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Innovation vs. Globalization

Lush Co-founder Mark Constantine shares his thoughts on the question of the company’s identity and the role innovation plays in a global market.

Just before Christmas I visited our smart new shop in Bath, UK. All of the founders were happy to pose for a photo and there I was with the crew. After the picture, Laura Wyatt, (third from the right in white), asked: “How do you find the globalization of the company affects its identity?” Ah… good question. I was stumped for a moment. Laura had seemed such a nice girl and I’m not sure that I liked the thought of Lush being a part of globalization. Then I explained how Lush had recently been awarded the Fair Tax Mark and that this had encouraged us to publish our figures country by country and with great transparency.

I recently phoned Laura to ask if I answered her question. “No,” she said. “Not really, but it was interesting. What I wondered was, how do you preserve the feeling of a small company from Poole, when you are all over the world.”

That bit has never worried me. I’ve always known that a small company can get better as it grows and that on the whole, this is what’s happened here at Lush. The secret? Attract passionate enthusiastic and energetic people who share a pleasure in the work.

When I was fluffing around for an answer I wasn’t sure what globalization really meant and I didn’t really want to find out. Anyway, since then I’ve given the question a lot of thought.

I recently read Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, with its subtitle “How to build the future”. In it he explained globalization. “If you take one typewriter and build 100 you have globalization. If you have a typewriter and you build a word processor you have innovation.” As I thought about his description I realised that in our case innovation can provide a solution to some of the more horrific resource-guzzling examples that our industry creates.

Take shampoo. Hair was washed in soap until in the 30s when chemists invented surfactants. By the '50s they were making modern shampoo, preserving it and putting it into modern plastic bottles rather than the old-fashioned recycled glass ones.

By the ‘60s we had all stopped using soap and used soapless shampoo instead. Normally with a label talking about streams of milk and honey. And then we just threw away the bottle. Someone else would bury the bottle in a hole nearby.

In a recent survey 92% of Americans used shampoo. In fact, by 2012, a billion and a half bottles a year were used in America. But that means over a billion empty plastic bottles being buried in a hole somewhere every year. Plastic made from oil. The globalization of bottled shampoo has guzzled resources.

When my wife and fellow founder, Mo Constantine’s first patent was granted in the US in 1989, she changed her occupation to “inventor” in her passport. Along with Stan Kryztal she invented a naked shampoo bar.

At 55 grams, it was a fifth of the size and yet lasted three times as long as a 250g bottle of liquid shampoo. No bottle, preservative or label. A perfect example of innovation disrupting globalization! But that was billions of bottles ago. Last year after 20 years of trying, we sold enough shampoo bars to stop 15 million bottles being chucked out (and keep hair looking clean and bouncy).

So, Laura… there is my answer. Our innovation counters globalization, but as with all dreams it ends in responsibility. If we don’t grow we won’t see the change we need. So the inventions continue, and we now have dozens of patents. Yet despite our size we are still such a tiny influence.

To give you some perspective, Lush is 35% of the size of The Body Shop, which is itself 4% of its parent L’Oreal, which while the largest cosmetic company in the world, is only 12.5% of our industry. So we have a bit more to do yet...