British cosmetics and body care brand Lush has finally succumbed to the lure of a mega beauty retailer. Last week, the natural beauty brand announced a wholesale partnership with Ulta to sell an assortment of discovery and holiday sets on the retailer’s website in an effort to widen its North American distribution.
“Ulta is a beauty empire, and we are thrilled to have them as our first B2B retail partner in North America,” Carrie Harambasic, Head of Business Development for Lush North America, tells BeautyMatter. "We believe in making fresh, handmade products with only the finest ingredients and are looking forward to sharing these values with Ulta’s wide consumer base of beauty enthusiasts. We are expanding our brick-and-mortar doors, but this was an opportunity to scale beyond what we could on our own, leveraging Ulta’s immense digital reach.”
Lush now sits in the body care category alongside brands like Truly, Hempz, Osea, and Hanahana Beauty. The discovery sets will include Lush’s most popular products and are available exclusively online. The sets range between $17 and $46.
“As pioneers in the body category, we are delighted to provide greater access to [Lush’s] beloved products, and together help amplify their mission for efficacious, fresh, and cruelty-free ingredients,” says Penny Coy, Vice President of Merchandising at Ulta Beauty.
Lush first became famous for its fizzy bath bombs, which launched back in 1989, but has since expanded its offering of skin and haircare products. The Ulta-exclusive discovery kits feature some of Lush’s bestsellers across bath, shower, skin, and hair. Customers can expect the same fresh, handmade, and sustainably minded products that Lush is known for.
“Accessibility in time for the holiday season and meeting people where we are not is a top priority,” says Harambasic. “The choice of offering discovery sets is to offer a sampling of our bestsellers across categories, not just in bath, providing a wider view of all Lush has to offer.”
The move to mass retail is a departure from the brand’s focus on brick-and-mortar and other owned distribution channels. The first sign of this shift came in 2021 when Lush launched a select number of product kits, shampoo bars, and an exclusive bath bomb duo on the UK online retailer ASOS. At the time, Lush customers expressed some level of dissatisfaction over the decision to enter the fast fashion retailer, which some believe put the brand at odds with the sustainability principles that Lush was founded on. The brand maintained its commitment to being a regenerative business but argued that to acquire new customers and make a larger impact, it had to expand its distribution strategy.
“If we only turn 1% of ASOS’s unique users into Lush customers, that’s hundreds of thousands of new people using our wonderful, effective Lush products with embedded values,” the brand said of the relationship. “This would enable us to further our cosmetics revolution and invest in more regenerative projects around the world, leaving more of the world lusher than we found it.”
In a statement made after the announcement of Lush entering ASOS, Lush's founder Mark Constantine argues that “for the sake of the environment, we need to be number one” in the cosmetics industry.
As one of the US's largest beauty retailers, Ulta believes it has the responsibility and the opportunity to be a leader in the way the industry views sustainability and social impact. Almost half of the total number of brands carried at the retailer are part of its Conscious Beauty program, which requires that participants meet the criteria of at least one of the Conscious Beauty pillars: clean ingredients, cruelty-free, vegan, sustainable packaging, and positive impact.
“We are thrilled to bring our range of fresh, handmade cosmetics to Ulta’s wide consumer base across the US,” says Harambasic. “Customers can expect the same fresh, handmade, packaging-free products that Lush is known and loved for.”
Choosing the right distribution strategy matters more for Lush than other beauty brands. Lush famously left social media on Black Friday in 2021, shuttering its Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat accounts across all 48 countries where Lush operates. In an era where a brand’s social media strategy can make a significant impact on its revenue—particularly during tough economic times—Lush has no choice but to explore new distribution channels if it wants to reach new pools of customers and make an even bigger positive impact on the beauty industry at large.
“Since making that decision as a company, we’ve been able to explore new avenues we might not have before, says Harambasic. “Being online at Ulta allows us access to both our existing customers and new customers without jeopardizing our ethics or using algorithms.”
Lush’s launch on Ulta.com is the brand’s first B2B partnership in North America outside of the 200 Lush stores across the territory. While Harambasic says the brand will be expanding brick-and-mortar doors “significantly throughout 2024,” she did not indicate that Lush would be entering Ulta’s brick-and-mortar doors anytime soon. Harambasic added that the band is “thinking beyond traditional retail.”
“We continue to show up in spaces and places that you don’t expect us,” she says. “As the US is so massive in size, we’d like to meet our customers where they are across the US, which means we are looking at a range of cities over the next several years.”
Ulta has made a concerted effort to cement itself as a destination for wellness seekers within the last few years. Last month, the retailer announced an expansion of its in-store wellness spaces across over 1,330 US locations. The Wellness Shop brings an educational element to its product displays within a spa-like atmosphere to help encourage discovery. Ulta promised to bring in new brands and increase the offerings from existing partners ahead of the holiday season. Neither Coy nor Harambasic made any mention of whether Lush’s discovery and holiday kits will be added to The Wellness Shop.
“As wellness and self-care continues to be a priority at Ulta Beauty, we’re excited to evolve our assortment with brands like Lush, which shares our passion for this space,” says Penny Coy, Vice President of Merchandising at Ulta Beauty. “With the brand’s fun and innovative packaging, scents, and design, we know our guests will be excited to discover LUSH’s exclusive assortment available only on ulta.com.”
Lush was one of the last direct-to-consumer (DTC) beauty brands to enter into a major beauty retailer. Glossier held out as long as it could before launching in Sephora in early 2023, which signaled to the rest of the industry that the DTC bubble had finally burst after a short-lived boom during the pandemic. Lush’s entry into Ulta proves that beauty brands today are seeking a strong retail partnership to help them adapt and weather the next evolution of e-commerce.
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