How Lush is using design to shift brand perception away from "smelly bath bombs"

Since cosmetic company Lush first opened its doors 20 years ago in Poole, UK, the brand has become synonymous with bath bombs and smelly soaps but with a growing global footprint Lush is now entering a new phase as it looks to make the brand “grow up”.

Playing an integral role in shifting perceptions of the brand is Lush’s approach to design, which is headed up by Andy Russell, who told The Drum that while the brand hasn’t historically been known for its “exemplary” design, using it to inform strategy and drive Lush forward with its maturity ambitions has proved to be crucial.

“Design and strategy always go hand in hand,” he said. “[Lush] has not always been known for its exemplary design which I hope I have been changing and bringing it up to date and more contemporary…Design played a massive part in how we started to strategize how we would talk to our customers and how they would buy our products.”

For example a recent project following Lush’s website redesign saw the company create the Lush Kitchen – an online only initiative where fans of the brand can request discontinued products or choose from a selection of new ones from a daily menu. All the products produced in the kitchen are limit edition and sold only on the day they are made. Russell said the initiative “wouldn’t have worked without design” because it was a service that almost became branded in its own right.

“For us to launch it [Lush Kitchen] and allow people to understand our processes it was like lifting the lid on Lush, and as part of the website redesign the whole thing had to be considered. We hadn’t had a mobile specific site so we had to design one to work on mobile and we wanted the kitchen to be an integral part of the business of how customers experience and find new products and learn about the brand and our policies when it comes to sourcing and buying ingredients”.

The brand is known for its cruelty-free and environmentally friendly credentials – it previously campaigned against hunting and the culling of badgers – and while Lush is keen to preserve its “hippy, anti-establishment” label it is aware that as business with 900 stores in 43 countries brand perception is key to sustaining the company’s trajectory.

“We are a huge businesses and when you start to become a global business you have to start thinking about how you are represented,” explained Russell. “While we will stay close to those roots, and we never want to lose them, we also have to be aware that you have to adapt to the growth and demand and the public’s perception of who you are and what you are so that you’re sustainable and your businesses works and survives”.

For Lush and design moving forward it will continue to embrace its home grown roots, eschewing globalisation despite being a large company. Building Lush into a lifestyle brand that people want to buy in to is also a focus with Russell adding: “We consider ourselves as a brand in beta, we are adaptable in terms of the future and doing things that work for us but we are also pushing new ideas”.

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