The Beginnings of a Clean Beauty Brand: Meet Emma Lewisham

The Beginnings of a Clean Beauty Brand: Meet Emma Lewisham

Having written about clean beauty before and also understanding the green washing that comes with the industry, it’s often hard for consumers to get it right when purchasing products. There are loopholes that beauty brands can jump through and buzzwords that can greenwash and often natural skincare products are anything but. 

Which is why a beauty brand founder doing the right thing should be celebrated. Kiwi beauty innovator Emma Lewisham is one such entrepreneur making waves at the moment; her eponymous brand is popping up everywhere and for good reason – her integrity, transparency and genuine commitment to clean beauty is connecting with the high-end conscious beauty consumer.

Emma Lewisham eco beauty brands in New Zealand

The business woman recently launched the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle with Terracycle in New Zealand, a free incentive-based recycling program allowing her customers to recycle any brand of facial beauty packaging in return for credit to use in her store; a way to create a closed loop system. The Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle is also available in Australia with the exception that all packaging must be from Emma Lewisham, for now.

Since launching the program in June, approximately 1,000 beauty products have been diverted from New Zealand landfills.

“Our brand is constantly striving to do better, with the goal that, by the end of 2021, 100% of products will be circular, meaning they can all be refilled (currently, 80% are refillable).” – Emma Lewisham 

In this exclusive interview, Emma Lewisham opens up about the brand’s origin story how she’s contributing to cleaning up the beauty industry.

EWP: What was the driving force behind starting the Emma Lewisham brand?

Emma Lewisham: The seeds of Emma Lewisham were sown when I learned a product I had been applying for a personal skin issue (hyperpigmentation) contained a known carcinogen. One of the ingredients was actually used to clean sewer pipes – and I was putting this on my face! Further research into this product led me to uncover how unregulated the beauty industry is in New Zealand and Australia and that the last major changes were close to 100 years ago, despite credible research proving the impacts skincare can have on our health.

I learned that some of the ingredients in skincare include tyre lubricants and simethicone. They are not ingredients that deliver benefits to our skin. They’re used to prolong the product’s lifespan or increase texture. Even in sunscreen products, many chemical screens such as oxybenzone or avobenzone that protect us from the sun, actually also have negative health effects such as hormone disruption (not to mention the impact on the environment, such as coral bleaching), so there is a massive trade-off here.

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I went looking to replace my skincare with truly natural and safe alternatives, with efficacious and evidence-backed results – only to find this didn’t exist. I was used to investing in high-performance, premium creams and serums. Suddenly I found myself at organic health shops trying to find a natural equivalent, and I had the realisation that these products were not going to deliver the results I was used to. It became clear to me that natural, non-harmful ingredients came at a compromise to efficacy and evidenced-based results. This was a compromise we [as consumers] were forced to make.

I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the beauty industry. I wanted to prove it was possible to produce 100% clean products that would be as effective, if not more so, than anything in the world. I wanted to prove to women they didn’t have to compromise their health for beauty. In short – I founded Emma Lewisham with a single purpose, which was to make a meaningful difference in the beauty industry. For me, achieving a meaningful difference means setting a new standard in skincare; proving that luxurious, high performing skincare doesn’t have to come at a trade-off to women’s health or the environment. The latter is also really important to me. Trying to find clean and efficacious skincare was hard in itself, but also finding brands that were truly focused on moving towards a circular model was also challenging.

EWP: How long was the process of finding clean beauty ingredients for your range?

EL: Clean, for us, is quite rigorous; it means a product that is ethically made without any ingredients linked to harmful health effects, whether that’s hormone disruption, cancer, or plain-old skin irritation. To name just a few: parabens, phthalates, phenoxyethanol (used in natural skincare as a preservative) PEGs, ethanolamines, chemical sunscreens, synthetic fragrance, BHT, BHA are all excluded from Emma Lewisham formulations. Our definition of clean is aligned with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), who are a leading authority on skincare and personal care ingredients. We eliminate 1400 suspicious and potentially harmful ingredients for human health. All of our ingredients have “low hazard” ratings on the EWG’s Skin Deep Database.

The process of finding ingredients is substantial. We work with NZ ingredient importers as well as directly with international farms and source ingredients from 22 countries. When selecting ingredients for our formulas, we don’t just select them for their wealth of skin benefits, but based on a strict criteria that we use to review every ingredient that is in our products.

These are:

1) animal welfare – we do not test on animals and also ensure that none of the ingredients we source have been tested on animals, so we are honest in our statement of having no animal testing whatsoever

2) environmental management – preservation and promotion of biodiversity

3) organically certified (no chemical use)

4) responsible water use

5) working conditions – certifications that give us certainty our supply chain is ethical and

6) waste management.

EWP: In your sustainability framework which of your 2020 targets have you met so far?

EL: From the beginning we set out to redefine beauty. Our mission is to be a 100% circular brand, that is transparent and takes ownership for the decisions we make – to people and the planet. My focus with Emma Lewisham is making a difference to people’s lives and the planets. And this goes for the people in our supply chain. I care about knowing everyone in our supply chain are working in conditions where they are treated with kindness and respect – these are the values that are personally so important to me, and are applied to my business. I want to know that the people on the farm who are involved in growing our ingredients are treated with fairness and respect. It’s not always easy to get with how the industry works, and at times we will forgo really high performing actives due to us not being comfortable with where the ingredient came from.

