Emma Lewisham has created a revolution with her eponymous beauty brand that bridges the gap between luxurious and natural ingredients using cutting-edge science. A self-confessed “inquisitive child,” Lewisham’s previous career working in large international companies with lots of complexities taught her the importance of sustainability and good craftsmanship. These lessons led her to revolutionise the broken beauty system and create groundbreaking products using a 100% circular business model, creating the world’s first carbon-positive beauty brand.

The eponymous brand launched in 2019 with the Skin Reset serum, formulated for hyperpigmentation and skin brightening after Lewisham was advised to stop using her previous products for her skin concern, hyperpigmentation, when she was pregnant. The product she had been using contained hydroquinone, a skin-lightening ingredient banned in many countries. Lewisham was inspired to create natural beauty products that were efficacious and luxurious.

Emma Lewisham Beauty has gone from strength to strength. In September 2021, the company was named the world’s first certified carbon-positive beauty brand under Toitū Envirocare’s Climate Positive Certification, achieved B Corp status in February 2022, and won the “Best Progress Towards Circularity” prize at the UK Marie Claire Skincare Awards the same year. In another power move, the brand just signed with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, becoming the lifestyle publication’s first-ever New Zealand beauty brand — setting an exciting new benchmark and proving that the world has sat up and taken notice of this innovative beauty brand from New Zealand.

We’re proud to be Goop’s first New Zealand brand launch in the company’s history,” Lewisham said in a press release. “Since our brand’s inception, we’ve set out to create a new vision of beauty through product innovation and sustainability within the industry. Our launch across Goop will help Emma Lewisham reach new audiences globally. We’re so thrilled to embark on this new journey with Goop.” 

I sat down with Lewisham for a coffee and to learn more about her pioneering initiatives and why her hero, Jane Goodall, believes Lewisham is “the future of beauty.”

The Emma Lewisham Collection. PHOTO | Emma Lewisham

Congratulations on winning the “Best Progress Towards Circularity” prize at the UK Marie Claire Skincare Awards. Can you explain the concept of your circular model of using as well as your efforts to become certified climate positive?

Thank you. Packaging is the largest carbon emitter in the beauty industry, so if we want to solve the carbon crisis in beauty or as a planet, we need to be looking at different ways of doing business— and that’s no longer a linear model where we’re just creating things and throwing it out. In the case of beauty packaging, it’s designed to last for 400 years and has an average lifespan of four months. It didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to do better.

We audited everything in our supply chain — including packaging, ingredients and processing— to get a line of sight of where the carbon emissions were coming from when we made a product. During this process, we found that refillable products have up to a 74% less carbon score by reducing waste and carbon emissions significantly.

All our products are refillable and made using recycled materials, limiting the amount of new packaging needed. Our customers can buy an outer jar containing a “pod” made from recycled material. When they’re finished with the pods or the outer jars, they can replace the pod with a refill. We then close the loop by taking ownership to take that used material back: customers can send the empty containers back to us or drop them off at MECCA across Australia and New Zealand. we supply a free shipping label through the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle. Then, once the empty jars are returned, we sterilize them and reuse them.

We take ownership of the carbon we generate, reduce it as much as possible and cover the cost of creating the closed loop. All of our products have been certified climate positive, which means that every product you buy has a positive environmental impact rather than contributing to climate change. It comes down to being thoughtful in what we do and what we bring to the world.

Why did you decide to share your Beauty Blueprint?

It was about our mission of making a lasting change and inviting other brands to think circularly. We believe that we need pace and scale if we are to turn things around for the planet, so we shared our insights on what we’ve learned and how you create a model like ours to accelerate the transition for other brands.

How did you acquire Dr. Jane Goodall’s endorsement?

She’s so true to who she is and has such determination and integrity. I’ve been drawn to her since I was a child; I used to write speeches about her in school. When we became certified with our world-first with sustainability initiatives, I wondered who might be interested in working with us to champion our message.

