Sabrina Jamani: One of the biggest [lessons] of this movement is that it’s no longer enough to just say, I’m not racist. You need to do the work to be actively anti-racist, and that’s what our 100 Day Plan represented for us. Some of the work that we committed to within the 100 Day Plan has been completed, which is something that we’re so proud of. But to be completely honest, the commitment was to start it and see it through. And that’s the phase we’re in right now.
IR: Tell me more about the 100 Day Plan.
SJ: Part of our 100 Day Plan was ensuring that we made a vocal commitment to all of our customers and staff that [racism] was not something we would stand for. So we created a diversity and inclusion group within our business that all members of our staff, whether they’re in manufacturing or head office or retail, can join and be a part of. We created zero-tolerance signage that is now on display in our stores. And we made sure that the people who actually are impacted by that harassment every day got the final sign-off on those signs before they were developed.
It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you talk about something, it becomes a priority. And then when it’s a priority, you talk about it. And the more you talk about it, the more it becomes a priority. So by creating this diversity and inclusion group, I would like to think that we’ve normalised talking about diversity and inclusion. That doesn’t mean I think we’ve solved the problem of systemic racism within the business. But we’ve really given voice to the people who are most impacted by it. And that’s something I feel quite proud of and I’m excited to continue working on.
IR: I think a lot of people view Lush as quite a progressive company, so they might be surprised to hear that diversity and inclusion wasn’t always top of mind. Can you give any examples of this?
SJ: Our Afro Hair Care range is absolutely the perfect example. Sarah Sango is the creator of our Afro Hair Care range. She’s an incredible Black woman who works in the UK, and she’s been working on these products for years because she wanted products that she could use on her niece, on her sister, on herself. As the mood and the political climate changed, it became clear that we should be lifting up these products and giving Sarah and her work a platform so that our customers can enjoy the benefits of products made by a Black woman for Black people’s hair. I think that’s a really good example of not meeting the needs of every different type of person that walks through a Lush door. We are going to be more inclusive in our product, in our naming, in meeting the needs of our customers [moving forward]. All of that is going to change and it already is changing.
IR: Tell me more about changing the name of Lush products.
SJ: One of my favourites is a fragrance originally called Calacas. It was paying homage to the Day of the Dead, which is actually a very treasured and protected holiday within Mexican culture. When we created that product years ago, there were shower jellies that were shaped like sugar skulls. It was very much accidentally taking something that belongs to a culture and just making a play on that. So we’ve changed it now to Zesty. The fragrance, the ingredients, the lime oil, which is actually from Mexico, are still the same, but we’re naming it in a way that’s more respectful.
One of our best-selling products was formerly known as R&B, a leave-in moisturiser for the hair. It was meant to stand for revive and balance, but obviously it’s a play on rhythm and blues, a cultural piece of music that matters to the Black community. And so we’ve changed the name to Revive.
Knowing that we’re not only [changing the name of] products that have a niche following like Zesty, but best-selling products…some businesses might look at it as a risk because people have known what that product is called for 10-15 years, but honestly that is not the priority. The priority is doing the right thing from a racial justice point of view.
IR: Are there any other changes you’ve made at Lush since the Black Lives Matter protests?
SJ: There are a lot of things that we’re really proud of – making sure that we are prioritising learning in the induction of new staff members, as well as ensuring that existing staff members understand things like unconscious bias and the impact of systemic racism on the workplace.
Both topics can feel really scary, especially to a white person. It would probably be intimidating to be part of a business that is suddenly committing to being anti-racist and not knowing how to do that. So the education element has been so important to us, and we’ve delivered some really effective training called Allyship 101.
Part of what the diversity and inclusion group has done is create a mentorship program with individuals within the business. So any staff member who is Black, Indigenous or a person of colour can apply to be paired with a member of our senior leadership team who wants to be a mentor.
Studies have shown that the barriers that Black, Indigenous and people of colour face when it comes to accessing skills that are often viewed as necessary for leadership roles are much higher than their white colleagues. We’re breaking down those barriers by creating this mentorship program where people can share experiences, learn how to network, learn how to be part of a team they may see themselves growing into if only they were given the opportunity. It’s definitely still in its infancy. We started it in November and we have five members so far.
IR: Some people are starting to ask how many brands and retailers have sustained this focus on racial equality now that the spotlight of the Black Lives Matter protests has moved away. What are your thoughts on this?
SJ: I’m sure you’re aware, but 2020 was a heck of a year for the entire retail industry in terms of the pressure to survive. That being said, it’s not an excuse to take our eye off the ball when it comes to prioritising racial justice. There are always going to be different issues that come up, but we will continue to use our real estate – our windows, our social media platforms, all of those things – to elevate voices and lived experience.
We are a campaigning company and have been from the outset of our business over 25 years ago, and so I think if you spoke to anybody within our business, they would tell you the things that we represent – fighting animal testing, being a vegetarian cosmetics company, caring about human rights, minimising our impact on the environment – at one time or another have been viewed as hot button or sexy topics. This, in my opinion, is one of those things.
In certain businesses, it may be viewed as a hot button topic that people will step into and then step out of when the pressure is off, but that’s not us. We will continue to incorporate diversity and inclusion into everything we do, whether that’s changing the way we talk about our products and the way we name them, or developing products for different skin and hairstyles.
We now make sure that all of our jobs that are posted externally are not just posted on typical employment platforms like Seek, but ones that are geared towards Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Maori and Pacific Islander New Zealanders as well, so that if, for whatever reason, the reach of our externally advertised jobs wasn’t as far as it could be or wasn’t as inclusive as it could be, it is now.
IR: How do you think other retailers are doing when it comes to sustaining their commitments to racial justice?
SJ: You know, that’s such a tricky question. If you look at things like Mardi Gras and Pride, Absolut Vodka, for example, had their beautiful rainbow bottles for the year of the Yes campaign, and a lot of their billboards had actual names of same-sex couples who were married that year. That is beautiful, but a lot of the comments on their social posts were like: look who hopped on the bandwagon. But do we truly know? Do we know if they hopped on the bandwagon, or if they were doing the work internally and it just wasn’t something that they advertised?
That’s what I worry about. I worry that someone might see a post we do for January 26, and go, look who jumped on the bandwagon, when we know that we’re doing the work internally. So I see that happening, but I also understand that I have to temper those judgements with digging a little deeper because you can do a cursory Google search and see if an organisation has put their money where their mouth is, or if they’re just doing it during Black history month or on January 26.
The climate of consumers is so volatile right now that I don’t envy someone who accidentally gets caught up in that story when they don’t deserve to be.
IR: Any final takeaways?
SJ: A business that I really admire is Ben & Jerry’s – not just because their ice cream is fabulous, but because their social justice campaigning is always great. More businesses could stand to be as brave and courageous as they are in terms of just going for it.
If I could instil anything in other businesses, it would be that it’s OK to make mistakes. I would rather people make mistakes because they’re trying than not try at all because it’s easier to maintain the status quo, which is literally built to benefit a certain amount of people.