Here’s what we have achieved so far:

  • We disclose every ingredient we put into our products ( brands that use fragrance don’t have to disclose what can be up to 1000 ingredients that make up that fragrance), every component of their packaging, where we source our ingredients from, and even where we need to improve and find solutions as a brand
  • We launched NZ’s first sustainable beauty initiative – Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle –which diverts beauty packaging destined for landfill, and gives them another life.
  • 100% of our vessel packaging can be recycled through the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle (kerbside recycling cannot recycle beauty pumps, squeezy tubes and coloured or frosted glass).
  • We challenged our packaging suppliers to come up with more sustainable solutions, which led to us having a post-consumer recycled (PCR) sunscreen tube which takes plastic that’s in circulation and diverts this from landfill – it’s a world first and we’ve saved 30,000 virgin plastic tubes from having to be created.
  • E-commerce packaging made from 100% recycled paper.
  • 98% compostable packaging. The shipping label applied by our shipping partner NZ Post currently uses a plastic layer over the shipping label. After working with them, they have agreed to move to a compostable label by early 2021. Meaning zero of our packaging has any plastic.
  • We are constantly striving to do better, with the goal that, by the end of 2021, 100 percent of our products are circular, meaning they can be refilled. Three out of five of our products can be refilled
  • It’s a never ending, relentless search for suppliers that meet our standards. We have 80% full traceability across our supply chain – what we call Farm to Face – meaning that we can trace the supply chain right back to the farms the ingredients were
  • produced. You can read about all of the certifications each of our ingredients hold and their provenance on our website. Our goal is to be 100% traceable by 1 October this year!
  • All Emma Lewisham products, particularly sunscreens, are ocean-friendly and reef safe.

EWP: What future targets in the Sustainability Framework are you most excited about reaching?

EL: We’re really excited about our carbon neutrality goal. At the moment we are working through measuring our carbon footprint as a business, right down to every product we produce. Once we understand this, we will be working to reduce our emissions in every way we can – before we offset the rest to become carbon neutral. We have already engaged an independent organisation on sustainability and their carbon experts are helping to establish our baseline carbon footprint and how we can create efficiencies across our business to improve this.

EWP: Tell us what it means to you to have started the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle?

EL: Currently, the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year, and few are accepted by kerbside recycling programs. Many of the design elements that enable beauty products to be so useable and marketable, such as push pumps and coloured plastics, make them difficult to recycle. Subsequently, only nine percent of plastics produced are recycled and 12% are burned into our atmosphere. All remaining plastic waste ends up in landfill or scattered through the environment. Most of the products that line bathroom shelves are made from plastic, and just because the packaging states it’s recyclable, doesn’t mean it will be recycled. Complex, branded packaging is harder to collect, separate and as a result, recycle. It’s more economically viable to simply send branded packaging to landfill, than to put forward the resources to recover it.

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I was extremely surprised when I learnt this – like everyone else, I’d been dutifully rinsing out my skincare vessels and placing them in my recycling, little realising that much of it probably ended up in landfill. I thought this wasn’t good enough and that brands must do better to take ownership of what happens to our products at their end-of-life, and offer consumers options around this. All Emma Lewisham products are designed to be either recyclable, refillable, or compostable our product packaging is made of fully biodegradable 100% recycled paper boxes, so no harmful substances leech into the soil and they are diverted from landfill).

The Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle is our response to this issue of beauty waste. It’s about rethinking the entire process of a beauty product’s lifespan. It moves us away from a linear model, to a circular beauty model.

EWP: In your opinion what are the top 3 sustainability issues within the beauty industry?

EL: The first would be packaging waste and recyclability. As I’ve mentioned, this is what motivated us to launch the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle.

The second would be the responsible and sustainable use of water. Water is the beauty industry’s most used ingredient and there are concerns that demand for water could outstrip supply. There is a scarcity issue around water globally. By 2025, it’s anticipated that 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. We know that compared to other brands, we use a lot less water in our products. We use aloe vera where possible – a moisture-rich alternative, instead of relying heavily on water. It creates higher potency formulations that aren’t padded and diluted with water, which is also inactive. In 2020 we are working to understand our water usage across our full supply chain, to get better visibility on this and to put a plan in place to minimise water usage.

Another issue I’d like to highlight, which many people still aren’t aware of, is the impact of skincare on our oceans and marine life. Sun protection is a vital protective step in your daily skincare routine – a sunscreen helps to minimise the effects of harmful UV rays, which cause sunburn and premature skin ageing. However, an increasingly concerning environmental issue is the adverse effects of chemical sunscreens that seep into the ocean and are ingested by corals.

Chemical-based sunscreens (with actives such as oxybenzone and octinoxate) have been shown to cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms. Experts estimate that 90% of all reefs will be dead by 2050 and sunscreen is playing a large part in that, compounding other issues such as climate change. The great thing is that places such as Hawaii are leading the way and banning sunscreens which contain these pernicious ingredients. Emma Lewisham’s SPF products are all 100% naturally derived and use a zinc oxide active which do not harm marine life.

You can read more about Emma Lewisham’s values and sustainability framework here, and shop her product offering here.

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All images via Emma Lewisham.

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