In life we all have choices.
None of us are ever going to be invincible, nor will we ever be immune from experiencing life’s inevitable ups and downs – but we are here to tell you that, that’s okay, because during those times we will ALWAYS have a choice as to how we react.
In today’s world, it’s easy to look at other people’s lives and think that it’s perfect, and that their journey to the top has been easy – chances are it wasn’t and you know what? That’s okay too, because, as the saying goes, “supposed misfortune has the power to turn us into something better than we were before.”
Earlier this year we had the pleasure of meeting with Lush Director Karl Bygrave, a hugely successful, yet humble man, who persevered through uncertainty to find his way to a better day.
“It’s unbelievable.” Karl says as we walk through crowds of excited customers all in hot pursuit of their favourite products at Lush Liverpool’s Store and Spa grand opening.
“I mean look at this place – everywhere you look there’s something new to see! The perfume displays, the bath bomb wall, even the bathrooms upstairs; every little bit of this building acts as a beautiful display of all of our products.”
With every word Karl says it is abundantly clear just how much a day like today means to him, and how thrilled he is with how everything has turned out in Liverpool.
“The first time I walked in here it was completely empty. Everything had been stripped bare and as you can probably imagine the whole place just looked a bit sad.”
Success, loyal customers and celebratory store openings like the one in Liverpool didn’t just happen overnight for Karl Bygrave, it took many years of hard work; many lessons had to be learned and some ‘mistakes’ had to be made to enable this man to be where he is today.
In the beginning…
It was back in 1983 when Karl Bygrave first began working with Mark and Mo Constantine, Rowena Bird and Helen Ambrosen, a time he remembers fondly.
“It was the three of them that taught me how to make our products.” Karl recalls. “That’s what I started off doing (making products) and from there I’ve done most jobs and worked in most areas within the company, from manufacturing to making the fragrances… pretty much everything.”
The groups first collaborative business endeavour ‘Cosmetics To Go‘, a mail order cosmetics company, would prove to be a successful but ‘complicated’ venture, later going into administration leaving all involved at a loss as to what to do next.
“We were all left a bit bruised and battered by the situation to be honest with you.” Karl says of the experience. “We’d been through our first business ‘failure’ and it was like ‘oh my God, what do we do now?’ and ‘who’s going to employ us?’”
“We were this group of people, who had kind of been working to the beat of our own drum, doing what we thought was the right thing to do at that point in our careers. So I think for all of us it would have been really difficult to then have to go work in a situation where somebody else was telling you what to do.”
As his voice trails off in a moment of self reflection, it is clear the memory of what transpired during that time can still evoke some kind of emotion for Karl, undoubtably it was difficult, but he remains philosophical about the whole thing and refuses to be defined by the experience.
“It was horrible. It was very painful at the time and it does effect you because a business, well, it’s like it’s your child, and when it’s taken away it can feel your world has ended. But I think we, as people and as a business, are a good example for everybody to see, that even when things go wrong, with a bit of perseverance and maintaining the attitude that you just don’t give up and you keep going, everything will work out and be alright.”
“It was Helen (Ambrosen) really who really got things moving again. She started making things in the little lab at our shop in Poole, and from there slowly things started to come together again.”
Still a little fragile from their previous experience Karl admits there were some nerves and trepidation amongst the group as work began again. “In the beginning, obviously we were very shy and we very much kept out heads down; we did what we needed to do and we helped each other. But I think really we were all driven by a kind of feeling of survival – because at the end of the day you’ve got to pay the bills, you can lick your wounds for a little while, but at some point you have to pick yourself up and move on.”
That attitude and that outlook is what makes Karl, the team at Lush and their story so special and so inspirational.
When a situation doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped or when we’re left feeling disappointed by cards we’ve been dealt, it can be extremely hard to find the motivation to begin again. But we must remember, in everything we experience there is always a lesson to be learned.
“You learn from your mistakes. And you have to make mistakes in your life, otherwise there’s no learning.”Karl Bygrave
“When we’d come to terms with the last business going bust, and we had a look around see what was left over, it became clear that there were lots of things that had eaten up money that perhaps they didn’t need to.” Karl says. “For example we had lots of packaging left over – we’d spent all that money on it but what can we do with it other than throw it away?”
