In-depth with the world’s first luxury circular beauty brand, Emma Lewisham


FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Carbon positive circular beauty brand Emma Lewisham Ltd is leading change in luxury skincare and beauty, with a focus on sustainable practices that have minimal impact on the environment. From sustainable supply chains, innovative product formulation to circular packaging, Emma Lewisham is committed to leading the transformation within the beauty and skincare industry worldwide.

On The FMCG Insider podcast, HRA Global Managing Director, Hamish Renton, interviews co-founder Emma Lewisham to understand the challenges she faced building her brand, and the opportunities for sustainability and carbon positivity she sees within the industry.

Setting the scene with natural beauty

In food and drink, we know and understand clean eating: the idea that only ingredients that you have in your cupboards would feature in products, and clean declarations means you can read and understand all the ingredients. We are hearing more about “clean beauty” – which extends that clean concept into the beauty category. The beauty brand Emma Lewisham Ltd is going above and beyond clean with an ethos of “natural beauty.”

Exploring the concept of natural beauty

Emma explains how the term “clean beauty” doesn’t have a definition, so Emma Lewisham Ltd is not defined as a clean beauty brand, but more a natural brand. They define that through certification, and because ingredients found in nature are in their products. These naturally derived ingredients are the most harmonious with health.

“We prove through testing that our ingredients are the most powerful and nutrient dense in the world, and therefore we use them in our formulas.”
–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

What is coming out in the natural skincare world, through research and development labs globally, is credible and innovative.

FMCG Insider podcast with Emma Lewisham

The focus of natural beauty is efficacy

Emma Lewisham is proving that natural ingredients have greater efficacy and that is increasingly being recognised by the beauty industry. The priority for Emma Lewisham Skincare has always been the efficacy of their natural ingredients, and from the start, their brand has had a real purpose to set the benchmark in the beauty industry, and bring about change, particularly in sustainability.

“We always knew to bring about transformation, and to make a difference, we must lead with excellent products.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

Learning more about circular beauty

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and scientists globally know that to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, you must dramatically reduce them. The linear system in the beauty industry is no longer sustainable. It is no longer something can be continued with the information available, and it’s no longer a responsible business model.

“In the beauty industry every year, there’s 120 billion units of packaging created, and the majority is single use.”

–Emma Lewisham, co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

Emma explains that most people don’t realise, is despite packaging being promoted as recyclable, and thinking that they’re doing the best thing by putting the packaging in the recycling, the majority is not being recycled, because the economics to do so are very complex; some components are just bits and pieces and it’s not worth it to recycle, and authorities are sending it to landfill, into oceans or being burned.

FMCG Inside podcast with Emma Lewisham

Seeing that insight, it made no sense for them to continue with single use, unsustainable packaging. Emma explains they need to transform the beauty industry and rethink it. They believe that every industry right now in the world may be reimagining the way that they do things. They really promote the circular movement – and at Emma Lewisham Ltd they’re at the forefront of it. All their products are refillable but go further than that – to take ownership of their packaging in supply where they put it back globally for free. They sterilise the material and use it in their supply chain, and that needs to be the future of beauty — to reduce the enormous amount of wastage created annually and to bring down greenhouse gases.

The first carbon positive beauty brand

Emma Lewisham is the world’s first carbon positive beauty brand; going beyond carbon neutral to gobble up carbon from the atmosphere. We asked Emma if she saw other brands following suit to go beyond carbon neutral and beyond net zero carbon emissions to go into carbon positivity.

Leading with positivity

Emma explained they are carbon positive across their full range and have a circular design business model which both go hand in hand. They will have a huge influence and impact because they released their IP to the industry over two months ago and they have had interest from some of the biggest multinational brands in the world to collaborate and understand and to learn from them.

“I don’t believe any brand is too old or any individual too small and being able to make a change.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

The entire beauty industry supply chain needs to get on board

To achieve the change that they need to the beauty industry, Emma explains it will take “collaboration and clicktivism”. Change requires people collaborating and brands working together with their suppliers and their supply chain, and that is very much the approach Emma Lewisham Ltd have taken.

