Lifelong makeup lover and Lush co-founder Rowena Bird has had enough of excessive plastic packaging saturating the cosmetics industry. This is the story of how she found a passion for both protecting the planet and producing a makeup range that provides benefits beyond the selfie.
We had taken litter picking to a new level. “One, two, three, four, drop it” were the only words I could summon as three friends and I battled to carry an abandoned rowing boat from the sea to the shore. Only a few days before, I’d just about managed, through sheer determination, to pull the thing out of the water by myself. Later, I found someone had pushed it back into the sea, where it resumed its place as a piece of litter.
When my childhood dream of living by the beach came true a few years ago, I looked forward to long walks at sunset, picnics by the sea, and beautiful views. The reality was rather different. More often, I was met with remnants of beach barbeques, abandoned buckets and spades, and cigarette ends scattered in the sand on my morning strolls.
People’s negligence infuriates me. I recall being a little girl and dropping a sweet wrapper on the floor. My mum gave me such a telling off, I never did it again. As an adult, I do my bit where I can - not taking plastic bags, buying veg that’s unpackaged, only buying coffee when I have my reusable cup.
However, not everybody has the same enthusiasm. The litter I see on the beach every day is a prime example of this. But recently, I’ve realised that walking past somebody else's rubbish is just as bad - and that there’s more I could do about it. It was the actress Lily Tomlin that said those famous words: “I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody.”
I began carrying a bag around in my pocket and picking up litter whenever I went to the beach. Now I go armed with a picky-up stick - one of my favourite ever birthday presents.
“I’m going to pick up one tonne of litter for my 60th birthday,” I told my brother with a triumphant grin. He knew, as I didn’t yet, just how much one tonne is.
“Why don’t you get people on the internet involved?” he suggested.
I spoke to some of the people down at the Lush Green Hub (our in-house closed-loop recycling centre), and they really got behind me. In fact, they were so enthusiastic that we decided not to stop at one tonne, but to collect 60 tonnes for my 60th year.
I’ve shared the challenge and hashtag with my Instagram followers, and I’m encouraging people to weigh everything they collect so we can record it. By collecting little toys and trinkets for my beach treasure box, I find little moments of joy in amongst what could feel like an overwhelming issue. But the biggest win we’ve had with this challenge so far, is when five cars were pulled from the sea in Croatia. That added five tonnes! It’s amazing to think that this challenge could motivate people to continue picking up litter. Maybe they’ll even initiate their own challenges.
My quest for makeup free of plastic packaging was born because I wanted to make a difference on a bigger scale. Something that would hopefully spark change in industries and the mindset of individuals. I’ve always loved makeup - I don’t know why, I just love it. Even as a child, I was fascinated with trips to Woolworths to scour the shelves for bold-coloured eyeshadows.
Feeling fed up that the makeup industry has become saturated in plastic packaging, I began to think about what we at Lush could do differently. I wanted to explore how we could challenge that market, while still innovating creative, beautiful makeup.
Our makeup has certainly changed over the years. Back in the Cosmetics to Go days (the company that came before Lush), I wanted us to create packaging that people would keep. That’s always been my thing. The range in Lush’s sister company, B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful, was inspired from the days when I played at my aunt’s dressing table. There was a lot of packaging. We were thinking about the ethical treatment of people, but you could say that we weren't thinking environmentally at the time.
But I’d like to think that our B customers still have the beautiful eyeshadow pots and brushes. I wanted them to be coveted items that people would keep.
Fast forward to today and we have a range of naked makeup. Every piece of packaging is thought about carefully - is it reusable? Is it recyclable? Do we need any packaging at all? Any packaging we do use is tailor-made and unique, so I hope people don't want to throw it away.
The refillable lipstick cases are made by a company in France that made these vintage-style pieces back in the ‘50s. Technology has moved along so much since then, so we really had to persuade them to take on the project. Then there are the eyeshadow cases made from tagua from Ecuador. The time and dedication that goes into both these pieces, and the stories behind them, are incredible. I really believe these reusable pots are timeless.
I’m not for a minute saying that all plastic is bad. When it’s used for heart stents it saves lives. But I will never understand why it’s being used so excessively, when it’s just not necessary. Governments, businesses, and individuals have to open their eyes to the fact that we have gone too far.
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said something that’s stayed with me: “We are the first generation to know that we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”
It’s everyone’s responsibility to effect change. If we want to see a decrease in the impacts of plastic pollution, we’ve got to start consuming less of it, and I really hope our customers will get on board. Help us bring about a naked revolution.
If you want to start with your makeup bag, explore our makeup range, free of plastic packaging, here.