Monday, June 13, 2011

Ethical companies - LUSH Cosmetics

This weekend, I picked up a few things from LUSH Cosmetics, just one of the many companies with a presence in the "ethical" products market. The items I purchased (lotion, face mask and cleanser) stand out to me for a number of reasons: they smell irresistibly yummy and they make my skin feel divine, and in terms of "ethics", they're made with vegetarian, ethically-sourced, all-natural and organic ingredients, they're not tested on animals, they're hand-made, and they're made with little to no preservatives and packaging.

Great company, right? Well, the one thing that really attracted me to LUSH is that on each of the products they sell is a sticker with a cartoon picture of the face of the person who produced the product. I really like the fact that a transnational company (!) with so many positive characteristics already actually took their "ethics" one step further and humanized their products in this way. It's as if the stickers make globalization seem a little less evil. LUSH also seems a bit more sincere about being conscious of its impact, from energy use and fair sourcing to waste and labor, than other so-called ethical companies out there...

One of the young women who works at the LUSH store in Memphis said that it's not uncommon for batches of products to be slightly different from each other, and that sometimes the store manager will come back from a trip to the factory (oh, what a word!) and say, "I know who made that [insert product here]!" Too cool.


  1. It seems like consumers are asking for a new transparency and a sense of honesty from their products and brands. There seems to be some benefit for the companies too considering the loyalty it inspires!

  2. Does LUSH cosmetics advertise itself as "ethical" or has that name been attributed to them by you and other industry voices? I would be interested on hearing your thoughts as to the "ethical" nature of many products released recently by both small companies and large ones, against the "trendy" nature of "ethical" products, i.e. being all natural, handmade, all-natural, etc. LUSH seems like a great product that certainly has a market right now in the current economic climate of green. But will this trend of social responsibility go out of style like my Converse? Or do we actually have something more invested in the philosophy of sustainability, all-natural, etc?

  3. @James and Erika -

    I would agree that this is a new-found consumer demand, at least on a larger scale than in the past, and that it has expanded to new sectors beyond what we would have typically associated with "ethical" or "green" or whatever in the past.

    I actually did an independent research project as a graduate student on TOMS Shoes, ethical/conscious consumption and consumer identity among college students. I wanted to understand how TOMS expressed the identities, values, desires, etc. of wearers and how wearers are perceived by others in the social world, or how TOMS are a sign/symbol and what exactly it is they signify/symbolize.

    The interesting thing I found is that people who wear TOMS have a handful of reasons they wear them, from the charity component (buy a pair of shoes, get a pair of shoes) to aesthetics to practicality, etc. However, when I asked them about why they think most others wear TOMS, they mentioned these reasons but (many) also said that it's because TOMS are trendy and that it's trendy/cool to be an ethical consumer and to BE SEEN consuming ethically. For example, words used to describe TOMS wearers include cool, trendy, nice, caring, friendly, etc. So, TOMS are a sort of ethical consumption badge, like a Prius or reusable shopping bag or another consumer good that is easily recognized as such by others in the social world.

    Clearly this is an excellent business strategy for companies. Providing desirable consumer goods with charitable components creates a profit because it allows consumers to "do their part" as global citizens in a 21st century world replete with social and environmental issues. This is especially important as people become even more aware of global (and local) issues, yet are disconnected from doing something about a lot of the issues they care about. Consumption is an easy and practical way for them to participate and contribute and help. Some even see it as an extension of political action, outside of traditional avenues. I've written extensively about this in unpublished papers/presentations on my TOMS research. It's been a little over a month since I graduated and because I've been focusing on finding gainful employment I haven't exactly finished a draft for submission for publication. But this is my ultimate goal because the research has been so insightful!

    @Erika, no, I have not seen LUSH describe themselves this way but it's possible, and it's definitely clear from their business philosophy that they are such. I simply labeled them an ethical company based on my research with the TOMS project.

    In terms of ethical consumption lasting as a trend, well, I think it's different from other trends because it's almost all-pervasive in terms of products that can be transformed in some way to be called ethical or green. Also, it seems like there's an increasing need for products like this, rather than just a desire, so maybe that will have something to do with it (the increasing need for products that produce less waste, or use fewer materials, etc.)

  4. Thank you so much for your extensive answer, and I wish you all the best with your research. You've probably already seen this, since it references Tom's shoes, but there's a talk that Slovoj Zizek gave on the ramifications of the ethical implications of charitable giving that you might find of interest (plus the animation is pretty nifty!) I wouldn't say I agree with his view but I think he makes some excellent points and it serves as an interesting counter argument to popular culture's view of giving in a capitalist society.

  5. Whoops! Here's the link!

  6. Erika, thanks. Actually I have incorporated Zizek's views extensively into my research. I do agree with his viewpoint and had formulated some similar ideas before stumbling upon him and his books. He fit perfectly into what I was trying to express about TOMS (from a more critical standpoint, as opposed to merely looking at what TOMS symbolize... it ties in quite nicely.)

  7. Very cool. Again, best of luck!