The Kiwi skincare entrepreneur making waves.
NEWMARKET. Can you tell us how Emma Lewisham began?
EMMA LEWISHAM. Emma Lewisham is a skincare brand that was founded with a single purpose: to make a meaningful difference in the beauty industry. For me, achieving this means setting a new standard in skincare: proving that circular-designed, luxurious, high performing skincare doesn’t have to come at a trade-off to women’s health or the planet’s.
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. 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.
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 cremes 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 were forced to make.
N. Consumers have become far more aware and invested in transparency, practices and ingredients in beauty products. For those who don’t know what it means, how do you define clean beauty?
E. 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, ethanolamine, chemical sunscreens, synthetic fragrance, and BHT 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. If we cannot get certainty on these points, we will not use the ingredient in our product, even if it is the most luxurious and high performing ingredient.
N. Your efforts towards sustainability and putting people and planet at the heart of the brand is inspiring. Taking this a step further, you have launched Beauty Circle, which encourages the recycling of beauty products. Can you tell us more about this sustainable initiative?
E. Once we’d cracked being able to offer our customers truly clean, natural and effective products, we were faced with the issue of how flawed the beauty industry’s packaging problem is. Currently, the global cosmetic industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year, and few are accepted by kerbside recycling programmes. 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 9% 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. Many products that line bathroom shelves are made from plastic and just because it states on the packaging it’s recyclable, doesn’t mean it will be recycled. There’s a distinction that needs to be made between something that’s practicably recyclable and technically recyclable. 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. This was something that really surprised me. Many of us, including myself, dutifully put our plastic pumps and frosted glass in the recycling, not realising that it ends up in landfill. At Emma Lewisham, we subscribe to the belief that brands are no longer in the business of simply “selling products”, they are stewards of their products for their full lifecycles. This means accountability for the ingredients and materials within the supply chain right through to end-of- life management.
This is why we’ve partnered with TerraCycle® to launch New Zealand’s first sustainable beauty initiative for all brands of facial skincare products, called the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle. It’s a free, incentive-based recycling programme to ensure beauty products are kept in circularity. It offers returns, rewards and recycling for not only our own facial products’ packaging, but for all brands. People simply hold onto a minimum of 4 products at a time, return these for recycling via Terracycle, and they’ll receive a $15 Emma Lewisham voucher for their efforts and recognition of the value of this material. The recycled packaging is turned into items of use, such as new product packaging or items for local playgrounds.
Our goal is to be a 100% circular, regenerative brand. Besides recycling, we also offer refills as part of our Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle. This has a quantifiable impact over producing new product packaging – with 70% less CO2 emissions, 60% less energy, and 45% less water used (based on research by the LCA Centre).
N. Talk us through your morning beauty routine?
E. I always cleanse first with my Illuminating Oil Cleanser, which draws out toxins and pollutants, it prevents these from lingering on the skin and degrading collagen and elastin. I then use a couple of drops of my Supernatural Triple Vitamin A+ Face Oil, and layer my Skin Reset Serum. Both of these products are great for hydrating and brightening and skin, and are general anti-ageing products. Finally, I use my Skin Shield Daily Face Moisturiser with SPF 30 on top of this. The sun’s UV rays are responsible for 80% of skin ageing, so I make sure I apply this every day.
N. The rise of women in business is pretty special to see, particularly in New Zealand. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
E. You need to really advocate for yourself and if you believe in something, stand by your belief and don’t accept compromises. It is so easy, particularly in the early days, for others to discourage your ideas and it does take real tenacity to see your vision come to life. We were told repeatedly that what we were trying to create in our products and in our mission for a circular, regenerative beauty brand was impossible, but we proved this wrong over and over again.