“It’s like kindergarten for adults,” says Alex, a pink-pigtailed Lush beauty crafter, as we roll rose and white Play-Doh-like balls on a large silver table in the brand’s Vancouver factory. When I try to twist two lumps into a swirling cone—the shape of the holiday hot-seller Candy Mountain Bubble Bar—the resulting blob isn’t pretty.
“It takes practice,” Alex reassures me. Her tattooed arms are coated in shimmer, an occupational hazard for any Lush employee—especially during the Christmas prep season, which ramps up in late August. That’s when staff rush to turn out 17 million festive products, from buttery body bars to bath bombs. Though it may seem surprising for a globe-spanning brand, Lush’s treats are made by hand with market-fresh ingredients—sourced nearby whenever possible. With today’s hipster-fuelled demand for all things organic, ethical and locally made, Lush’s 18-year-old approach has renewed appeal. The company opened 32 stores in North America this year, with another 35 planned for next. And Vancouver’s 70,000-square-foot “kitchen” produces nearly everything Lush sells in its 93 shops on the west side of the continent.
As my bubble bars set, I start whipping up a batch of Bûche de Noël face and body cleanser under the tutelage of 10-year Lush veteran Audrey. First I peel and separate a dozen mandarins and dump them into a large bowl. Next come dried cranberries, followed by cocoa butter and glycerin (moisturizers), and ground almonds and kaolin clay (exfoliators). I pour in the top-secret essential oil scent—you’ve surely smelled it wafting out of Lush doorways—which comes from the company HQ in Poole, England. Then I add a few shots of brandy, which acts as a toner, and turn on a giant hand-held mixer.
Made without H2O, the finished cleanser doesn’t require preservatives (bacteria thrive in water). And like 82 percent of Lush wares, its ingredients are all vegan (honey and lanolin are the exceptions in the other 18). The brand’s eco cred is in evidence throughout the pristine building, from the wall-scrawled mantras (“We believe in testing our products on humans”) to the recirculating water system.
Before rushing off to add glitter to the angel-shaped bath bars I started earlier, I slap my “Made by Caitlin” stickers—illustrated with my own smiling mug—onto the pots of Bûche de Noël. Audrey tells me she was once asked to autograph one of her shower gels when a fan spotted her in a Lush store. Though I’m clearly not destined for the same soap-maker stardom, with a trail of sparkles following me out the door, at least I look the part.