Emma Lewisham’s Science-Backed Skincare Has Gone Global. What’s Next For Beauty’s New Boss?

By Jessica Beresford
Emma Lewisham wears Molly Goddard dress and shoes, photographed at Studio Ashby, London. Photo / Rob Tennent

Jessica Beresford catches up with hyper-focused beauty founder Emma Lewisham in London, where she’s on a mission to introduce the northern hemisphere to her sustainable and natural ethos.

In London’s St James’s Park, inside a grand, 18th century redbrick building that was once a school, Emma Lewisham is doing what

It’s a warm welcome to the area for Lewisham who, after making a name for herself in the beauty world in New Zealand and Australia, is turning her attention to the United Kingdom. In a manner befitting a motivational speaker, she’s selling her brand and its sustainable and natural ethos to a crowd who is at this point mostly unfamiliar with her and yet, somehow, is already hanging off her every word.

When we meet a week later, at The Connaught in Mayfair, the 38-year-old is no less engaging, or polished: she’s dressed in a black blazer, black mini skirt and knee-high boots, her brown hair blow-dried smooth. Her skin, of course, is radiant. Despite growing up a long way from here, between the provincial town of Morrinsville and the idyllic coastline of Nelson, she looks at home in this most metropolitan of places, sitting between suits doing business and wealthy tourists armed with Louis Vuitton trunks.

“I wanted something that I could use when pregnant, or not, that I knew was safe, and when I looked on the market, there wasn’t really anything.” Photo / Rob Tennent
“I wanted something that I could use when pregnant, or not, that I knew was safe, and when I looked on the market, there wasn’t really anything.” Photo / Rob Tennent

“We had identified London a year ago as being a market that we really felt we had the ability to grow and had a place within, from a customer, retail and business fit perspective,” says Lewisham. Her products have recently started selling on Space NK — as the beauty retailer’s first New Zealand skincare brand — and are going into Liberty and Harvey Nichols this month. The brand is also already sold through Harrods, Naturismo, and Net-a-Porter, as well as Goop and Onda Beauty in the United States; she counts 55 stockists globally.

“[The UK market was] looking for products that were really unique, leading in science, natural, with sustainability credentials,” adds Lewisham. “So around a year ago we started to set up a warehouse here, because with any market that we go into, it’s about building good business infrastructure and teams, so that it’s really robust and smooth when we launch.”

It’s a big achievement for a brand that is still, by any comparison, embryonic. Lewisham, who worked as a strategy and marketing executive for Japanese tech company Brother International for 8 years, launched her business in 2019, with her husband Andrew Lewisham — who she first met while studying at Otago University — and her friend and former colleague Kimberley Morrison. They had identified a gap in the market for natural skincare: At the time, Lewisham’s doctor had advised her to stop using the hyperpigmentation skincare she was on due to a particular ingredient being questionable during pregnancy. Lewisham had also lost her mother to cancer in 2016, making her hyper-aware of carcinogens, which can be present in some beauty products. She looked for alternatives, but came up short.

“I wanted something that I could use when pregnant, or not, that I knew was safe, and when I looked on the market, there wasn’t really anything.” They formulated the Skin Reset Serum (which is now selling at 185,000 units a year), using plant stem cell extracts, vitamin C and niacinamide to brighten the skin. “Our niche has really been about how to work with the nature of the skin itself, and that’s where the real power comes from. The skin is incredibly complex, and we’ve always been anchored in the physiology of the skin and delivering products that will transcend trends,” adds Lewisham. “Using ingredients that are not just found in nature, but also in our bodies, like human tripeptides that were first discovered in the liver in the 1970s. The way that we formulate is fundamentally different and is delivering more results that are tested and backed by science.”

Lewisham launched the brand when her daughter Milla, now 4, was only 5 months old. “I remember working from the hospital on the day that I gave birth to her,” she says. “The timing just was what it was — and you just find ways to do it. We’ve had such a great team of people to help us, and Andrew’s family is in Auckland, too. So it does take a village, both raising a child and a business.”

She’s since added to her range to include 11 products — including moisturisers, a cleanser and an SPF — all of which are formulated by external and in-house scientists. “We have a philosophy of not just launching new products but being really considered [with formulations], and there are five products of ours over the next 12 months that will be improved, based on what’s new in the natural skincare space and what science has been able to unlock.”

Emma wears a Rejina Pyo dress. Photo / Rob Tennent
Emma wears a Rejina Pyo dress. Photo / Rob Tennent

The latest launch is the Supernatural Blemish Serum, which is a patented world-first that includes live probiotics; where conventional strains are sourced from the gut or dirt, this serum is formulated with Micrococcus luteus, which was first discovered in 2004 by Dunedin-based Professor Dr John Tagg, and found living on healthy human skin. “Professor Tagg is known as the godfather of the microbiome internationally. It’s his ingredient but we are bringing it to market with him for the first time within a beauty product,” says Lewisham, her enthusiasm palpable.

