Friday, February 09, 2007

Review: LUSH, Great Products, Terrible Marketing

Are there ever certain brands or stores that you've avoided, despite hearing good things about their products, just because the advertisements or logo or something about the store bugged you?

I felt this way about LUSH Cosmetics until last week, when a review by one of my favorite beauty bloggers, Carla at Product Girl wrote about LUSH's new citrus soap, Sexy Peel, a soap chock full of lemon, grapefruit and lime essential oils and even peels. As a lover of all things citrusy (there was a period in my life where I drank nothing but orange juice for a few years), it sounded like the perfect soap, and I was dying to try it out.

I went to the LUSH site to learn more about the soap and their other products, I was soon reminded why I'd avoided the line for so long. Their logo and website are just so visually unappealing. The brand's font and color scheme just looks cheap and tacky, and I always think of the store "Hot Topic", which specializes in clothing and products for those experiencing teenage angst (not what I want to be reminded of when I'm looking for cosmetics). On top of this, the website's product descriptions are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and it's hard to navigate for someone unfamiliar with the brand's products.

When I got past the visuals and spent more time on the site and reading reviews on Makeup Alley I realized that the LUSH had a lot of very interesting, unique products, including some cool concepts like the shower jellies, bath melts and massage bars.

I decided that I needed to check out their store and products for myself if I was going to understand the brand better. After a little googling, I realized that there was a LUSH store just a few blocks from my boyfriend's dorm in Cambridge, MA, and last weekend we trekked through the snow and ice to stop by on our way to dinner. The store was difficult to miss, with a big banner showing LUSH's signature black, neon yellow and green logo. When you walk inside you feel like you're entering a psychadelic cheese shop, with huge chunks of colorful soap stacked on tables and shelves, some pre-wrapped in butcher paper, with little black signs sticking out of each pile, with a name and brief description of the product.

The layout and the products themselves are very visually appealing; you can't help but want to pick up and smell a pound of bight blue soap or a giant sized sparkly hot pink bath bomb. Many products are loaded with flower petals, fruit peels, and other goodies, and I found the crunchy, "I just made this in my bathtub" look and feel of the products really likable. In addition to this hippie aesthetic, LUSH shows a dedication to helping the environment by making as many products as possible in solid form (including shampoos) to reduce waste, using as many fresh fruit, vegetable and plant products (limited chemicals) and refuses to buy from or work with companies that carry out animal testing.

As someone new to the brand, the sales associates were very friendly, explaining how each product worked and which ones were best for my skin and hair type. Because products aren't packaged in bottles and tubes, the salespeople have to weigh and cut the solid products to your liking, which is kind of fun. Between the knowledgeable staff and the presence of so many cool, unique products, I felt like I could have played around in LUSH for hours, smelling and sampling my way through the whole product line. By the time I left, I had a bag full of products I couldn't wait to try, and a list of things I planned on buying for friends as gifts.

But I couldn't help but remain a bit confused... why was there such a disconnect between the loud, punk website and the friendly, hippie, farmer's market quality of the store? Where is LUSH trying to position itself in relation to other beauty brands? I still don't know the answers to these questions. These days, consumers have far greater contact with a company's website than the physical store (especially for a young, up and coming brand like LUSH), so why wouldn't they create such an unappealing, cheap-looking site? And why use a logo and color and font scheme that opposes instead of promotes the quality of the products and the company's identity and values?

Hopefully LUSH will get around to redesigning their logo and website, but until then I'm going to stick to shopping in their stores, which is a far more pleasant experience. If you're like me and avoided the company because of these reasons, I'd suggest that you give LUSH another chance, as their products really are cool.

On Sunday, I'm going to review a couple of the products I picked up on my trip (including the Sexy Peel soap), so be sure to check back!


north said...

LUSH has been around for ages (based in Candada) and they've got a very loyal base of customers. Since most of their products are made fresh w/o preservatives, they don't travel well so they focus more on in-store sales than web. I've been waiting in vain for almost a decade for them to open a shop in Seattle, but I guess they figure we can just drive a few hours north to Vancouver to get our LUSH needs filled.

Annie said...

I simply cannot handle the smell! We have two or three LUSH stores here in San Francisco, and every time I walk by one I just want to walk faster so I won't be overwhelmed by the scent.
I'm not into fragrant cosmetics. "Clean" to me is synonymous with "fragrance free" - especially since I have really sensitive skin and fragrance is just another additive.
That Sex Apeel soap sounds nice though - I do love citrus too, but I'm still wary. I'll have to see for myself...if I can get through the door without a fragrance headache!

maggie said...

I love the aesthetic of the store - what can I say, I'm a dirty hippie at heart! (Though I like to smell damn good.)

The products have been hit and miss. The soaps smell lovely but are too drying. (They're not real cold-process soap, but rather melt-and-pour.) The skin care is a disaster for sensitive or acne-prone skin, with a few exceptions - Angels on Bare Skin is a nice scrubby cleanser and the toners are good. I love the bathbombs and melts, the massage bars are fantastic and I can't live without the occassional deep shampoo with Big.

For my soap, I head to Villainess, Wildy Ivy and Chagrin Valley.

