Lush U.K. founders about expanding the brand, and in February 1996, we opened a small factory in Vancouver, followed by the first shop in April. That first shop sold $280,000 in bath bombs, body lotions and soap in its first month. We expanded into the U.S. in 2002, and today we have stores across North America.
LM: What are the values at the company's core?
MW: There's four:
- Hand-making effective products from fresh, organic ingredients and fine essential oils, no testing on animals
- Inventing our own products and fragrances, little or no preservatives or packaging, vegetarian ingredients, transparency about product age
- Creating positive impact by sustainable, transparent supply chains, supporting producer communities and agroecology projects
- Passion about direct action and using our platforms to shed light on social, animal welfare and environmental issues.
LM: Tell us about the Charity Pot product.
MW: Charity Pot is a luxurious lotion made with ethically-sourced ingredients from regenerative projects. 100% of the sales go to grassroots organizations, and since 2007, we've donated more than $26 million to over 1,500 organizations worldwide.
LM: Discuss Lush's aesthetic/branding.
MW: Our image is bright, colorful and reflects our passion for fresh, handmade products and happy staff. In our shops, that means staying true to the original vision of creating an "organic farmer's market" feel. Online, that's spearheading movements like the #bathart craze, where customers turn bathing into a way to express their creativity.
This is also a brand that is conscious of its impact in the world. That's what I would say has been at the root of our global success. Consumers have woken up to the idea that every dollar they spend is a vote for change.
LM: You started in trading and securities--what was the transition to retail like?
MW: We knew nothing about manufacturing or retail, and still can't believe it has grown so big from just one shop. The success of our business is owed to the amazing group of people we have worked with, many from the beginning, who are like family. We wouldn't be here today without them!
LM: Talk to us a little bit about why you think Lush has been so successful.
MW: It's like nothing else on the market; we have:
- Strong focus on the in-store customer experience. The shareability of the Lush experience continues to drive our retail success and online growth. Social media has become a space for customers to share their experiences (#bathart) and learn about our values while generating buzz and creating a dialogue that helps inspire our product inventors.
- A steadfast commitment to our founding values and standing up for what's right. With each ethical campaign that we run, we attract a new wave of customers proud to stand with us.
- A huge focus on authenticity and transparency, which customers are interested in, and that lots of big brands are lacking. We are open and honest about every aspect of our business.
We could have gone for the more economical, easier option, but by remaining true to the company's original aims, we've gathered a loyal following of socially and environmentally conscious customers.
LM: What do you see for the future of Lush?
MW: Continuing to invest in our brick and mortar locations. Doubling our customer reach through our websites and social media platforms. Demonstrating leadership in environmental sustainability through dedicated regenerative agroecology projects, like in countries facing intense deforestation. Continuing to experiment with sustainable packaging and new product formats like our Naked line, which reduces water use and keeps tons of plastic out of landfills.
Lush is another example of successful companies today that is in the business of doing good.