The NZ-born beauty brand seeing 190% growth in the UK – and booming in Australia


Emma Lewisham launched her namesake beauty brand in 2019 with a view to create luxury natural products. Five years on, she’s successfully penetrated the Australian and New Zealand markets – and sales are surging overseas.
Emma Lewisham co-founder, Emma Lewisham. Image source: Supplied

In 2019, Emma Lewisham was at a cross-roads: head down the path of becoming CEO at the Japanese technology business she worked for, or call her superiors and let them know she was launching her own beauty startup.

Five years down the track, we know which path Lewisham took. It comes in a (relatively expensive) purple bottle, is self-titled, and was even featured on Netflix‘s Heatbreak High earlier this year.

“I had to make the call, fire the cannonball and go all-in with Emma Lewisham. People thought I was crazy,” Lewisham says.

“My family was telling me, ‘You could be the first female CEO of this company and you’re not even 35. And to turn it down just on a hunch and this internal belief that we had something to offer, it was huge.”

That hunch Lewisham refers to was her belief that she could fill the gap in the beauty industry for natural products that were high-end and provided real results. She also wanted to bring about a circular model of operating, which would reduce waste and carbon emissions.

She tapped co-founder Kimberley Morrison and the pair kept their day jobs (Lewisham as general manager for Japanese technology company Brother International Group) for three years, working evenings and holidays building Emma Lewisham on the side for launch. Months out, Lewisham got a call from her superiors that would force her to go full throttle on her skincare business.

“I wanted to dig into what was being put into products that I thought were luxurious, and they suddenly were no longer luxurious to me because of the ingredients I uncovered.”

Emma Lewisham

“I was asked to attend a director’s course in Japan and work with the likes of McKinsey, with the pathway of becoming CEO of the company. I had to make a choice.”

Her courage, plus an initial $100,000 investment in Emma Lewisam, paid off. Today, the skincare business is ranged in all 126 Mecca doors across Australia and New Zealand, and in the last six months, the sell-through rate of her products has grown 76% on the same period last year.

Additionally, Australian and New Zealand units sold across all channels have grown 45% in the previous six months. Australia remains her largest market, but the company is also tackling the UK, with annual sales up 190% there year-on-year thanks to retail partnerships with the likes of Liberty, Harrods and Space NK. Sales are predicted to grow a further 90% in the UK with the company’s launch across 38 new Space NK doors. And while the company has taken on minor shareholders in the last two years, its founders retain the controlling stake.

Emma Lewisham products. Image source: Supplied

But Emma Lewisham’s growth reflects a wider growth in the global natural skincare market, which was last valued at US$6.7 billion (in 2021), and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.6% until 2023. Much of that growth is being driven by increased investment in research and development, as well as growing consumer awareness of the benefits of natural products and environmental concerns.

Lewisham, who is the CEO of the business, says she began looking into the potential of natural skincare after she fell pregnant, and doctors told her to steer clear of hydroquinone – an ingredient commonly used in beauty products for hyperpigmentation. The problem was, Lewisham claims there was no alternative that actually worked.

“I wanted to dig into what was being put into products that I thought were luxurious, and they suddenly were no longer luxurious to me because of the ingredients I uncovered,” she says. “But, I still wanted high-tech, high-performing products. And that’s where I could see the gap.”

The company worked with physiologists, rather than cosmetic chemists, to understand skin concerns. She says this was when the metaphorical light-bulb lit up.

“It was like the DaVinci Code,” she says, with a laugh. “I could see that the standard approach of one or two ingredients and formulations was just scratching the surface of what skincare could achieve, because skin doesn’t work in a one-or-two-step way. I can’t understate just how complex it is.”

“You can’t take any market for granted, and think you can just launch and walk away and it will succeed.”

Emma Lewisham

The company landed on a package of up to 25 ingredients which Lewisham claims are powerful in their own right, but when combine, can repair and prevent signs of damage on the skin.

“We believe nature is the world’s most powerful bio-engineer,” she says.

With a product in hand, the company launched through David Jones initially before being sold exclusively through Mecca in Australia as of 2022. Lewisham says her products filled a gap for the beauty juggernaut, who was yet to have a luxury natural brand on shelves. What’s more, Australian consumers were growing conscious about sustainability, and Emma Lewisham’s re-fillable packaging was a draw-card.

Since the launch of the company’s circular model in September 2021, it has sold 120,000 refills. At Mecca, the company’s top four selling products are its Skin Reset Serum, its Supernatural Face Creme Riche, and then re-fillable options for both of those products follow.

Emma Lewisham products. Image source: Supplied

“The move to exclusivity with Emma Lewisham was one of natural progression. Since the brand launched with Mecca in 2022, there has been an ever-growing demand for its luxurious naturally-derived high-performance skincare,” Maia Bryant, the head of skincare at Mecca, told Forbes. “We have seen strong growth for Emma Lewisham as it cements its position in the beauty landscape, so it only made sense to help further build the brand within MECCA by exclusively stocking the products across all Australian doors.”

Of the founder herself, Bryant says Lewisham is a pioneer in the skincare space.

“In a short timeframe, Emma has re-defined what it means to be a sustainable beauty brand and set a new benchmark for all within the industry,” she says.

After nailing the Australian market, Lewisham set her sights on the UK as the company’s third meaningful market. The company launched into Space NK in October last year, and was brought into the department store’s remaining retail outlets in February this year.

“We did a huge amount of work to get there,” she says. “You can’t take any market for granted, and think you can just launch and walk away and it will succeed. We set up warehouses there, we set up teams there, did a lot of market research and made sure we resonated.”

While Lewisham says her brand has organically grown in the US thanks to social media – and the fact that celebrities like Margot Robbie have spruiked her product – they haven’t set their sights solidly on entering the market yet.

“It’s extremely hard to crack any market. So, we are focused on our home markets and doing them justice, before looking into the bright lights of America. We’re just dipping our toes there at the moment, and we will make a push further into that market in the coming years.” And let’s not forget, she says, Emma Lewisham is only four-and-a-half years old.

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