“So when you’re starting again, obviously those things come into play, and you think to yourself ‘okay, we won’t do that again, we won’t do this, but we will build in more of the environmental stuff that we didn’t before’, so you’re basically giving yourself a chance to restart, revaluate what your values are so therefore you can start to put your values into your business even more.”
“Looking back, we learnt a lot of things from that failure, it was almost necessary for us to go through that to get to where we are now.”
Letting go of the past and putting into place everything they’d learnt, Karl and then team set about creating a business that was more socially conscious, a business that was to be part of a solution rather than (another) problem when it came to tackling environmental issues, climate change and animal testing.
“Being more environmentally aware – I’m not saying it was always our agenda to push, but it’s something we’ve always been conscious of and something we’ve always believed in. You know a big part of our ethos is to take what we believe in, and as professionals, integrate it into our day to day working lives.”
“I mentioned earlier my issues with waste in the past, so the idea that we’re not using packaging anymore I just love – I feel like it’s something we should always have done, but again through experience, it’s something we have learned.”
And speaking of the impact the company has had on animal testing in the cosmetic industry Karl says “I feel we have lead the way on a lot of that to be honest.”
“It’s been behind the scenes and we don’t really mention it, but our effect in that area around the world is quite strong I believe. And I’m really, really optimistic that in 5 years we will see an end to animal testing around the world.”
His passion on the subject is evident as he explains “30+ years ago when we were first starting out, the campaigning was all about improving the conditions for animals in cages in laboratories, and now it’s about moving towards a complete ban – that’s a really big deal to me, I really like that we’ve played some sort of part in making a change.”
When it comes to what inspires him after all these years of hard work, Karl tell us “when you realise you have what I call a ‘hero product’, something that is someones absolute favourite and they can’t find anything else that works for them in the same way anywhere else, so they keep coming back to us because they know they’re going to love what they get. That’s when I think to myself ‘wow’, these products are really important to people, they mean something; that’s what inspires me.”
Karl Bygrave on…
Finding the right job:
“Look, at the end of the day we’ve all got to go to work haven’t we? So make sure you’re doing something you believe in and be passionate about it, because if you’ve got passion you’ll find that drive you need to succeed. I always think there’s something really special about working in a situation where the people/employees are almost like they’re enthusiasts, because it’s infectious. When people really care about what they do, it’s wonderful.”
How to cope with ‘failure’:
“Don’t dwell on it, don’t beat yourself up about it, just make sure you learn from it and keep moving forward.”
Sticking to your principles:
“You have a voice, you don’t need anyones permission to use it. Put what you want to say out there and make yourself heard, no matter what.”
Standing up for what you believe in:
“We are so lucky that we have the ability to campaign together as a business and to stand up, and put our collective name to something, a cause, that we believe in is really, really important to me. A lot of businesses are afraid to say what they think, because they don’t want to upset or go against the masses, but at the end of the day a business is only a collection of people, and all of those people must believe in something, so why not tap into that positive energy of the people and do something good?”
As we begin to wrap up our conversation we can’t help but ask what have been some of Karl’s highlights over the past 30 years…
“Wow, highlights over the 30 years?.. well, days like today definitely (the LUSH Liverpool store and spa opening) are a BIG highlight for me. I like the fact that we’re able to create jobs for people that are really interesting, challenging and rewarding; I really get a buzz out of that.”
“And I guess the relationship we’ve formed with our customers. We don’t follow trends or fads, we are invested in what our customers want, we don’t abandon or cast aside our existing products in favour for something that’s maybe more popular at the time. But that’s not to say we don’t invest in new products and new ideas, obviously as you can see here in the store today, we’re big on new stuff but we don’t forget the things, products, that enabled to get us to this point – we don’t forget where we came from.”
“We’ve been able to catch people’s imagination – they keep coming back and I just think that’s amazing.”
Sometimes things just don’t work out how we’d hoped they would. The dreams we try to speak it into existence don’t always come true and our original vision for an idea doesn’t always come to fruition. (Supposed) failure and rejection are two very hard things to deal with.
But as Karl Bygrave proves, when things get tough, you don’t give up and you don’t give in – you regroup, refocus and start again, wiser for the experience and stronger than you were before.
Karl, we salute you!