“Acne is something that can be so debilitating in terms of confidence, and really at the heart of our purpose is, ‘How do we deliver something better for people and the planet, without the compromise?’. So many products in the market for blemishes and acne, whether that be treatments people have to take or products that may work short term, come at a pretty harsh compromise to the quality of your skin. The serum is about repairing the microbiome, the fountain of health, restoring it and crowding out the bacteria that cause acne.” The results, according to the brand, are promising: the Supernatural Blemish Serum was tested on 98 people in a clinical trial, of which 79 per cent reported a significant reduction in acne within 28 days.

Aside from natural ingredients, one of Emma Lewisham’s key USPs is circularity: all of her products — presented in distinctive pink and purple packaging — are designed to be refillable, and purchasing the replacement pods and pouches can lead to a 74 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. Any used packaging or unwanted bottles can be returned to the brand for reuse or recycling, in exchange for reward points that can be redeemed for new products. It’s an initiative that goes some way to reducing the impact of the beauty industry, which is estimated to contribute 120 billion units of waste every year, according to Zero Waste Week.

“Beauty and personal care packaging is often made of mixed materials,” says Marina Antoniozzi, operations manager for the Australasian arm of TerraCycle, a recycling company that Emma Lewisham uses. “A simple pump on a cosmetic product, for example, might contain glass, different types of plastic and a metal spring. For this reason it is not usually recyclable through kerbside recycling… in most cases the only alternative is for this packaging to end up in landfills.”

Lewisham’s efforts in circularity, as well as third-party certifications and use of non-toxic ingredients, has led to a B Corp certification for the company last year and a claim to being the world’s first climate-positive beauty brand, with a letter of endorsement from environmentalist Dr Jane Goodall.

“Anyone can have a great idea, but what sets Emma apart is the way she has successfully embedded these attributes into every facet of the business and executed her strategy flawlessly,” says Rob Fyfe, the former CEO of Air New Zealand and an investor in Emma Lewisham. “At the same time, Emma has this phenomenal presence … her sense of purpose, integrity, authenticity and aura is captivating.”

Certainly, Lewisham is a presence, always perfectly poised and on-message. But what about the woman behind the carefully curated brand? “I’m pretty down to earth, what you see is what you get,” she says. Outside of work, she cooks and spends “a lot of time at playgrounds” with her daughter; she does reformer Pilates, reads and listens to podcasts (she namechecks the BBC’s Desert Island Discs and The Tim Ferriss Show). She doesn’t watch much television. “I started working with someone more than seven years ago for mindfulness and meditation, and I feel like that has been phenomenal in helping me grow as a person, and also help weather the storms, because business truly is a roller coaster and incredibly gruelling.”

Emma wears a Paris Georgia dress. Photo / Rob Tennent
Emma wears a Paris Georgia dress. Photo / Rob Tennent

I ask if she has any vices, like Gwyneth Paltrow — the actress-turned-wellness-mogul who founded the lifestyle brand Goop — who has admitted to allowing herself one cigarette a week. “No,” Lewisham says with a shake of the head. “But I don’t like trying to put too many controls around me. I think when you do that, you’re always resisting something. I just eat what I like to eat. You learn as you get older, too, about what you like and what makes you feel good. But also I like to have some treats and live a little bit and enjoy the moment with people.” She says she’s not a big drinker — which undoubtedly helps the glowing skin — has one coffee in the morning and eats mostly plant-based foods.

“I do see every meal as an opportunity to feed your body and skincare is just one aspect of it. But I wouldn’t say I’m too strict — I definitely enjoy having chocolate and making cookies with my daughter.”

Lewisham is, seemingly, on a constant quest for self-improvement. A case in point: she’s about to start postgraduate study in physiology at Harvard University, to further her credentials in the beauty industry. “[Physiology] is an area that I’ve always been really involved in, from the very beginning, but I was always self-taught: I just delved into the research, read scientific journals, and learned from our in-house scientists… but I want to become more knowledgeable in the space. I think if you’re interested in something, like anything, you find the time. And I think it will be something that benefits all of us.”

In the meantime, Lewisham is travelling to Europe and the United States, before heading back to Auckland, to her home just above Coxs Bay, which is currently undergoing a renovation. “We’ve been in our house for six years and we just love the area. It’s so quiet and pretty,” she says, “but we wanted to spruce it up. We were fortunate to work with Katie Lockhart for our office, and she’s just such a joy to work with and has such attention to detail, and so we’re working with her on the renovation of our house. So there’s a lot happening with that while we’re away, and when we get back, it will be unpacking everything.”

As always, Lewisham is finding the time to “just do it”.

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