Capsule talks to skincare entrepreneur Emma Lewisham on her company’s ground-breaking two years in business, the proudest moment of her career and why she spends so much time on the culture of the company.
When it comes to companies who have had an interesting, forged-in-chaos kind of beginning, Kiwi luxury skincare company Emma Lewisham is right up there. Launching in late 2019, they then found themselves running a new business in a pandemic, but founder Emma Lewisham says that it means “we haven’t known any different.” In fact, if anything, she thinks it fast-forwarded the consumer move to buy skincare online. This is a company that does big things, very quickly, and Emma says it’s part of her problem solver DNA, even if her aims to run a completely sustainable brand, with all natural but luxurious products, did ruffle a few feathers to begin with.
“The industry has worked for a very long time with a veil of secrecy and hasn’t wanted to reveal that sort of information,” she says about trying to find out the ethics of the full supply chain, or measuring a company’s carbon footprint. The attitude at first was very “’Who am I? I’m nobody, I don’t even have a business!’” she laughs. “I was coming along and asking them all these questions, and being in a brand that was just starting out made it even more challenging.”
The attitude at first was very “’Who am I? I’m nobody, I don’t even have a business!’”
Emma’s professional background of working as a senior executive in a global Japanese technology company, where she was across a number of portfolios including marketing, sales, sustainability and finance, meant that Emma had the know-how to a) run a business and b) run a business, sustainably. It meant that unlike having to do the old ‘Sustainability 180°’ that a lot of established companies have had to do over the past few years, she was determined to create a brand that had sustainability in its backbone.
But there was also a personal story to having this be the values of Emma Lewisham as well. Emma’s mother died from cancer in 2016 and this forced Emma to start prioritising her own health over work for the first time in a decade. When it came to wanting to start her own family, a visit to the doctor and a discussion about lifestyle lead to Emma’s doctor telling her that one of the products she was using on her face featured an ingredient that was banned in other countries. All of these different factors lead Emma down the road of starting a company with two founding principles. One: to create a completely natural skincare line that had the feel and results of luxurious skincare and two, to make the brand part of the solution, not part of the problem when it comes to the environment. “I could see a really broken model – the model of beauty is linear: take, make waste and the reason it’s waste is because the majority of beauty packaging isn’t able to be recycled curb side,” she says. “So the 120 billion units of packaging that’s created in the industry every year is rubbish, essentially.”
The goal was to create skincare in a circular model of packaging, where the containers could be reused, rather than recycled. So they were the first brand in the world to create reusable packaging, where you keep your jars and get a refillable pouch of new product instead. It’s cheaper for the consumer, as the pouches are a lower price point, plus it cuts down the carbon footprint of the product by up to 74%. Hand-in-hand with that comes the result that the products have been independently tested alongside beauty industry heavyweight like La Mer and Estée Lauder, and come up trumps. (Our own review of the Supernatural créme referred to it as ‘pure witchcraft‘ because of how quickly it helped our Winter Dry Face).
“We’ve been able to set the business up as what a business should look like in the 21st century, to operate better and to lead the way.”
“We’ve been able to set the business up as what a business should look like in the 21st century, to operate better and to lead the way.” Understanding every step of the supply chain and having total transparency around that is key, as is the packaging model that Emma is so proud of, she’s recently announced she’s sharing the IP on how they did it to any other company in the world who wants to do the same thing. It’s a real ‘a rising tide floats all boats’ move and Emma says it’s because she wants to make the biggest difference possible. “It’s heartfelt – I don’t feel threatened by giving that information away.”
Emma Lewisham is now the first-ever beauty brand to achieve carbon positive status and this move has been so extraordinary that Dr Jane Goodall, famous for her environmental work, has come on-board to endorse the brand, saying their actions was “showing their peers that this business model is not just possible but paramount if we are to make a meaningful difference.”
This was a massive win for Emma, who has long admired Dr Goodall and used to write her speeches about her while at school. “I wanted to write to her and share the work we were doing; simply the fact of thinking she might read it was going to be enough for me, but the fact that she’s endorsed the work personally is one of the proudest moments of my life.”
When it came to setting up the business itself, Emma jokes that she learned a lot of what not to do from working in the corporate world and says a huge amount of her time and energy goes on protecting the culture of Emma Lewisham as a workplace. She cites a quote about success – ‘be careful what wall you put your ladder against’ – in terms of what measures of success are for a company leader. For her, she says, a measure of success is that people love coming to work.
“That means that they’re happy, they feel safe, they feel supported,” she says. “We have a non-hierarchical business; I believe you can be kind in business and have a successful business, you don’t need to lead with an iron fist. I don’t just look for talent, I look for who they are as people. Because of that we have a bunch of great people who are really kind, really thoughtful of others; ultimately it creates a really great business where consumers also want to feel part of that community. I think kind is the new cool.”