Lush Cosmetics is known for their handmade products, crazy sweet fragrances, and synthetic mica glitter (read: man-made, cruelty-free, and totally 'grammable). Vancouver is home to not only four Lush locations and their corporate office, but also one of only two factories in all of North America. Every Lush bath bomb, bubble bar and body butter sold in any U.S. or Canadian store is handmade either here or in Toronto. Like another legendary factory famous for sweet stock, few have been inside the Lush factory located at the south end of Cambie Street. Until last week, I had only glanced at the factory through the foggy window of the Canada Line.
But when I got an invite to Lush's "Behind the Bubbles" event (which included an inside look into the making of the products, a sneak peek of the holiday collection, and a tour of the Lush factory for ahem VIPs), it felt like a golden ticket. If all four of my grandparents slept Bucket-style in the same bed, I would have skipped home to tell them. "Behind the Bubbles" in previous years has been an event for Lush managers only, and this was the first year that non-employees were also invited.
Compounders showing the store managers how it's done.
I wouldn't really call myself a Lushie—yes, that is the recognized title of both employees and hardcore fans—as I don't shop at the store regularly, and most of the products I do have were given to me by acquaintances lucky enough to draw my name for secret Santa. There does exist the stereotype that Lush's retail employees are extremely bubbly (pun very intended, thank you) and a bit pesky, though very well-intentioned. And take it from someone who spent a day surrounded by hundreds of Lush employees: the stereotype absolutely holds up.
I made bubble bars by pressing a dough-like mixture into a star mould. With extra glitter, of course.
After perusing the event for a bit and making my own bubble bar (when I asked what scent we were handling, several Lushies answered in cult-like unison, "Snow Fairy!") the tour started. I got some very fashionable steel-toe slip-ons to go over my shoes, and was told pictures were permitted as long as they didn't include ingredient labels or recipes.
Spoiler alert: the inside of the factory is not quite as breathtaking as one might imagine. The trays upon trays of bath bombs in various stages of production were very cool, and watching compounders hand-pour pastel gloop into moulds was fascinating. But there was no glitter river, no secret everlasting bath bomb, and none of my tour-mates disappeared throughout the day. Here's a look inside:
The Dairy Pots room, where compounders get cooking. In the bottom left of this image, you can see bins full of ingredients.Products setting in the Soma (Soap and Massage) room.
We were instructed to "walk like penguins" through this part of the factory—all those bubbles can make the floors slippery.You've probably noticed that all Lush products have the name of the compounder (or maker) on them. This wall is home to all of the name and face stickers. Face stickers are only given to expert compounders.These are the labeling machines used for larger products. The smaller products (like lip scrubs) are still hand-labeled.
Unlike lots of other "ethical" brands, it seems like Lush does actually walk the eco-friendly walk—my tour guide let us know that not only does Lush not test on animals (a low bar) but also does not purchase materials from companies that sell to other companies who test on animals (a much higher bar). Lush has an "us or them" attitude for animal testing, and I imagine that many producers are more than willing dump an unethical company for this multi-million dollar brand. The synthetic mica glitter I mentioned earlier replaced natural mica glitter at the beginning of 2018, when the producers of natural mica glitter could not guarantee there would be no child labour used in the supply chain. All of Lush's containers can be recycled at Lush stores, and many products come "naked" with no packaging at all. Also, though the ingredients are still handmade, some machinery—like industrial mixers and labelers—are used to limit the physical strain or injury of employees.
A sneak peek at the holiday collection, which is now available at Lush's Robson location.
Like dollar drink days or pumpkin spice lattes, Lush's holiday collection is an indication that seasons are changing. I got a whiff of this holiday's seasonal scents (Snow Fairy included) and of the artful and adorable construction of the products—Santa bath bombs so cute you almost feel bad for melting their faces off. Almost.
After trying my hand at making a product, taking a peek inside the factory, learning about Lush's ethics, and (most importantly) hanging out with the bubbliest people in North America, I think it's safe to say that Lushies are obsessed, but rightfully so. Their devotion to the products is earned through ethical practices and earth-friendly ingredients. Their energy, while a bit manic, is full of passion and a genuine love for the brand. It was awesome to see that Lush is taking concrete steps to put out great products with the smallest footprint possible—they prove that you can produce ethically even on an international scale. The magic remains, even though I was not offered the entire factory as a prize for my kind and youthful heart.