“We want to improve the lives that their brand touches and to be a responsible business. We champion that you can be responsible and still be successful and profitable.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

In terms of what’s next, Emma explains all their products have a carbon number, and when you buy a refillable product, the reduction of carbon emissions is significant, which is why beauty brands must move all their products to refillable and take ownership of packaging.

“For me, any admission of having a carbon number is an admission that we have work to do.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Understanding carbon emissions, and what the industry can do

Emma explains that they understand what is contributing to their carbon numbers when it comes to their products. It means that they can make change – Emma stating, “when you don’t have the insights, you are sort of stumbling in the dark and don’t know what areas you need to improve on.”

In the next two years, they have a plan to halve those carbon numbers and then the goal by 2030 is to get that number as close to zero as possible.

Taking “radical responsibility”

Emma explains they are driven and passionate about that the changes in that area and champion it when it comes to their supply chain. Becoming carbon positive at a product level means they must have traceability of all their ingredients. They use 150 ingredients, across all their products, and that was an enormous amount of work to get that level of visibility. Having visibility means that they can ask the questions of their suppliers, their farmers, in terms of the environmental impacts, the social impacts, and to work alongside them to make improvements or make decisions that are to change ingredients that don’t align with their values.

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

“It’s about taking radical responsibility for the decisions we make; not turning a blind eye to things. As a brand, we go the extra mile in understanding things; and leave no stone unturned in how we operate. That is what makes us a truly sustainable brand.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

The rise of certified sustainability

Emma Lewisham Ltd is a BCorp certified brand which shows they are balancing profits with purpose, and it’s something they are really passionate about achieving. The reason they are so enthusiastic is because they believe that not just consumers, but retailers and suppliers want to work with brands with BCorp certification. It validates you are working hard on environmental and social impacts.

“We believe that right now, as a business, you need to be looking at how you are solving the world’s problems – not adding to them.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

Emma explains it’s important that they are changing the way that they do things and transforming the way they operate; their purpose, what they’re adding to the world, before just profits. BCorp and other certifications validate that. With more and more greenwashing out there in the world, consumers will look for certifications to validate and “back up” what you’re saying about your business. BCorp is rigorous and a certification consumers can trust.

Facing the challenges when starting up a carbon positive brand

Emma talks a bit about the challenges they have faced. “I wouldn’t say that it’s been one big challenge, but as a start-up, and an emerging business, having a business idea presents a series of challenges that you’re facing day in, day out. You must persevere against adversity and the constant firefighting that you do, or the challenge or the problems you experience.”

At Emma Lewisham, they are doing things very differently, and there hasn’t been a blueprint or a roadmap for how to become a 100% circular designed beauty brand. For example:

  • How to they create fully refillable packaging?
  • How do they get packaging back from consumers across the globe?
  • How do you perform all the work needed to become carbon positive, considering their number their products?

They really challenged themselves, and it was a lot of hard work along the way. In the early days, Emma and another co-founder stayed in their jobs full time, and themed their evenings, weekends, and holidays to work on their business. They worked on the brand for three years before they launched Emma Lewisham Ltd; that was really challenging on a personal level.

The hardest challenge in beauty

There was a lot of hard work and an intense time formulating their products – because what they they’re creating is the hardest thing you can create in skincare – natural products that feel as luxurious as products that use synthetics and silicones.

To get the efficacy and luxurious feel was incredibly challenging. They worked for two years with three scientists in New Zealand. One of the scientists had worked on luxury brands, Estee Lauder and Dior, and even for them, this was still a big challenge. There was no point in launching the brand without this luxury, sustainability, and efficacy, because that was the whole premise of the brand.

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Barriers to circular beauty brands

In terms of barriers to shoppers adopting this business model and the practicalities of getting retailers to help – we asked Emma if she feels there are still problems with retailers engaging with refillable B2C?

