Why Kiwibank quickly got behind global beauty brand Emma Lewisham.

When Kiwibank decided to back fast-growing global skincare company Emma Lewisham, it wasn’t just their promising entry into the vast, valuable beauty market that motivated them, but also their strong desire to reduce waste and carbon emissions in an industry that needed new thinking and change.

It was, says Tom Williams, Head of Sustainable Finance at Kiwibank, a combination of superior products and sustainability that inspired the bank to get behind the ground-breaking company as they continued to scale internationally.

Reflecting on when she stepped away from her tech career six years ago, company founder Emma Lewisham says, “I never set out to launch a skincare brand - rather to solve problems. I could see a big opportunity to provide something fundamentally better for both people and our planet.”

Whilst the market of skincare cleansers, moisturisers and lotions and serums is now worth nearly US$190m globally, it was Lewisham’s focus on the little-known fact that the industry is a key emitter that also helped swing the deal. It has positioned her, Williams says, for success as world regulations tighten up on matters like emissions, leaving products with small carbon footprints poised to take very big steps indeed. 

“When we work with a business that have outstanding products coupled with a clear sustainability direction, it gives us confidence that the business model is really sound, that the business has thought about a wide range of risks and also opportunities,” Williams says.

That is a key motivation for New Zealand businesses looking to export. The European Union, for example, is imposing firm guidelines on emissions reduction throughout the supply chain for companies wanting to export there. 

“Emma Lewisham is really leading the charge,” says Williams. “They are set up to succeed as the regulations change. From a Kiwibank perspective, that gives us confidence their revenue won't get cut off from a lack of access to the market and means they will enjoy a jump on the field as emissions regulations tighten.”

He says its products are already winning by redefining skincare and challenging a field full of major players made up of global brands famous as luxury and indulgence icons.

Emma Lewisham skincare products are used by Margot Robbie and Naomi Watts and, famously, endorsed by conservationist Dame Jane Goodall; they are stocked in-store and online in MECCA (Australian beauty retailer), Harrods, Liberty, Goop and are regularly reviewed by the world’s leading fashion editors.

“For my own health and sense of wellbeing I wanted luxurious, natural products that worked – but this didn’t exist on the market. I could also see that the beauty industry had a serious waste and carbon problem that needed solving,” Lewisham says.

“No one had really uncovered that the majority of the 120 billion beauty jars and containers being produced globally were not being recycled and going to landfill due to the way they’re made, and that they are also the largest carbon emitter in beauty.”

For her, what happened to the jars, containers and tubes when people finished with them was important: “If that material is disposed of in kerbside recycling, not only is it likely to go to landfill, but you also have to create that jar again from scratch, and the biggest impact on our planet is the act of creating things. The beauty industry needed new thinking, new solutions and someone needed to pioneer a new way of operating.” 

That led her to launch the Emma Lewisham range in 2019 – but she knew it’s what’s in the jar that counts. “We have discovered a scientifically superior way of formulating skincare that impressed Nobel Prize Winner, Frances Arnold (US-based Arnold won the 2018 prize in chemistry). It’s about formulating in a way that mirrors the cellular pathways of your skin and combining ingredients in a way that triggers action across multiple skin pathways in symphony.

“It’s been described by international beauty journalists as pioneering, powerful, and a true breakthrough in what can be achieved by skincare.”

Her products are at the forefront of refining what science has unlocked from natural base ingredients. “The testing behind all our products is world-leading - we test in laboratories in France and Belgium and are even pioneering new ways to test skincare that didn’t exist. We believe that to prove our natural products truly do as they say; independent scientific testing of our final formulations is essential.”

Key to the ethos has been ‘circularity’. “We were the world’s first certified Climate Positive and 100 per cent circular-designed skincare brand. This means all our products have a positive environmental impact and all our packaging is designed to be refilled. 

“We are proving that operating sustainably and taking responsibility for everything we produce is not only possible but prosperous.” 

While that led to Lewisham’s much-prized endorsement from conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, it wasn’t an easy sell to stockists. “We knew that reusing and refilling must be the future of skincare. However, when we launched, this circular model was not prevalent at all. Many retailers told us that customers simply wouldn’t buy into it. 

“However, we truly believed that, given the opportunity to lessen their environmental footprint and waste, customers would adapt their behaviour – and we were correct.”

Lewisham is proud of the success her products have achieved internationally while being produced in Auckland. “While we are a small country, across multiple different industries we consistently prove we can deliver world-leading products and innovations. 

“When we started, so many people told us it couldn’t be done, that it wasn’t possible to produce luxurious, natural and high-performing skincare and we could never compete with the well-established skincare giants. Fast-forward to today and, in many instances, our formulations have been proven to out-perform these brands.

“The global growth we’ve seen over the past four years is proof not only that it can be done, but that you should never believe anyone who tells you that something isn’t possible.”

Kiwibank’s support has been crucial. “We were looking for a banking partner that really understood and supported high-growth businesses and was very aligned on our sustainability values. Kiwibank genuinely cares about New Zealand’s wider economy and our environment, which we really value. 

“As we have continued to invest and grow in international markets, Kiwibank have provided tailored solutions to support our funding requirements and supercharge our growth. They are a joy to work with. They care about their work and their clients, and their purpose - to ensure tamariki are better off, Kiwi are better off, and Aotearoa is better off - is prevalent in everything they do.”  

For Williams, Emma Lewisham is a true Kiwi success story. “What may be different about Emma Lewisham, but is shared among those who succeed really quickly, is having a clear purpose or problem you're trying to solve. 

“When you talk to someone leading a successful business, you'll find they are passionate, they're driven and it's part of their DNA. That’s how it is with Emma Lewisham: she fully understands where the business needs to go. She realised you could create something in New Zealand that is high-value, that’s better for the environment and leads the charge on circularity.”

Williams says B Corp, a certification which both Kiwibank and Emma Lewisham hold, is one of the leading global certifications for businesses’ social and environmental performance and is a growing community here and around the world: “It’s now become a must-have if you are wanting to supply to governments or large business, and businesses are realising a sustainable approach drives better performance that produces better returns and reduces costs.”

Watch the full episode in Kiwibank's series, Business for Better, and learn more about how Emma Lewisham are leading the way in how they do business for better kiwibank.co.nz/businessforbetter   

This article was proudly brought to you by Kiwibank, who believe sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand when creating a future proof business. That's why Kiwibank support Kiwi businesses making a positive impact on the environment, their customers and their employees. This is business banking for better #ThisisKiwi.