Walking into any Lush store is a bit like experiencing a fever dream: vibrant, loud and a total onslaught on your senses. That's not a bad thing, of course. Everyone knows that Lush is unrivalled when it comes to indulgent body products, and during the various painful lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, it was at the centre of the much needed self-care space.
The brand often sets tongues wagging, whether that's through controversial campaigns, viral beauty products or asserting its unyielding beliefs and ethics – and it's especially renowned on social media. If you have a Twitter account, you've no doubt seen the very funny Tweet which shows what it's like to be greeted by Lush staff (hint: often startling). If you're on TikTok, you might've spotted the viral "What's something that feels like a cult but isn't?" clips. "This company right here — Lush," replied TikToker @bradtripodi in a recent video that garnered 272.6K pairs of eyes. "I worked for them for three years and they are literally a cult. My manager didn't even deny it," he continued. Brad claimed all colleagues referred to products as 'girls', were forced to protest for certain causes, asked to weigh the rubbish, and that all employees around the globe were made to watch the same videos "from this weird lady" at the same time. "I could go on," Brad added. "It's a cult. Come on!"
Brad isn't the only former Lushee to talk about the brand's cult-like nature, though. So what is it really like to work for what is arguably the biggest beauty and wellness brand on the planet? Ahead, an anonymous, UK-based ex-Lush employee tells Refinery29 their story.
"I started working at Lush when I was around 17. All the Lush shops I've been to are basically a carbon copy of each other and all the people in there are exactly the same. Supervisors want you to approach a customer within two minutes of them entering the store, which explains why someone will always try to talk to you. Actually, there's a traffic light system in place. The supervisors watch the floor and they will 'traffic light' customers, so if a customer is fresh through the door, they're green. If they've been approached once, they're amber (and you can re-approach them, which is why you feel like you’re being bombarded in Lush). A customer can be red if they've been approached a few times or they've been approached and asked to be left alone. Lush is really focussed on a customer's journey in the shop, and I've met so many weird and wonderful people this way.
"One Christmas, a guy came in and said he was shopping for his girlfriends — plural. I dread to think what my face looked like. He wanted to get one girlfriend one thing, another girlfriend a different product and I thought: Am I hearing this properly? Have I had enough sleep? He told me that none of the girls knew about each other, and to be honest, I didn't think he deserved my help. There were so many situations where I wanted to say what I thought but it was so hard to bite your tongue when supervisors were watching. One day, someone's mum came in looking for something for her daughter, who was really struggling with her mental health and depression. I was selling bath bombs with neroli (which are meant to be uplifting) but when she was telling me about her daughter, it felt so wrong. She broke down in tears so I did my random act of kindness for the day (where you can gift someone a product). It was an uncomfortable one. You want to help people as much as possible and allow them to vent, but at the same time, I'm not qualified to give people advice on mental health. You'd have one supervisor asking you to chat with the customers because you're more likely to build a rapport with them and they'll spend more money, and then another supervisor who would recommend you chat to them but not for too long, because that's time wasted and you could be with another customer. It was a game of tug of war.
"Lots of people came in after bad breakups and relationship issues, too, and would tell you their whole life story. A customer once found her boyfriend had been cheating on her with her best friend and I was like, I just want to sell you a hand cream. It was very Jeremy Kyle, but then she asked me what I'd do. It's a tricky one. If I wasn't in work representing Lush, I'd say what I thought straight away, but you have to be careful because whatever you say, you're saying it as a Lush employee. Personally, I'd have sacked him off straight away, but had to agree with everything she said.
"One of the things I found very uncomfortable and hated about the job was the massages. A customer would ask about a product and I would explain, but the supervisor would say that this closes the consultation too early and that we need to get the product on their skin. They'd expect us to pretty much just pick up their arm and start putting the product on their skin. If I was a customer, I wouldn't want someone doing that to me. Once, a couple came in and asked how the massage bars worked. The guy asked if he could try it on his skin, so I melted it in my hands. Him and his girlfriend were stood there and I was rubbing this massage balm into his arm and he said, 'I want to use this because our sex life isn't too great, so we're going to go home and give each other a massage.' I was like 'woah!' I was 17 at the time and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I tried to stay clear of that area from then on.
