Sustainability has become a marketing buzzword. With the likes of fast fashion companies churning out slogan t-shirts like ‘There is no planet B’ while simultaneously producing tonnes of disposable clothing (the UK buys more clothes than any other European country and only 1 per cent of our clothing is recycled), it’s not hard to see why accusations of greenwashing are rife. These companies have less than transparent sustainability practices and often convey a false impression, via press releases and advertisements, that they’re more environmentally sound than they really are.

The beauty industry is saturated with confusion and while more brands are going vegan, they often put convenience over sustainability. Unnecessary packaging has long been a bugbear of mine (have you ever spent three hours attempting to access a new mascara swaddled in plastic?) so I was pleased to see beauty giant Lush, which markets its products as vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free, is attempting to tackle the problem with a new range of naked products – and shops.

Lush ManchesterGone are the small stores pedalling bath bombs. Lush is on a mission not just to promote sustainability but to open a wider conversation and focus on regeneration – putting as much back into the environment as possible. “To be sustainable, to sustain, seems to suggest life continuing on despite us, and our actions,” writes head buyer Simon Constantine in a recent copy of Lush Times. “But ‘to regenerate’ brings about a whole new framework of thinking.” Lush’s answer? Re:Fund, a sum of money that uses a percentage of the budget that Lush spends on buying raw materials and packaging, locking that amount into a fund to support people demonstrating regenerative practices.

On top of this effort, Lush has also opened packaging-free shops in Berlin, Milan and, most recently, Manchester. Unfortunately, not all products in other Lush stores are available to buy without packaging, but you can return containers to refill or for the company to reuse and recycle.

Lush ManchesterIs this wishful thinking? Possibly. But people are becoming more aware of the impact that consumption is having on our planet and the demand for more sustainable products is increasing. And is Lush making big bucks from these products and initiatives? Well, of course. It’s a business after all. But I know I’d rather direct my money into the pockets of someone trying to make a difference.

And so I headed to the Lush Naked Shop on Manchester’s Market Street to check out its pioneering ideas to combat plastic pollution. While plastic-free cosmetics aren’t a new thing, Lush has been busy working on haircare, skincare, bath bombs, shower gels and everything in-between. These products are well-designed and, in a world where we like our products to be Instagrammable, they are fun to use and an attractive addition to our bathroom shelves. By launching these products, Lush is also hoping to start a conversation with customers ranging from plastic pollution and ethical consumption to body positivity and inclusivity.

Lush ManchesterWhile the company has been inventing naked products for more than 30 years, Lush’s recent attitudes towards packaging is nothing short of innovative, from vibrant Knot-Wraps to cork pots and refillable cosmetics, cleansers and naked shower gels. The Knot-Wraps may seem a little expensive (Knot-Wraps are reusable gift wrappers) but they make a great alternative to an expensive gift bag and can also be used as a hair wrap. They’re also beautiful with some being made from recycled bottles while others are vintage pieces or organic cotton sourced from India.

I’d long been wanting to try the solid conditioner, Big, but I’ve been a devotee to other cruelty-free brands and my experience of using solid shampoo is hit-and-miss. However, a single bar does the job of three 250g bottles and lasts up to 80 washes. It may be little but it goes a long way and my hair feels healthier than it has done in years. I was also unsure how to store my naked products so they last, but regional press officer Florence Welke demonstrated a great new solution. Made with Portuguese not-for-profit group Eco Interventions, which teaches locals how to regenerate native cork forests, Lush has created a cork shampoo pot. Surprisingly, they work well, are easily transportable and can be returned to the Earth without leaving toxic residue.

Lush ManchesterWelke also explains Lush’s digital solution, developed by its in-house team dubbed Tech Warriors, for packaging with a new app, Lush Lens. Using a smartphone’s camera, the feature gives customers detailed ingredient information and ‘how to use’ digital demos with just the touch of a button. Lush’s entire naked range is detectable by the Lens feature. Naturally, when Welke tries to show me it’s a bit glitchy, but it’s impressive nonetheless and a far easier way to access information. And it’s not just about products, the plastic-free library is stocked with topical literature and films that delve deeper into the topics of zero waste and ocean plastics.

The Naked Shop is how I hope cosmetics stores will operate soon. Lush products are a testament to how opting for unpackaged products does not mean forfeiting style or quality. While recycling is all well and good, perhaps the focus should be on how we can eliminate or at least reduce our plastic use and consumption of products? 

As Lush says, “Why recycle, when you can get naked?”

By Emma Yates-Badley