Since first coming to market in 1995, Lush has always done things a little differently. Hailed for its commitment to cruelty-free beauty, the brand has been a beauty fan favorite for almost 30 years. In recent times, the business has continued to impress its consumers with its fresh outlook on marketing, announcing its Global Anti-Social Media Policy and removing the brand from social platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, until correct action is taken to make these platforms safer for users due to the harmful implications these apps can have on mental health. The move was predicted to cause a loss of $12.1 million in sales, leaving the brand to seek out other ways to effectively connect with its audience while maintaining a sustainable business model—and exactly that it did. Lush found its niche in the market of collaborations, having launched eight in quick succession across the past 12 months, with five of these so far, including the Super Mario Bros. Movie collection, producing a total sales revenue of over £15.4 million ($19.4 million). But how did the brand do it?
"Lush has carefully selected collaborations with charities and people historically… As a global brand—that does it all in-house-sourcing the finest ethical ingredients, inventing, manufacturing, and retailing, we can innovate unique products and experiences for every partnership," says Annabelle Baker, Lush Global Brand Director.
Where It Began
Lush approaches its collaborations with the mindset of "Leaving the World Lusher Than We Found It," aimingto create exciting and innovative products and experiences while utilizing regenerative supply chains and working towards an approach to safety testing that uses human biology–specific methods. Each collaboration is carefully thought out and created to grow the brand's presence across a range of communities and tell its story via an array of outlets, excluding social media.
The business's debut collaboration was created alongside Japanese Anime One Piece, formulated for the Anime's 25th anniversary. The collection was inspired by the famous words of Monkey D. Luffy, the main character of One Piece, who dreams of becoming the "The King of the Pirates": "I smell adventure!" The collaboration featured six products, including four bath bombs inspired by the Devil Fruit in the franchise, which gives superpowers with one bite, a bubble bar inspired by the straw hat worn by Luffy, and a Knot Wrap (Lush's reusable gift wrap) featuring the symbolic pirate flag of Luffy and his companions. The One Piece collaboration gained Lush 71% worth of new digital customers and sold out all stock by 2 pm on launch day.
People Buy from People
Lush attributes its collaboration success to word of mouth among trusted communities. "Personally, I don't think people watch a lot of brand-based content," says Melody Morton, Concepts Creative Director at Lush. "What's great about collaborations is that we've seen a lot of organic content shared, not by us as a brand but by real customers and then the real bathroom experiences with those products. This has been way more valuable to us than any of our previous brand content."
On top of organic content, the dedication of loyal customers and sincere satisfaction with the brand's products have led to Lush gaining large community reactions across the social platforms it remains on, including X (formally Twitter). In the UK, the launch of Lush x Stranger Things led to the brand's most engaged tweet of all time since the account was created in 2009. This was an extremely beneficial payoff for a collection created in the fast turnaround time of just six weeks, produced after the brand noticed a huge popularity surrounding the licensee. The collaboration collection raked in a 6% increase on the anticipated target turnover for the SKUs.
Agility of Manufacturing
Lush reports that its manufacturing abilities have been instrumental to each collection's production, launch, and success. The brand's collaboration with female-owned fashion business Lazy Oaf (which turned over £1.6 million with a UK-only launch) and Stranger Things were both created during the busiest time of year while prepping for the festive season. Despite the rush, the business was able to produce handmade, fresh, and ethical products distributed all across the world in time for their launch dates. The manufacturing demands entail detail-oriented craftsmanship to ensure the best-quality products, including hand-pouring checkerboard designs for the Lazy Oaf collaboration, individually spraying each eight-sided bath bomb for the Stranger Things collection, stacking multiuse Krabby Bathy gifts for the SpongeBob SquarePants assortment, and placing a soap surprise item inside each Question Block bath bomb for Super Mario Bros. Movie offerings. The brand believes that its customers' appreciation of these small details is a contributing factor to the success of each collaboration, as consumers look on and wait for the next detail-focused roster of products.
The Importance of True Collaboration
Lush aims for its collaborations to be more than just a name on a product, insisting everything is a cohesive effort with the collaborator, from creative assets to window design and signage. The brand only considers collaborating with those who are working towards bettering themselves and amplifying Lush's message of sustainability and ethical practice.
