The ethics of cosmetic brands
At the close of the decade, the social phenomenon to most impact our generation has not been Big Brother but Eco-awareness.
Small ethical and natural brands have popped up all over the shop and large corporations have started preaching of the natural properties of their mass-produced products.
Eco-aware customers are now seen as a powerful social demographic with a disposable income and companies are listening to them. The beauty industry has changed beyond all recognition since the 80s and 90s, and a new breed of ethical skincare brands has appeared.
Shona Wells, founder of ethical online beauty retailer howonearth.co.uk has benefitted from the influx of eco-sensitive shoppers but argues that it takes more than stamping ‘botanical’ on your product to be ethical.
“We look at companies from start to finish – how and where they source their ingredients, their social, environmental and trading policies, even the way they promote themselves. An ethical beauty brand is at its heart trying to make a difference. We work with numerous eco and ethical companies in the course of our business from where we advertise, our packaging, the electricity we source, even down to the tea and coffee we buy. We also promote brands that donate a proportion of their profits to environmental or social charities.”
Set up in 1976, The Body Shop was well ahead of its time for the promotion of animal welfare, natural products and supporting charities. During the 80s and 90s it was the only shop for the socially-aware consumer and grew rapidly, at its peak by 50 per cent a year but in the last few years the torch it carried for so long has burnt out.
Founder, Anita Roddick, sold The Body Shop in 2006 for £130 million to L’Oreal, who still test on animals. However, the sale to L’Oreal was only one saga in a history of contradictions of The Body Shop: Roddick was accused of having copied an existing American string of shops of the same name in everything from the green color theme, to the use of recyclable bottles. She denied the claim but when catalogues and original product lines from the San Francisco chain emerged, she settled out of court with the originators.
Other controversies included questioning over The Body Shop’s charitable donations and the use of petro-chemicals, however it is still a big player on the high street.
With equal visibility on the UK high street, Lush has a reputation for being a teen slumber party must-have, but the natural beauty brand has strong ethics to match. It has fought for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, by paying the legal fees of protest group, Plane Stupid, and has announced support for a group which stands against Donald Trump building a golf course in Aberdeenshire.
But Lush has come under fire recently for its Fabulous Mrs. Fox bubble bar. All proceeds of the bar go to the Hunt Saboteurs, a peaceful, but controversial a nti-fox hunting organisation.
The bars were launched in October and have already raised over £10,000. However, some have criticised Lush’s support of the saboteurs, yet Lush are resolute in supporting direct action, and sometimes controversial groups.
Lush ethical communications officer, Sean Gifford says, “The modern day suffragettes are animal rights campaigners who risk their freedom to protect nature. The groups Lush supports are very small, very grass roots and in desperate need of backing”.
Neal’s Yard has been eco-sensitive since it started. As well as being a carbon-neutral brand, it incorporated fairtrade products into its range.
Louise Green, Head of Sustainability at Neal’s Yard Remedies says, “Our aim is always to support and use ethical and sustainable materials in our products.”
Surprisingly, some of the most exciting ethical beauty innovation is happening in your local Superdrug. Generally put down for selling cheap goods and not having the marketing prowess of Boots, Superdrug’s ethical and environmental codes are not something to be mocked.
In 2006 the chain cut VAT on condoms from 17 to five per cent and is now fighting for children’s sun protection to be classed as an essential health item with equal cuts. It is also using its position as a low-cost retailer to stock smaller, affordable ethical brands.
Found in Superdrug and online, Purity pride themselves on quality, natural, bio-degradable ingredients that are not corrupted by chemicals. Purity’s commitment to keeping prices low by using proven ingredients has made life tough; with consumers doubting their ethical credentials as they assume being ethical costs money.
For founder, Paisley Arnold gaining an eco-certification was the only way to build trust in the industry. “Ecocert is pretty much one of the oldest organic cosmetic certification agencies. One of the good things about Ecocert is that they give us access to many different suppliers.”
Purity believe that less is more and their skincare range is all priced under £8.99. Proceeds go towards supporting directives in the UK and abroad.
Still not convinced your budget can stretch to ethical considerations? Howonearth are offering Extra readers 10% off at howonearth.co.uk – just enter ETHICAL10 at the checkout for your discount.