"A lot of Lush employees seem very happy, smiley and like they love being there — but I think it's often an act. Lush is very focussed on the 5-star customer experience. When you'd move away from the customer, the supervisor would grill you. They'd say, 'Which questions did you ask?', and tell you that it was a closed question, so you'd need to re-approach them in two minutes and try them with different questions. Most customers wanted to be left alone, but the supervisors wouldn't have any of it. I could always feel my supervisor's eyes burning into the back of my head. They'd tell you to improve your body language and everything.
"One supervisor would take some of us into the back and show us the 'Wonder Woman Stance.' You had to raise your arms, take a deep breath in and put your hands on your hips to feel 'powerful' and 'confident'. I always just felt like an idiot. He expected us to go out on the shop floor and be self-assured and approach customers. I only came to sell soap, not to audition for RADA! Lush employees are very theatrical and supervisors wanted everyone to be bubbly, out there and in-your-face. I don't think it works, but you'd get some people who'd be so passionate and shout 'Lush for life!' randomly. I loved the Tweet that went viral a couple of years ago and understood why some people take the mick, but some supervisors hated it. They were like, 'Ugh, people just don't understand. I don't find it funny.' But it was obviously a joke!
"I was working at Lush at the time of the viral 'anti-spy cops' campaign. [Lush was accused of attacking the police through the campaign, which the company claimed highlighted "the ongoing undercover policing scandal, where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists"]. We had people come into the store complaining and saying that it's out of order and that we should be disgusted and that they'd never shop with us again. I was just there to sell bath bombs. If anything like that happened, we'd be taken in the back in teams and told not to react to it or to get involved. The Lush atmosphere has a playground feel, like you're back in school and in a clique. If you're chatting to a fellow sales assistant, you're asked to move apart. You'd feel like a naughty child being sent out of class most of the time.
Lush is very, very big on ethics, including where ingredients are sourced and not testing on animals. There were lots of employees who were vegan in store, and you'd be trying to enjoy your dinner but they'd be telling you how eating meat is wrong and that you shouldn't be doing it. From a vegan's point of view, I totally get that. But you have to respect everyone's opinions and how others live their lives. When you're on your dinner break and someone's preaching because you're eating chicken, it's frustrating. Considering they are a brand that's big on sustainability and recycling, there were so many employees who didn't know how to recycle, either. There'd be paper in the plastic bin and vice versa. I thought, we're meant to be a company that’s all for saving the environment. Half of them didn't know what bin things went in!
"In the back of our store we had a wall, which was a map of the world detailing our ethics. They'd do a lot of games with a Harry Potter theme to test us. Half of us were Slytherin, the other was Gryffindor, and you'd have to include at least one ethic in your consultation. You'd get double points if you could include two of the company ethics and it was like you were competing against each other. It was a light-hearted game, but some people would just spout the ethics to customers. They really want you to explain why the product is the price it is and what makes it different to other bath bombs. One thing I'll never forget is the 'loud and prouds', which they'd make us do. It was my worst nightmare. You'd stand at the sink at the front of the shop (it'd be a very busy Saturday) and you had to hold up a bath bomb and shout at the top of your lungs that you were about to put it in the water. A large crowd would then gather around you. I went bright red any time I had to do it. You got double points if you were doing a loud and proud!
"I worked there because I loved the products, and for anyone who's interested in getting a job there, it's important to know your stuff. You'd be surprised how many people turn up to interviews and just say they love a bath bomb. Though it can seem culty a lot of the time, the best thing about working at Lush is the people I met. In our team of sales assistants, we worked hard together and supported each other. Everyone was lovely and I'm actually still friends with a lot of people I worked with to this day."