One night, I dreamt I had written to her and she wrote back. I woke up in the morning and thought, “I should write to Jane Goodall.” So, I did. She wrote back and went from there! I never thought I would meet her, so to create a brand and three years later have someone like her say that we represent the future of beauty was a very big moment.

Emma Lewisham. PHOTO | Emma Lewisham

What motivated you to enter the beauty industry?

I didn’t set out to create a beauty brand; it was purely the result of solving a problem; I saw the beauty industry was missing natural products that were also luxurious and efficacious.

I was also inspired by the challenge of proving something could be done when so many people said it couldn’t. I knew we could bring about a real positive change internationally by rethinking a broken model — not just in beauty, but any business model that’s working in a linear system — and doing so in a way that inspired and compelled other businesses to do the same, and for consumers to be a part of it. I’m passionate about solving these two issues.

What sets Emma Lewisham Beauty apart from other natural beauty brands?

We create exceptional products that fill a gap in the market; scientifically backed, high-performance, natural products that are as luxurious as synthetic alternatives. Our team of physiologists looked at published research on the skin, for example, understanding hyperpigmentation and how it’s created, how you repair it, and what you have to talk to in the skin to do so.

What initially struck me was the beauty industry’s obsession and focus on being ingredient-led, developing products around one or two ingredients, such as vitamin C or retinol. We wanted to fundamentally formulate for the skin first instead of being ingredient-led. We stepped back and asked why products weren’t formulated based on the physiology of the skin and took our time working out how to deliver those products.

Underneath the skin’s surface is a spiderweb of complex activity and processes, so we partnered with physiologists who understand the skin, its complexities, mechanisms and how it works. We said these are the mechanisms we need to achieve rather than the ingredients. We’ve discovered things that no other brand has because we’re using newly published research about the skin and how it works. Because we’re focused on that side, we’re jumping early on data rather than chasing trends and forgetting the skin is where the answers are, not the ingredients; they’re secondary.

We’re deeply passionate about having the best products, not just in Australia and New Zealand but the world. I’m passionate about being from Aotearoa, New Zealand. I want to show that New Zealanders can achieve big things — and that women can achieve big things.

Can you explain your product development process?

We see our company as a science and innovation lab, not a product marketing business. We’re incredibly advanced in the ingredients that we’re using. We work with R&D labs worldwide to create formulas containing up to 30 highly active ingredients when most formulas use one or two hero ingredients. The complexity of getting that to work within the formula is challenging. It took us three years to initially come to market with our award-winning, cult favourite Skin Reset Serum because it was the most complex chemistry equation any of our scientists had worked on. But we knew if we could get it, we would create something phenomenally different.

Over the last five years, science and nature have caught up; what you can now unlock in nature through science is phenomenal. I’m not talking about using ingredients like rosehip oil; we’re talking about using ingredients like human tripeptides that are found in the skin for their ability to synthesize tissue in the liver and get it to act like younger tissue and have been researched to show that it also works in other tissues, such as the skin.

Cult favourite Skin Rest Serum. PHOTO | Emma Lewisham

What was the most challenging product to formulate?

The Skin Reset face serum. It was the first formula that we developed that contained up to 30 ingredients — four scientists came out of retirement to help us crack it! It’s a brilliant product for pigmentation, acne scarring and rosacea. It has a calming effect and our customers tell us it’s truly transformational.

What is your number one pick for people interested in trying Emma Lewisham Beauty?

The Skin Reset! It’s truly transformational. Honestly, you’ll notice such a difference in your skin’s texture; it’s magic bottled.

What advice would you give women starting a business or launching a brand?

Ensure you’re solving a problem. If you launch a business, consider how you will contribute to change and how you will do so in a way that is not adding to the problem but solving it. Check that there is a gap in the market, but then also within that, is there a market within that gap? Do your due diligence on the commercial side.

Who’s your beauty icon?

Amal Clooney.

What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever received?

Wear sunscreen every day.

What don’t you leave the house without?

My phone and my running shoes. I try and do exercise most days. It’s so good for your health, well-being and mind.

Emma Lewisham is available at emmalewisham.com, Mecca and Goop.

Melissa Reid

Melissa Reid

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