Beauty black book with cult sustainable skincare founder Emma Lewisham

The last 12 months have been a wild ride for Emma Lewisham and her namesake brand. From small beginnings in New Zealand, they have experienced a stratospheric rise in popularity. Blending clinically proven results, lust-worthy packaging, ethically sourced, natural ingredients, and ground-breaking sustainability practices, Emma Lewisham has become beloved by beauty editors and It-girls alike. Ruby Feneley spoke to Emma Lewisham, the woman behind it all, about growing a small brand with a big vision, taking on waste in the beauty industry, and why she’s just getting started.

How it started

“I don’t come from a beauty background; before Emma Lewisham skincare, I spent eight years at a multinational Japanese technology company working on global products and services. As part of my role, I was in charge of improving sustainability. My work involved a lot of problem-solving – a lot of overcoming seemingly impossible hurdles and challenging the ‘status quo.’ That mindset has served me well starting my own brand, Emma Lewisham.

I’ve always loved beauty and experimenting with new products, and I was interested in the science and technology that went into creating them. My journey in the beauty industry truly started when I learnt a product I had been using for hyperpigmentation contained a known carcinogen. I was used to investing in high-performing luxurious skincare – I went looking
in skin clinics and beauty retailers for a natural, efficacious alternative. I imagined the “La Mer” of natural skincare – but I found it didn’t exist.

During this research period, I discovered how I, as a beauty lover, was unwittingly contributing to environmental waste and many of the issues we are facing today. There is a ‘take-make’ dispose model of beauty that sees billions of units of packaging sent to landfills and our oceans every year. I learnt that in the beauty industry, packaging is the single most significant contributor to carbon emissions. Somewhere along the way, this has become an acceptable norm.

I decided to be the change I wanted to see in beauty. I set myself the challenge of redefining these standards and proving to the industry as a whole that it’s possible to create natural skincare with scientifically validated results and a business that sets new standards of sustainability every step of the way. Today, Emma Lewisham products proudly rival the most recognised luxury brands globally for efficacy while being global leaders in the
‘circular design’ beauty model.”

The big issue

“There is a problem with the notion of “sustaining” in the beauty industry. The planetary crisis we are facing needs to be “reversed” rather than “sustained.” That is why at Emma Lewisham we are going beyond carbon-neutrality. We are committed to a carbonnegative path.

Transparency is crucial. We make a considerable effort to take our customers on our sustainability journey – sharing our achievements and challenges with them – sometimes this means sharing where we have not found ideal solutions. For me, the most critical issue is packaging. The global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year, and a massive amount of this goes into landfills. That is why there is urgency in our business to move towards 100% circular design with refillable solutions, as quickly as possible. I believe refillable packaging is the best option for the industry recyclables can only go so far. Few beauty products are accepted by curbside recycling programs. The design elements that make beauty products usable and marketable, like push pumps and coloured plastic, make them difficult to recycle. It’s important consumers understand that just because packaging
states it is recyclable doesn’t mean it will be recycled. It is simply more economically viable to send complex beauty packaging straight to landfill rather than invest resources in converting it.

As a business, using refillable packaging is complicated. There are few models out there, and most are patented by the brands that use them. This means smaller brands will pay a high cost to create their own bespoke moulds – this is a cost we have undertaken to bring out customers sustainable, circular solutions.”

Read the rest of this interview in our May-June sustainable beauty issue.

This article originally appeared in the May-June issue of Professional Beauty magazine.

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