A LUSH interview

Chatting with one of Canada Top 30 Green Business

Known for its fun and very fragrant retail stores, LUSH just made Canada’s Top 30 Green Business!

Though some argue that the strong fragrance that comes from the retail stores can be too much, LUSH is a very open about their practices. When asked about the strong smells, LUSH Canada's Jen O'Holla smiled and nodded. She confirmed that when you have "naked" products (no plastic wrap or containers on the product) you will get a lot of fragrance coming off the product. She assured me that once you take the product home, the smell is not overpowering at all - but it is all about personal preference.

What else has LUSH been up to?

Well check out their Charity Pot Program where 100% of the profits go to a charity - and you can help them select charities to donate to! your voice counts with LUSH.

Want to see how the products are made - you can actually make your own at home right along with the videos on LUSHVidz!

Also, LUSH is taking a stance on Palm Oil - recognizing that there may never be a sustainable way to grow this natural ingredient and harvesting it is a threat to The Rain forest, LUSH is no longer using Palm Oil!

Now onto business!

Green Living caught up with Mark Constantine, founder and president, about what drives LUSH.

Green Living: How do you maintain quality? Mark Constantine: We are probably one of the most vigilant companies and we are very careful about what goes into our products. We err more on the side of caution more than any government. We only use two preservatives and while we don't trust any preservatives these two are the best of a bad bunch. They have the longest history of use. We don't use the really dangerous things like dye or anti-aging materials. We only every use one sunscreen and we worry about that.

How long did it take you to develop a network of suppliers who don't use animal products? It was long process of educating our suppliers and building a relationship with them. It's ongoing and we are constantly searching out new sources.

On your website you're pretty upfront about your ingredients. We want to be even more upfront. I'm hoping that within six months you'll be able to click on every ingredient and find out where we bought it, what we thought about the circumstances plus read the buyer's report. I think the Internet enables enables so much more information so if you're really interested then you can research it.

How do you come up with product names? They're quite witty and charming. That is the mentality of the people creating our products. We all sit around in what's called a mafia meeting and people bat these ideas around. There are a lot of witty people sitting there and they tend to come out with something that makes the others roar with laughter. It's nice and rather like an editorial meeting at a magazine or a newspaper. Actually it's exactly like doing headlines for a newspaper.

How do you find the people who work for you? People come by and we have a little look. Fortunately, we've got a lot people who have been around for a long time. I've worked with a team for 25-30 years now. So a lot of people hang around for a long time and we go through the ups and downs together.

Do you think people are educated enough about their cosmetics? I wouldn't blame the public for their misconceptions. I just bought a book on advertisers in the U.K. and they say companies are each spending between 107 and 118 million pounds for ads. I would suggest the public is being misled. I don't understand why these companies can't use natural ingredients. If you're formulating a product without using natural ingredients it's like using only half the alphabet to write a story. It's probably because chemicals are cheaper. Well, they're already spending a fortune on advertising! They've got huge sums of money and great resources. Why don't they just do it? Why does it constantly have to be pretence? Why can't they just do it? I would like people to come into the shops, get the right advice, buy the right product and then use it all. If you look at your own bathroom cabinet -- it's full of stuff that you shouldn't have bought in the first place. Wouldn't be lovely to use your money buying the good stuff for yourself that you will use?

I'm a perfume lover. But so many people are becoming allergic. How can you be a perfume lover? Isn't it banned everywhere? It's a disgrace! Particularly in Montreal -- whatever happened to the French influence? I do think it's strange that in the States you can carry a gun but you can't wear perfume.

Why isn't there more organic perfumes out there? Perfume changed with White Linen when they worked out six materials that were really in laundry detergent. These were very powerful scents, particularly synthetic musk. At that point perfumery changed from the myriad of different things and subtleties. Then with Giorgio, it became these really dramatic, mega-perfumes based on just a few strong synthetics.

Should we be suspicious when fragrance is listed as an ingredient? I put the word fragrance on things so I can hide away an ingredient. It's not horrible but rather it's a mix my competitors would try and nick. It could be that I have nothing but lemon oil in there and I put it in as fragrance. That's my naughty bit of mischief.
Do you think companies are secretive about ingredients because the industry is so competitive? I think we may be coming to an end with that. The way I want to move -- where you can check every ingredient -- is more consumer friendly. In the end, I'm going to be copied anyway, so why worry about it? Why not let people know everything what every single thing is in there?

In North America we tend to prefer quantity over quality. Why buy a small amount of cream that is really lovely when you can buy the jumbo size for $2.99? The problem with the $2.99 is that basically companies price it up so they can then discount it. We are trying a buy one get one, which just that -- buy one, get one. We don't price it up to discount anyway and you don't have to worry about it being on sale next week.

You've supported animal rights for years and have been opposing REACH because they plan to test chemicals on animals. How many animals have you saved? That's a really interesting question. None yet and animal testing in Europe has doubled in the last four years since REACH went through. That's the whole reason we attacked it. Now we have this strange situation where REACH is going to use animals in experiments while we have a ban on cosmetic experiments on animals! I don't know how that's going to resolve itself. It's quite extraordinary.

Can the EU Cosmetics Directive, which is behind REACH, not come up with another way to test these chemicals? Absolutely. Animal testing was fine when you were trying to work out whether materials were going to kill you or not but when you looking for sophisticated things like -- will it give you cancer? -- it's a very different kettle of fish. But if you're a big cosmetic company spending 100 thousand pounds on advertising for hair dyes alone, you may not prefer more sophisticated tests. You may prefer to have tests that you know you can sell your product under the guidelines of those particular tests. Very early on in my career people attacked me heavily because I suggested that you shouldn't use animals. It seemed perfectly logical that the tests weren't capable of working for finding all the things.

Should we be worried about hair dyes? I would worry about hair dye. Hair dyes have been tested on animals but we're still not sure they are safe. That may be an area where the companies know something that they may not be telling us about. I think the way an antibacterial or a preservative works maybe debatable, maybe iffy. Hair dyes are another matter. It's not the hydrogen peroxide or the ammonia -- they're reasonable synthetics. It's the actual dye itself because it penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream and stays in your system for 48 hours. It's a mutagen and probably a carcinogen. That's what you don't want passing through your bloodstream.

It's hard to give up dyeing your hair. We're all hooked on the look. Well, I can suggest an alternative. The secret with dyeing your hair with synthetic dyes it to have highlights put in. As long as the dye doesn't touch your skin, there's no danger to you. And that's what the hair dye industry has got to start doing. Had they embraced that and gotten much more into technique they would have come up all sorts of clever things. People want to dye their hair and all these issues need to be sorted out.