The rise of Emma Lewisham Ltd in the East and Globally

In the Asia Pacific region, Emma Lewisham Skincare is one of the fastest growing skincare brands, so Emma didn’t feel there was a challenge bringing retailers on board, if anything, the story is about how they’ve been listed by some of the most iconic and luxury retailers across their region. They have appealed to, and aligned to thinking in the space, and they understand the importance of it, and they’ve worked hard to explain that to retailers. There’s no other choice right now than to move to that model.

A circular beauty brand in operation

How they have designed their model is very straightforward. At the retailer, you buy an outer product and going forward you buy a pod that plugs into the outer, so you’re not as buying as much packaging the next time around. In terms of returning the material, they have drop-off points with their retailer or via their website, and material can be sent back for free.

In the UK, when consumers buy an Emma Lewisham product, on Net-a-Porter, Naturismo, or online with Emma Lewisham, once they are finished with it, they just write on the box “Free Return Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle.”  The consumer doesn’t have to put any postage; it comes back to their warehouse in London where they then manage and deal with the materials.

They’ve made it simple for consumers and retailers to be part of. They are a luxury brand, so they’ve executed this in their packaging in a very luxurious way. And it shows that you can be luxurious and sustainable and that’s what they have set out to prove. They are seeing a huge adoption for refillable products and people buying the refillable pods.

FMCG Insider podcast with Emma Lewisham Ltd

What about barriers to adopting this beauty circle model?

The biggest barrier was reimagining the way they operate, going from a linear business approach to the circular one being very different. In terms of the consumers, they are very on board with this model, and for every individual that wants to make a change and make a difference and Emma Lewisham makes it easy for them. They’re ensuring there’s no compromise for them doing so and no sacrifice in product efficacy.

Challenge: Is the natural beauty supply chain fair to all?

We asked Emma about her supply chain, in terms of the botanicals and the naturals they use instead of synthetic active ingredients. Acknowledging that one of the criticisms is some of these naturals are provided by traders, and in some cases, they are underpaid or overharvested. There are stories about a lack of a fair income flowing back to the folks who pick the botanicals or the localities where they produced. Standards have cropped up, for example, The Fairwild standard for some of these botanicals. We asked if Emma felt the global supply chain has a way to go to be regulated and stabilised, or if she felt comfortable with how the supply chain structure operates and how the income flows through that chain.

FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Taking responsibility for the supply

Emma explained their supply chain is something they take ownership for, understanding and not turning a blind eye; they prioritise using regenerative bonds, and that links regeneration to carbon positivity. Why they champion that message and why they’re championing collaboration is because they’re one brand, but they recognise the industry needs multiple brands asking for regenerative farming to make it a mainstream practice; to make it the norm.

“We work with a number of regenerative farms in Switzerland and get really highly efficacious ingredients from them that are natural. This is the pinnacle for us and what we aim for.”

–Emma Lewisham, Co-founder, Emma Lewisham Ltd.

A delicate balance in natural beauty

That balance is important for Emma Lewisham Ltd, and looking from the view of a natural brand, they understand the ramifications of law and to be mindful of the environmental and social spaces. Emma explains they are focusing heavily on that over the next year. They have a huge amount of data on their ingredients already, but they’re going even deeper. Right now, they’re comfortable with their position in the sense of their ingredients and their products because of the range of organic farming they support.

Emma cautions, that although something is organic, it doesn’t mean that it comes from a farm that is doing great in the social side of things, but it is a good and positive indication that there is a holistic approach taken to farming and treatment of people. Emma Lewisham will always prioritise natural, but if it starts to impact the biodiversity, that they may need to reconsider that position in the future.

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Natural beauty – made in a lab?

Looking closely at big cosmetic companies raises question marks over the supply chain — how it works, availability, biodiversity, and more. We asked Emma why they don’t synthesise the natural ingredients, isolating molecules and growing them in the lab? For example, a cosmetic company could complete their clinical trials and consumer adoption testing to make sure a beauty product is safe; but use synthetic to achieve the same effects.

