Ideas can be a tormenting thing, evading us when we need them most, taking up a little too much room in our minds when waylaid by other matters. They hit us in the middle of the night, in the shower, on the commute home – and when they enter the world, well, there’s no going back then.
Emma Lewisham is someone who knows first-hand what it’s like to be enamoured by a big idea. Her’s is a life lived in the shadow of her intuition – whether that intuition points her in a conventional direction, or towards the unorthodox.
Just a few short years ago, when the New Zealand native went looking for a safer alternative to a commonly used beauty product in her repertoire, and was confronted by an apparent lack of options, a seed was planted that would eventually flower into her eponymous skincare label that now stretches multiple countries.
“If I can see that something can be done better – that there’s a right way or a superior way of doing it – I will chase that. I love that. It’s what really lights me up,” Lewisham tells RUSSH.
In near-blind faith, Lewisham began to research and make plans, spurred on by a vision she couldn’t seem to shake – one of a circular and sustainable skincare line formulated in pursuit of natural, scientifically proven efficacy. And all the while, she held onto her 9-5 job in the tech field, evenings, weekends and holidays soaked up by her passion project.
“I put everything into it,” she says, “So yeah, it was an intuitive thing. I really believed in what we were doing, and I just followed that.”
At first glance, the decision to move from the tech to the beauty industry might seem like a substantial leap across industries. However, Lewisham attests that it was a jump that felt instinctive for her, and that her background in a different industry not only helped to inform her in this new arena, but gave her a unique edge: a fresh perspective.
“Coming into the industry with a fresh pair of eyes was, I think, really beneficial – although I did have a background in science, so I had some understanding. But our products are formulated in a fundamentally different way, where we flip it on its head,” she says.
“We don’t start with ingredients – we start with the skin. We understand it, we’ve researched it, we’ve worked out where we need to speak to it, and we align all of those ingredients.”
Being a passionate environmentalist, Lewisham was also excited by the spectre of creating a line that was entirely circular – from its packaging to its ingredients – something that is still far from the norm in the industry.
“The beauty industry has operated for the last hundred years in a linear way, which is no longer right, given what we know now about the planet. And so we can no longer continue to operate like that, and we’re passionate about changing behaviour and getting people to think about what happens to the items post-use,” she says.
“Circularity is truly at the heart of helping to save the planet. And to bring down carbon emissions, we need to move to a circular model to bring down the enormous amount of waste in beauty. To us, it’s an absolute no-brainer.”
But while it may have been a linear decision for Lewisham and her trusted team, their real challenge was in transmuting the expectations and standards of those around them – investors, retailers, suppliers and, most crucially, their customers – and warming them to the brand’s offbeat ethos.
“You have to take people on and get them to see things differently and do things differently. There is no blueprint. We’re having to educate and inspire the partners around us, which I think we’ve done a really great job of,” she says.
“We’re having to change peoples’ behaviours. Your whole lifetime – and our grandparents’ whole lifetime – we’ve only known that you buy something and you can throw it away when you’re done, or put it in a recycling bin. There’s never been this requirement to return it somewhere, or take an extra step in your day.”
The harsh reality is, according to Lewisham, that even items recycled with the best of intentions are often not being reused the way that we might imagine. Closing the loop to create a cyclic system – one where items are used, returned, sterilised and reused – is the only way to make substantial strides towards lowering emissions, and the only way she feels comfortable being able to tell customers, straight-faced, that the brand is making that difference.
“We don’t want people to recycle our packaging – we want to reuse it. They’re refillable, so you can keep the outer jar, and we have pods that people can buy and clip them in and out and then return those pods to us, which we sterilise and reuse.”
Lewisham’s tenacity in business and in her pursuit of sustainable practices is a trait that stems from a strong moral compass, one that has always felt innate to her character. She tells RUSSH that she has always apotheosised the notion of authenticity – and not just in her work.
“What you see is what you get,” she says. “When you’re putting your name on something, you want to ensure it feels authentic. I also just don’t think there’s any other way for me to run a business without not enjoying it and not feeling in alignment. I think that’s why we’ve connected with so many customers. They feel that authenticity.”
Rooted in this sense of authenticity, and buoyed by the community she’s built upon the strength of her big idea, Lewisham is gracious about how far she’s come, sanguine about the present, and ready to follow the bright idea into the next.