News & Insight

Lush Cosmetics, and why authenticity is everything

Christian Nellemann

All businesses nowadays say they're innovative, but how many can actually prove what they claim?

All businesses nowadays say they’re innovative. They also say they’re green, ethical, and at the forefront of their industry in every conceivable way. The problem is, how many can actually prove what they claim?

No one likes a person who goes on relentlessly about what they have achieved, and a brand is no different.

What’s increasingly rare, but also increasingly refreshing, are those businesses that just get on with being progressive. They of course don’t need to claim – you won’t find the words ‘we are innovative’ on their website, because that space is filled with an example of something innovative they’ve actually done. And it works, too. No one likes a person who goes on relentlessly about what they have achieved, and a brand is no different. Customers are always smarter than we think.

A great example of this is Lush Cosmetics – and here’s how they’ve turned authenticity into customer worship.

Naked products and a transparent business

Lush is one of the most ethical businesses in the world, despite having more than 900 stores worldwide. And they’ve achieved that rare feat of not compromising who they are as they’ve grown.

The list is endless in terms of what they do to be ethical and innovative. 100% of their products are vegetarian and 85% are vegan. They actively campaign against animal testing. They sell their products like a delicatessen and more than 50% of their products are ‘naked’ – i.e. they don’t have any packaging. They’ve been paying the Living Wage (not the Government’s version but the higher rate set by the Living Wage Foundation) for years. They donate to anti-fracking groups. They pay their African suppliers a fair price.

Whether you agree with their stance on certain issues or not, they stand up for what they believe in. They do everything you could imagine an ethical business could do, and more.

And perhaps most importantly, they don’t stop innovating. They’ve recognised that the latest innovation quickly becomes the industry standard – and that the shelf-life of new ideas gets shorter as industries become more competitive. When a competitor copies you, you have two choices: moan, or leave them behind once again.

It’s advertising, but not as we know it

On the other side of the coin, it’s very hard to find any skeletons in their cupboard. In fact the only hints of scandal seem to centre on Lush going too far in their quest to be ethical; more than once, their founder has courted controversy for criticising the ethics of other businesses. And this only serves to boost the company’s profile.

Perhaps most remarkably, Lush doesn’t advertise. In fact, it doesn’t even describe itself as ethical, eco-friendly or progressive. Why? Because it lets its products and conduct do the talking. Campaigning against animal testing is a lot more powerful than saying you’re ethical. Not using any packaging is far more eco-friendly than saying you’re eco-friendly. And if you want to be a progressive employer, what’s more important: paying your employees a good wage, or a page on your website that talks about employee engagement?

Last year, Lush grew by 26%. On Boxing Day, their website crashed because demand was so extreme. And they did zero above-the-line advertising. In this day and age, that’s almost unthinkable for a business of their size – and it’s not a story advertising agencies will want you to hear. But the lesson is simple and timeless: prove, don’t claim. Do that consistently, and your customers will do all your advertising for you.

  • Christian Nellemann is the Founder and CEO of XLN, a provider of low-cost phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. A serial entrepreneur, he’s a two-time winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and one of only 17 inductees into their Global Hall of Fame. He is passionate about small businesses, and is a featured columnist for Follow him on Twitter @christianxln