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Christmas Wrapping: A chat with Lush packaging buyers

With Christmas fast approaching, chances are you’ve been hitting the High Street hard and frantically trawling the internet for that perfect gift for your partner, sister and dog walker. But, having spent all that time and effort tracking down a unique gift, how many of us can honestly say we don’t spend our Christmas Eves frantically and increasingly carelessly wrapping, ribboning and taping, desperate to get the job done?

Thankfully, help is at hand in the form of some beautifully (and responsibly) packaged gifts. From conception to creation to Christmas Day itself, Lush gift boxes have quite the story to tell by the time they’re waiting under your tree.

Packaging buyers Marianella Willshire and Nick Kendall, seasoned pros when it comes to seasonal gift wrap, sat down to share the steps they take, and the numerous people they work with, to ensure Lush’s products are packed perfectly, so all you have to do is pick the right present. “Being able to work with so many people is the best part of the job. We all bring our own little niche expertise to a project,” says Marianella, over a cup of tea.

She and Nick took very different paths to get to where they are now. Nick worked his way up internally, gaining experience from different roles in Lush mail order, while Marianella came from a print background and became increasingly keen to work in a business that aligned with her ethical beliefs. Their combined expertise has proven integral to a process that's often hidden behind the scenes.

Because finding the right people to work with is no small feat when looking for packaging that meets Lush’s ethical policies, such as consideration of workers’ rights, environmental impact, and animal protection, Marianella and Nick challenge their existing base of suppliers to be as innovative as possible with their processes. Nevertheless, they are always looking for new dynamic materials and businesses. “We go to trade fairs, but it’s tough because usually the materials are all made of plastic, so there are only one or two suppliers that we can talk to,” Nick shares. “Our responsibility as buyers is to be as ethical, clean and regenerative as we can and try to find suppliers that fit that bill. Ideally, it’s best to find someone locally, because it helps to get things delivered quickly while striving for a lower carbon footprint. But if there’s a product that’s worth it, we will also work with suppliers around the world too. Take Knot Wraps, for example, as cotton grows in India we are most likely to find suppliers there.”

Nick and Marianella work hard to build and maintain strong working relationships with all their suppliers but are particularly keen to support small businesses and family organisations. As a family-run company, working with other organisations with a similar structure is always an exciting prospect, whether that’s a ribbon company in Congleton or a family of bellmakers in Nuremberg. Being in a boardroom for a sign-off meeting is often like a family occasion, with laughter, bickering about who has chosen the best ribboning, and great conversations about how they have discovered creative suppliers for collaborations.

Yet working with small businesses also brings responsibility as Nick explains: “We try not to be more than 15% of someone’s business in buying, simply because if we move business away it can really affect them. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but we do try and split the load so we don’t become such an integral part of their business”

Also, far from simply providing the materials, Nick and Marianella’s integral knowledge of the former means they are involved in the design process from start to finish. “We’re lucky in that we get to be involved in the whole process,” explains Marianella. “So, when the creative teams go on inspiration trips, we go with them and get to see what’s grabbed their attention about a particular material. We work on the collection as a team, and when the designers are talking about certain sizes, finishes or shapes, we’re there, putting our suggestions or ideas forward, guiding on which materials have more or less of an environmental impact. We all learn from each other”.

And, although their jobs are demanding, the reward is great, from the different personalities they get to work with to the inspiration trips they take to help pull a project together: “Finishing a collection is an amazing feeling. We start working on the ideas for Christmas in February, so when you finally finish an entire range and you see them in the shop it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Nick says.

And Marianella agrees: “So many people have bought loads of different elements to the gifts that you see in the shops, from how the products are placed inside to the colour of the ribbon. If a customer could see the history of that box it would blow their mind.”


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