"Ultimately, collaborating with other brands is a way to introduce Lush to new audiences. That can sometimes mean working with partners who may have historically not aligned with our heritage and ethics," adds Morton. "This said, we're only partnering with brands who have a progressive view of where they would like to go, what they would like to be, and who are open to change. We won't be partnering with companies that aren't trying to improve. We also obviously know our own value chain and ethical stance on issues, so we are keen to introduce Lush to as many people as possible."
A notable example of this is Lush's collaboration with the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise, which generated over £1.3 million ($1.6 million) in the first week and over £4 million ($5 million) globally to date. In the seven-day period of the collaboration's launch, more than 66,000 items were sold, and the Lush website saw a 19% increase in visitors.. The partnership supported Paramount's SeaChange campaign, which encouraged consumers to litter pick throughout the month of July and beyond, contributing towards co-founder Rowena Bird's plastic-grab challenge proposal to clean up 60 tons of litter across towns and communities in the UK within the month.
"There are multiple routes, and we have pillars on where we'd like to make sure collaborations are being considered, such as sport, music, entertainment, fashion, art, and gaming," continues Morton. "Taking the commercial side away, we want to make sure there's a product for every need on offer and that there are communities that align with smaller collaboration offerings."
Morton believes that in order for Lush to future-proof its business, it must remain on top of cultural relevance, tapping into the franchises that many consumers wish to immerse themselves in "as cultural currency should always be prioritized over financial currency." A recognizable collaboration that aligns with this view is the Asteroid City collection, which was created alongside input from the franchise film director Wes Anderson. Despite having only eight weeks to manufacture and launch, the collaboration saw such popularity that its dedicated pop-up shop was forced to close a day early due to the limited-edition stock selling out. This is another contributing factor to the success of the brand's collaborations, as releasing limited-edition products only further encourages the consumer to make a purchase, wanting to be part of the hype before it's too late to grab their desired products.
Carefully Constructed Concept Shops
In an age when beauty brands are capitalizing on sales through pop-up marketing initiatives, Lush is standing out from the crowd, creating shops that capture the interest of both existing customers and those who may have never encountered the brand. The power held by the names of the collaborator franchises Lush works with contribute to the traction created surrounding each pop-up. Take the Barbie Movie, for example—Lush's collaborative concept pop-up in London's Soho saw a Barbie Dreamhouse built from the ground up, including a life-sized kitchen, shower, and lounge space, providing countless Instagram opportunities for those in attendance. For those who may not have purchased from Lush before, the sheer power of Barbie mania was enough to entice them to visit the store, which, of course, led to further sales on top of already dedicated Lush consumers.
The collaboration with Mattel's Barbie came at a time when almost every beauty brand was tapping into the Barbie market, but this did not hinder the visibility or success of the collaboration, which led to the brand's largest-ever sales on its app, seeing a 146% on the day of launch for the Super Mario Bros. Movie collection (which turned over £10 million in sales) and +44% compared to 2022's Boxing Day sale. After the first week of the Barbie x Lush launch, the Barbie perfume SKU had sold out, followed shortly thereafter by the other offerings from the collection, which has generated £1.7 million ($2.1 million) globally to date.
After the success collaborations have brought Lush over the past 12 months, it only makes sense for these to carry on, helping the brand to grow its audience and offer products that appeal to a range of communities, as each collaboration has contributed to an average of 30% first-time consumers. New customers are shopping with Lush following the collaborations with March to June FY23 vs. FY22 up 11.2%, and 12-month rolling traffic is up 1.2% compared to this time last year. The brand has announced its plans to reveal more licensed collaborations with Netflix by the end of 2023, and is set to unveil five already confirmed partnerships for 2024.
Lush waves the flag for collaborations across the beauty industry, showing that alignment in values, successful manufacturing plans and executions, as well as powerful in-person pop-ups, are the keys to success in today's buzzing industry. If there is one thing to note from Lush, it is that sometimes, it is the power of working together that helps individuals thrive and reach their desired goals.
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