Kai Jones said...

LUSH is very appealing, generally: stuff that looks good and smells good. Unfortunately in my experience the stuff that is supposed to actually do something for your skin work very well, not compared to, for example, cheap drug-store lotion. I like their soaps, which come in a large range from very drying (even with scrubby bits in) to almost moisturizing (Honey I Washed the Kids is the canonical example here).

Some of the tub stuff (bath bombs, bubble bath bars, and melts) is fun while you're in the tub, but an hour later you can't tell by smell or skin texture that you've used them, and I think they're expensive for such a temporary experience.

They're great for airplane travel, though, now that you can only take limited amounts of liquids.

Catherine said...

I agree with Annie. The first time I encountered a Lush store was in Union Square, SF and it smelled so bad. It was just too much! The mall in town just got a Lush and I can't stand walking by it. Even from the second floor, you can smell the Lush store below it.

However, I do agree the about the Logo Maggie. I think it kind of cheapens the store. If it were not for the crazy orgy of smells that seems to follow my nose whenever I am within ten or fifteen feet of the store, I would probably go in. To be fair though, I am quite sensitive to smells.

Meg said...

Wow, lots of great comments! Thanks, everyone!

I realized that I hadn't really paid attention to the scent (probably because I'd walked 10 minutes in the freezing cold and was too numb to smell), so I went back to check things out again. Annie and Catherine are right, it's very strong (though I imagine it's worse in warmer climates and in malls, where the air doesn't really circulate). I don't know that it's much worse than your average Sephora or Bath and Body Works, though.

North- I didn't realize they'd been around so long. I did a little more research and found a great article about the company ( You're right about the loyal fan base; people have led protests when they've discontinued products!

Kai- I agree with all of your observations. When I review a couple of products in my next post, I'll try to bring up some of those points: great scents, nice feeling, not the most effective though.

sparkler said...

Aside from Coalface soap, I haven't had good luck with Lush products at all. Their hair products are incredibly drying (they even put Sodium Laureth Sulfate in their conditioner for some reason!), and the shower gels and lotions I've tried have been very drying as well. The Whoosh! temple balm smells greta, but breaks out my skin.

They have a VERY loyal customer base, so I'm guessinbg that if you don't have sensitive skin, these products are great. I haven't had very good luck with them, though.

And you're 100% right about their logo and website.

jana said...

i have been using lush products for several years now and keep coming back to buy more. i cannot agree with people who say the products do not actually DO much: for example the experience i has with Big (a shampoo that consists of sea salt crystals + several more things) is very sifferent from what i had with other products. i like the natural smells, the playfullness of their bulletin and the shop atmosphere, but mostly of course i like the products themselves. never had a really BAD product, only one of the products went bad too quickly (aqua marina)-others were either okay (some bath ballistics) od very good (celestial which is a moisturiser, avobath whih is a bath ballistic, babyface... and trymp which is s shower gel that smells like a forest somewhere in a fantasy land). the only products i could mayba accuse of doing not much were avowash (an avocado sopa which is ok but i expected it to smell more like avobath) and youve been mangoed which is supposed to make you skin smooth in a bath but i could not really tell the difference:) but i love avobath, tramp, sexy peel, karma, now bought my furst massage bar which is a each peach... i do like lush:)

jana said...

by the way, just to make it clear, lush is a british compay but if you research that you will know soon enough.)

HoneyBee said...

I have worked in a Lush store in the UK for over a year, and would have to say that I very much disagree with many things that have been said here.
As for the Sodium Laurel Sulphate comment from sparkler - it is used in a very minimal quantity - and if you use regular toothpaste, you'll find you are actually ingesting quite a large amount.
It is not an unsafe product, else Lush would not use it in their products. If it is the carsegenic elements that concerns you - you are over-reacting in a big way.
We provide wonderful things for sensitive skins, a thousand times better than the crap that many buy on the highstreet - for example, Dream Cream, a body moisturiser helps with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It's got a base of oat milk, and contains rose water and rose absoulte as well as lavender oil and chamomile oil.
If you knew the properties of these oils, and just what they can do for sensitive skins, you'd certainly change your mind.
The fragrance headache is something that is due to the initial impact of the goods being unpackaged, letting their fragrance free. You become used to the smell quite quickly when in store, and those that may have moaned about it as they walked in the door have found if they have been in the store for more than 3 or 4 minutes they probably will not even notice it as they leave.
I cannot even smell the 'Lush' smell as I walk into the store now, as my body has become so adjusted to it.
Oh yes, and Jana is right - Lush was created in a little place called Poole in England, UK.
It began as CosmeticsToGo many years ago, by Mark Constantine. He is a wonderful man, with a fantastic amount of passion, that rides a bike to work, and hates excess packaging to such an extent he never uses plastic bags.
I have met this inspirational man, and worked with him on an occasion, and would ask you to read up on him - as I'm certain you'll find him interesting.
I apologise for how much of a rant this sounds like, but I think if you understood more about what you were putting in and on your bodies, you would change your mind quite quickly. There is no point in being fantastic with your diet - eating healthily - and then whopping a load of silicone on your hair and petrolium oil on your face.