How Lush is kicking off an eco-friendly HK venture against strong headwinds

Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the values associated with the brands they choose to purchase and have been shown to be more willing to spend money on brands that echo with their own personal beliefs.

One growing concern for shoppers is the waste footprint of the products they buy. Packaging materials - which usually consist of single-use plastic packaging - make up a major part of total global waste. According to Friends of the Earth HK, Hong Kong alone currently buries more than 2,100 tonnes of plastic waste in landfills daily, with much of that coming from packaging materials. And though Hongkongers enjoy a massive convenience in that they're not required to pay for dumping rubbish, an agreement where the city was previously able to export its recyclable materials to Chin has since ended, leaving the city to handle its own waste.

With an aim to address this problem and help reduce packaging waste, Lush opened its "naked store" in Hong Kong. The specialist branch offers plastic packaging-free versions of Lush products, including shampoos, body lotions, face cleaners, and soaps. With its September launch in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, it's the first of its kind in Asia and the brand's fourth naked shop globally after Milan, Berlin, and Manchester.

"Because Hong Kong lacks naked products I don't think there will be legislation to reduce packaging waste, so companies have to take the lead to help ease this pressing environmental issue," Annabelle Baker, director of Lush Asia tells Marketing.

Annabelle Baker

Apart from minimising packaging waste, Lush also sources local ingredients to lower carbon footprint. For example, Baker said the brand has a farm in Fanling, and manufactures 25 of its products within the city. The effort the brand has put into reducing waste can also be seen in the technology employed in the naked shop, with Lush launching an app, that enables visitors to scan products directly. The Lush lens feature leverages machine learning to recognise products via a smartphone's camera providing the customer with detailed ingredient information and 'how to use' demonstrations via the app.

However, as is the case with many green products, the elephant in the room is cost. Lush's products, made from natural ingredients, are not as cheap as other brands. In a highly competitive market, a higher price may lose some customers, despite their morals. Yet Baker has an answer to that.

Bath oil tablet

She says, "We believe that being environmentally-friendly and supporting the local community needs money. It is difficult for us to make the products a lot cheaper, but products that work can attract consumers."

Baker adds, "But it's not a luxury to enjoy the products from Lush."

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Spanning two levels, the naked shop is also being pitched as a place for education, exhibitions, and lectures about environmental protection. In October, Lush launched a 21-day #CarrytheCup coffee pop-up event at the naked shop, aimed at encouraging customers to form a habit of bringing their own cups and vastly reducing the use of disposable cups. Customers who went to the store with a cup could get a free coffee. "It takes 21 days to change a habit!" Baker laughs. "We hope to see more customers and make them interested in naked items."

With its Causeway Bay location, the naked shop has opened within close proximity to several hotspot streets where - over several months - Hong Kong's ongoing protests have taken place. At a time when it should be revelling in a novelty boom of fresh clientele, the shop has regularly needed to close to avoid the commotion. Businesses across Hong Kong's economy have been impacted by the actions of the government, the police, and the protesters during this unrest, and Lush's new store is no exception.

The Lush Naked Store

But despite it not being perhaps the best time to expand its business in Hong Kong, Baker is still optimistic. She says that ups and downs are part of the business cycle which brands can only adapt to.

"We encountered hard times before like SARS. Hong Kong is still a market that we want to invest in. It's a part of the company's strategies regardless of the political instability. We hope to help the environment in Hong Kong and this is our commitment to the city," Baker said.