Balancing efficacy and natural with synthetic clones

Emma agreed that with some ingredients, that’s possible. When we’re talking about Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B3, and Niacinamides, that can be done in a lab. However, with these active ingredients in a product formulation, there are other ingredients that go around that – for example, preservatives, emulsifiers, and waxes that can give a product the ability to moisturise. Emma Lewisham chooses not to use silicone, which is synthesized, but use something like an organic muramura butter from Brazil which is highly nutrient, and does something for the skin, versus silicone which does nothing for the skin.

If it gets to a point, for example, that the natural Vitamin C that Emma Lewisham use (an organic Kakadu Plum from Australia) is having an impact on biodiversity, they’ll look further into it. Emma explains the brand is very open minded in that perspective. But for now, they are comfortable that the ingredients that they use have a lot more nutrients than synthetic and are not impacting on biodiversity.

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Three things learned along the journey

We asked Emma for three things she wanted to share with people, so they can learn from her journey so far:

Sustainable and successful

“One thing I believe is that they have shown that you can build a successful business and be responsible, and the two can go hand in hand. That includes becoming a circular-designed business — and still being profitable and still making that just as strong on their balance sheet. They hear from a number of brands that it costs too much to operate the way that they’re doing, and they have shown that it’s very possible to continue to be profitable and work in a responsible way.”

Collaborate to change

“Particularly in the last twelve years, Emma learned that when it comes to sustainability and beauty, to work collaboratively and collectively with other brands. This is what they’ve learned works to bring about the changes that they’ve been making within the beauty industry – it’s going to take more than just one brand to achieve it.”

Lead with kindness

“Give more than you take – you can be a strong leader but also be a kind leader and a better leader. When you treat people with fairness and kindness you get so much in return. They have a unique culture within Emma Lewisham, and because of that, some of the best talent in the world work within their business and in the businesses that supply them.”

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

 

What’s next for Emma Lewisham Ltd?

We know that Emma is interested in expanding even further into the EU and further into the UK, but more broadly — what’s next? Is the company looking at product development, market development, people, social impact, packaging supply chain? We asked Emma about their key focus for the next five years:

Sustainability

From a sustainability point of view, their goal is to halve the carbon emissions for their products in the next two years, to get that as low as possible by 2030.

Supply chain

Digging even deeper into their supply chain and really understanding a higher level of detail when it comes to the ingredients that they use, and how it’s impacting environmentally and on the social front and taking ownership of that.

Market growth

They’ve got strong markets in Australia and in New Zealand and they have recently launched on Net-a-Porter and Naturism in the UK and some stores in the USA – and they have major interest globally, particularly from US and UK. The priority is for Emma Lewisham to develop and grow within the market.

Product innovation

On a product front, they are very considered in the products they launch to ensure there is a real need and gap in the market. So, they have higher quality and a lower quantity of products. They’re always looking for the most innovative ingredients that are coming out. For example, they just launched a body oil that has hyaluronic acid in the oil; they don’t know of any other brand, globally that has been able to achieve that. They’re always putting out things that are new, different, and innovative to the industry. They are proud to launch their products by listening to their customers.

 

The FMCG Insider Podcast with Emma Lewisham

Building world class products from the ground up

Hamish expressed his admiration of the Emma Lewisham brand, and what they stand for.

“I love the execution, and the thoughts behind the Emma Lewisham brand and it’s an interesting quest that they’ve been on. There are so many beauty brands that occupy little niches, but what I love about what they’re doing is they’ve got an ethos and an authenticity that comes through in their marketing and in their products. I like that they talk about their supply chain; and acknowledge that it’s tough and they want to keep going. It’s too easy for people to accept what they’ve got and go firefight in another part of the business.

“The products they are putting out there, the fact that they are growing as fast as they do is a testament to the consumer proposition and the efficacy — because what they are selling is working – making people look better and feel better on a number of levels, which is fantastic.” 

Hamish Renton, Managing Director, HRA Global

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the full interview, check out the FMCG Insider podcast here.

Learn more

For more information on BCorp, sustainable health and beauty, and the circular beauty movement, please get in touch.

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