The first thing you notice about Annabelle Baker is her skin. It glows. And no wonder – the born-and-bred Londoner is the Asia director of eco-friendly beauty company, Lush.
Baker joined Lush more than 16 years ago, which means she probably knows a thing or two about skincare. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to pick her brain about all things beauty (and bust a few skincare myths along the way).
Where are you from and how long have you been in Hong Kong?
I’m a born-and-bred Londoner – I completed all my undergraduate and postgraduate studies there, and moved to Hong Kong three years ago. It was the first time I had moved out of a one-mile radius. Which, in the UK, is a little unusual! This meant that I was super ready to experience life somewhere completely new.
What is a typical working day like for you?
I normally get up at 6.15am, check a few emails, then drive to Kowloon Park for my morning Bikini Fit session before heading to the office – picking up breakfast on route. Twice a week I have Cantonese classes in the morning, which I do after training. A typical day may see me travel between our office in Lai Chi Kok to any of the stores across Hong Kong or mainly to Central for meetings before heading back for evening Skype calls with the UK team, and then home to Sai Kung. However, I’m expecting my first child in a few months so suspect my day-to-day routine will change quite a bit by then.
Top loves and loathes of living in Hong Kong?
I love the convenience of the city, the array of food on offer, how friendly and open people are (especially in comparison to London), and how cheap the travel is. I dislike how we are all too attached to our phones. We all need to make more effort to put them away when with friends and family.
Give us a brief history of Lush in Hong Kong.
Lush has been in Hong Kong for 13 years now but for the first 10 years we had a partnership, which we had to end in 2012. We retained the top locations in LCX and the Venetian, and opened our first street store in Granville Road. Up until we took back the business, Lush was quite different to our presence globally. The typical store here was not more than 400 sq ft and the whole range wasn’t stocked here. So, we made significant changes by opening the first store at 1,000 sq ft. Today we have 10 stores including the 7,000 sq ft store and SPA in Central (the second largest location in the world).
How big is the Hong Kong Lush team and what are the most important qualities you look for when hiring?
The team now is over 300, including Macau, so we have grown quite a bit! I look for people who are passionate and that want to contribute to a company that strives to break barriers and boundaries for positive social and environmental change. Perseverance, determination, drive and an ability to inspire people, not tell them what to do are important qualities to us.
What makes Lush beauty products so different from other organic beauty products out there?
Our founders have been creating products for 40 years and they are still creating our products today – that’s a huge wealth of knowledge and one that is quite rare. We look at the science and safety history data of ingredients available and select the best cruelty-free options that ensure the product works.
We strongly believe in giving the power to the customer and transparency on what we put in our products, where we get the ingredients from and openly encourage feedback through social, stores and our online platforms. We spend our money on buying the best quality raw materials not on packaging or advertising (which we don’t do). Our customers love our products because they work.
Our company is not run to drive more money into the hands of its shareholders. We make company decisions based on them being better for people (our staff and our customers), the environment and animal welfare, not for the bottom line. I’ve had people say to me that we sound more like an NGO than a company but what we are doing is creating a new business model. One that will be more sustainable and better for everyone, regardless of industry.
Ok, time to spill the beans – what is your secret to looking so amazing?
I like things that are effective and quick! Having been with Lush for over 17 years I have pretty much always used our skincare… it saw me through the acne-prone teen days to now, in my mid-thirties, where I’m more concerned about fine lines!
My staple products that I use morning and night are 9 to 5 face cleanser, Gorgeous Face moisturizer and Tea Tree Water Toner for the summer sticky months. This winter my skin has been super dry so I have used Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner (a wash and moisturiser in one – a great time-saver). In the summer I use Dream Cream Body lotion. My very fine hair has been saved by Hsuen Wen Hua Hair treatment and Big Shampoo for volume.
What do you do to keep healthy and sane with your busy schedule?
I belong to Bikini Fit, which is a women’s only fitness group. It’s not just the coaches and the workouts that I go for; the community of strong and passionate women I’ve met are an inspiration. Doing this everyday gives me focus and starts my day in the most positive way. All I need to do is turn up! Aside from this I love to hike, which is super easy from my home in Sai Kung and in the summer I like to go diving with my husband and the team at Splash.
Top three favourite restaurants in Hong Kong?
- Mana for their wraps and salads, plus the work they do to minimise waste.
- Grassroots Pantry for the hedgehog mushrooms and smoothies.
- Veggie SF for when you want a cheat day and great service.
Which charity or cause are you passionate about and why?
I actively support the Fur Free movement in Hong Kong and elsewhere – it really is unnecessary to use real fur and appalling that the largest fur expo is in Hong Kong, I really don’t think people know that here.
I think when people connect their pets with the thought of wearing them it causes a strong negative reaction but that connection doesn’t link back to the reality of the fur industry and often people who have pets and love them still would wear fur, even though cats, dogs and rabbits are used. It saddens me that we can’t make that connection and that we categorise some animal lives as more important than others.
People trafficking also deeply troubles me and again a very big problem in Hong Kong that is largely ignored. I’m very keen for us to do a campaign on this issue hopefully in the near future. Finally, animal testing is something I have been passionate about since I was very young. The practice is so archaic and doesn’t provide accurate safe data compared to the alternatives that are now on the market.
Which books you are currently reading?
I’ve just finished Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. No matter what your thoughts are on the concept, I did identify that even as a woman I hadn’t fully appreciated some of the challenges we face as I hadn’t been through them personally myself. For example, being pregnant and how to manage that, planning for maternity leave and how to manage when back to work.
I’m currently reading Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed about why it is important to learn from mistakes and having an open culture to encourage people to talk about and learn from them. Next on my list is Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, and Clive Stafford Smith’s Injustice, which is about the American justice system and death row.
Top five beauty myths you would like to debunk:
- You need a cleanser that foams, as only bubbles can clean your skin.
We often hear this but it’s not the case. You can use natural clays to deeply cleanse the skin, it doesn’t need to foam!
- Exfoliating your skin makes it rough and skin thicker.
We hear a lot and all skin is around 0.4mm thick so actually your skin’s thickness does not change by exfoliation and by exfoliating you make the skin smoother.
- Bad diet causes spots.
Spots are caused because dead skin gets trapped in your pores. If you’re a woman then around your period this is more common because the pores get tighter, which is why we recommend to steam the face before your period to help clear any trapped dirt.
- If your hair is lighter and you haven’t bleached, then it isn’t damaged.
If you make the hair lighter you need to have put the hair through an oxidized process, which does damage the hair as it lifts the cuticle and strips out the pigment. The hair can then become limp as it roughens the cuticle.
What is your take on beauty enhancers like botox and surgery?
I think the definition of ‘our best’ is changing – the most important thing, I believe, for me when I get to that age is to be happy, and I believe a large part of this is not allowing the definition of what someone else considers to be beautiful to influence how I look at myself. Also, depending on where you are in the world depends on what is considered beautiful. One of our founders Helen Ambrosen talks about an area in Japan where women look half their age because they do not consider themselves old – in fact they do not even have a concept of age.
Spending time with friends and family.