Considering what Emma Lewisham has already achieved with her eponymous skincare line, itâs hard to believe the brand only came into existence about six months ago. Although Lewisham initially studied chemistry at university, she ended up veering towards the economics and international business that she was taking as part of her degree. But after eight years in a successful corporate career heading up strategy for a Japanese tech companyâs marketing team, Lewisham came to a fork in the road. âI just realised it wasnât something I was super passionate about,â she admits.
Loss and grief often prime us to pause and ruminate on lifeâs meaning and after losing her mum to cancer, Lewisham began to reflect on her own life and health. It was also around the same time that the beauty entrepreneur started thinking about raising a family of her own. A conversation with her doctor to discuss the pathway to motherhood took an interesting turn when he brought up her skincare routine. âHe urged me to stop using a particular product for pigmentation as it was toxic and carcinogenic and actually banned in many countries,â Lewisham recalls.
But rather than just binning her go-to pigmentation skincare, Lewisham took things a step further. âSoon I was researching ingredients in all of my skincare products and it was really like an atomic bomb of ingredients.â Anyone who has ever tried cleaning their skincare routine of potentially toxic ingredients will know itâs no easy task, as Lewisham quickly discovered. Lewisham says she was shocked to discover just how lax and unregulated the beauty industry really is in New Zealand.
âI think we assume that things on the shelf that we are being sold are just going to be safe,â she says. âBut thereâs been a lot of research done and thereâs proof that certain ingredients do impact on our health.â Lewisham says that while toxic ingredients are often only used in small amounts by many beauty brands, itâs impossible to deny that we are using more products on our skin than ever before. âI think the average is 13 products before we leave home,â Lewisham says.
She says that the one thing that she quickly learnt, after a lot of research and spending time with skincare scientists, is that small trace amounts of toxic ingredients can build up over time and cause issues. âEven tiny amounts can impact on our health,â she says. But things didnât get a whole lot easier for Lewisham once she had worked out which ingredients she needed to avoid. âI went to replace my skincare products, particularly those I was using for uneven skin tone, with highly efficacious, evidence- and natural-based clean alternatives only to find they didnât exist,â she says.
Lewisham recalls standing in a health shop staring at products formulated with the likes of argan oil and shea butter and realising nothing was going to deliver the results she had become so accustomed to. âThere seemed to be this compromise,â she says. âEither you compromise your health, or you compromise results. And I thought, why do we have to compromise? Why canât we have high-performing natural skincare thatâs 100 per cent clean?â
It was at that moment that Lewisham decided on the change she wanted to see in the beauty industry: âI took on the challenge to build a brand that was as effective, if not more effective than high-end skincare brands.â The first step in developing her brand was research, and lots of it. Fortunately, there was no shortage of innovative laboratories pioneering game-changing natural skincare ingredients. âOne, in particular, we sourced from a farm in Switzerland. They spent five years researching alpine plants that they believed would stop the production of melanin,â she says.
After researching 100 plants, they managed to whittle them down to seven that would shut down the melanin-producing pathway in the skin that leads to pigmentation and uneven skin tone. âThey combined the seven of these plants into one extract, and thatâs one of the ingredients we utilise in our Skin Reset serum,â Lewisham says. But thatâs just one of the innovative approaches that Lewisham takes to skincare. Since the skincare lineâs inception, she says it has been important to ensure that the concentrations of ingredients used are actually high enough to deliver noticeable results. âWe took the approach of more high-quality ingredients in high-quality concentrations to deliver better results,â she explains. âWe flipped the industry standard on its head.â Whereas a traditional skincare brand might harness two to three active ingredients in its formulations, Lewisham opts for 30. âOur concentrations are up to four times higher and all 100 per cent natural ingredients.â
For Lewisham, a problem solver by nature, clean ingredients were just one part of the puzzle: she was determined to prove that luxury and sustainability can coexist. âThe planet shouldnât be compromised for beauty because to me, thatâs not beauty,â she says. Although the traditional beauty model is very linear â you buy a product, use it and then it ends up in the bin â Lewisham was convinced things didnât have to be this way.
âThe reality of beauty products is, despite our best efforts to recycle them, often they donât go anywhere but the landfill. When I found out that would be the journey of our products, I couldnât turn a blind eye to it.â To reduce the impact that her brand has on the planet, Lewisham launched a reuse and refill model for her glass bottles. âOur goal is to be a circular model and we have this belief that refill is the future of beauty. The current model is broken.â
Any beauty fanatic will know and cherish the sheer joy that can come from purchasing a new product, which is why Lewisham decided that simply sending out a refill sachet wouldnât work for her customers. âThey were missing out on that feeling of getting a bottle,â she says. Instead, Lewisham uses a model that she says is similar to the glass milk bottle system of the â80s. Consumers send back their empty bottles, which are then sterilised and refilled at the lab. âThey still get that bottle and still experience having something new, that feeling beauty gives.â
But it wasnât time for Lewisham to rest on her laurels. The second step towards her circular beauty model involves a recent partnership with recycling giant TerraCycle. She says after realising that plastic tubes are very hard to refill and that some people simply donât want a refill, she had to come up with another solution to ensure her product didnât just end up in a landfill. âI called TerraCycle and asked if we could create a partnership,â she says. Soon the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle was born.
To participate, beauty lovers create an account on the TerraCycle website. Once activated, they can download a free shipping label to post beauty products directly to TerraCycle for recycling. Users need to send a minimum of four products at a time, and regardless of brands sent in, everyone who participates will receive at $15 Emma Lewisham voucher in return. âI quickly jumped to wanting to do it for all brands, because I felt really passionate about it and raising awareness and creating a bigger shift in the industry,â says Lewisham. âWhat will happen is that it will be reused for more Emma Lewisham products or used for things like playgrounds or park benches.â
As well as the new game-changing recycling initiative, Lewisham launched two new products in late July. âItâs a night range with a night cream and night oil. One is a natural form of retinol that doesnât have any of the toxicity or drawbacks of traditional retinol,â she explains. Lewisham says many of her customers are in the same position she was when the idea for Emma Lewisham skincare first popped into her head â theyâre pregnant or trying to get pregnant and theyâre very conscious about what they put on their skin.
Although she has just launched two new products â the Supernatural Night CrĂ©me and Face Oil, â Lewisham says thereâs no cookie-cutter approach. Instead, itâs all about intensive research, testing and, of course, listening to the consumer. Although some would say itâs audacious to leave the world of international business to put your own name on a skincare brand, Lewisham says sheâs done that for her customers. âIâm at the heart of the brand and it really comes back to having a personal connection with the customers. Theyâre talking to a person, not just a brand. We design our products for who our customer is and what they need. We ask them what they want us to develop. You donât have to compromise health for beauty, thatâs our goal.â
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