It’s been two years since Lush left social networks. Any regrets?

Annabelle Baker - It hasn’t been without its challenges. However, how can you regret a decision to try to make your customers safer and one that was made in the light of damaging evidence that platforms like Instagram drove young people to suicide? Over the last two years we have seen significant momentum both with the public and with governments to tackle the issues and force change. It’s encouraging to see new regulations coming into effect across Europe to protect the safety of those on the platforms — what we’d also like to see is more accountability for Big Tech. Our latest campaign — that launched on Black Friday — challenges the power and abuses of Big Tech and raises money for a decentralized movement called ‘People vs Big Tech’.

Has this decision had an impact on sales and the brand’s reputation around the world?

Annabelle Baker - Determining the impact on sales has been difficult for a number of reasons. Our withdrawal from social networks coincided with a period of unforeseen global turbulence, with an increase in Covid cases, followed by the invasion of Ukraine and, more recently, a cost-of-living crisis with significant inflation. We are fortunate to have a strong community, which means that our reputation is not determined by our presence or absence on certain social platforms. In fact, we’ve seen other brands try to run a similar active campaign on social networks, only to be asked by their customers why they didn’t do the same as Lush and actively withdraw from these platforms.

Have you had any negative feedback from some customers?

Annabelle Baker - Our customers have generally been behind what we did and appreciate us taking a stand. We did a report with foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory this year to investigate the digital landscape, now and in the future. With leading experts in the tech sector contributing, and over 12,000 consumers across the UK, US and Japan surveyed, the aim was to investigate the rapidly shifting digital landscape, its impact on consumers, and existing barriers to digital transformation. The results were insightful, for example: almost seven in 10 adults (69%) believe that if a social media platform is unethical then brands should step away from it; 65% don’t want social media platforms to use their data for commercial benefit; whilst a huge 70% are calling for global legislation that protects the safety of users online.

So your departure from social networking went smoothly?

Annabelle Baker - It hasn’t all been that way though, we definitely did receive comments from people not appreciating our stance but this was two years ago when the dangers of social media were not as well known or as well documented as they are today. Just this week, the BBC published a story about Gen Z turning their backs on social media and you can also see waves of legal action in the US from families accusing these platforms of being harmful to teens, in particular. It’s important to note that these social media platforms are not the only space to build connection and community and we are likely to continue to see a decentralized approach to community building and how and where a brand can show up.

A few months ago, there was a bit of a viral element on social media that saw some users claiming to have (almost) forgotten that Lush existed. Isn’t that a problem in a sector that is subject to ever-increasing competition?

Annabelle Baker - You have to keep yourself relevant, and we are fortunate to have a lot of creativity and innovation in our business. If you make bold moves, tap into popular culture, invent groundbreaking products that are effective and really change lives, and interact with your community consistently and authentically, then a brand can stay relevant. Remembering that people buy from people.

What has the brand done to remain visible to consumers despite this absence on social networks?

Annabelle Baker - Lush is still present in the digital world — yes, we’ve moved off of Meta platforms and TikTok as a brand, but we’ve been experimenting with other web3 technologies and platforms. We are aiming to regain the "sense of community" in online spaces, when social media was really social and when our Lush community was organic — before the algorithm took over the direct connection between Lush and users.

There’re other ways to meet communities where they are, that isn’t dependent on these platforms. For example we’ve been dipping our toe into the metaverse this past year, with a replica of our SXSW House activation on Decentraland and taking part in the first Metaverse Beauty Week. As part of our ’Big Tech Rebellion,’ we are keen to divest money away from the likes of Google and instead invest in our community, people over platforms. This ranges from looking at how we collaborate with influencers and creators, to offering our super fans a first look at product drops.

Have you initiated other forms of ’meetups’ with your community?

Annabelle Baker - We’ve been participating in more IRL events and activations, showing up at events like Afro Punk in Brooklyn; Happy Place Festival in the UK; SXSW in Austin and Womad in the UK. We have physical retail spaces all over the world, and have continued to invest in redesigns and refits, as well as new concept stores — such as a new hair salon in the UK and spas in Dubai and NYC.

We’ve been collaborating with lifestyle and entertainment partners more over the past 12 months and our community has jumped on these, creating many viral moments across all launches (including the "Super Mario Bros Movie," "Stranger Things," "SpongeBob" and most recently "Barbie"). When you do something cool that excites people, we’ve found that our audience will organically share it and that’s more authentic. So that’s our job, create those products and experiences that our community wants to share! We’ve also been building our community on Discord with the intention to make more "conversational" interaction with customers online. Discord is a decentralised platform and allows us to have more control within the server.

In the fashion world, Bottega Veneta has left Instagram, but very few brands seem to be able to go without a social network presence. Why do you think this is?

Annabelle Baker - I can’t comment on what other brands do or why, I can only talk about why we made the decisions we did. Coming off of the platforms we did made sense to us, as a lot of our customers fall into the group most negatively affected by them. We are in the business of well-being, and we attract a lot of young girls … we simply couldn’t continue to ask them to find us on platforms [that push us] into giving our “consent” to grow their vast empires of personal data extraction and surveillance. They then leave us to deal with the detrimental effects of this business model, which can mean a devastating impact on mental health and well-being. These platforms are literally the antithesis of what we stand for and are themselves anti-social. That’s why we are currently working with an organization called People vs Big Tech, to raise money for them to continue their work to rein in the Big Tech companies. We’re selling a bath bomb called The Cloud, with all the sales price (minus the VAT) going towards starting a global youth network to reclaim social media from Big Tech.

Would you say today that Lush will never return to social networks, whatever the consequences?

Annabelle Baker - We would potentially, however we would need to see a complete change to the social media landscape. For us we would need to see accountability of these Big Tech companies who seem to act without regard for users’ welfare despite overwhelming evidence that their services are doing a lot of harm. It would be a change of mindset and design on these social media platforms.