Grief can teach all sorts of lessons, and not everyone has the mental clarity or the energy to turn those lessons into real, lifelong changes, let alone have it spur a successful business with an honest, emotional core. Emma Lewisham founded her luxury natural skincare brand following the loss of her mother to cancer, which was the impetus for an overarching rethink of everything from what went on her plate to what went on her face. Her dedication to health and to finding newer, better ‘clean and green’ ingredients may not be for everyone, but even if you personally prefer your jojoba oil with a side of Botox, Emma’s evident commitment to making tangible changes to the beauty industry’s sustainability problems is something we can all get behind. That, and her belief in the mood-boosting powers of a fantastic lipstick.

“The loss of my mother to breast cancer four years ago was a turning point in my life and the way I lived. It changed my whole lifestyle, including the way I eat and what I put on my body.

My mother was only in her forties when she was diagnosed, so it was a real wake up call to me to stop taking my health for granted and instead to treat it with the utmost care. It was a very hard time, but I am lucky to have such wonderful people around me, then and now, to support me through the hardship. My mum is never far away from my thoughts, and although I still get waves of sadness, I also have lovely moments where I can sit and smile and remember, without being overwhelmed with heaviness. A lightness and a softness come with time. I’ve learnt how resilient and strong we are as humans, to cope with such deep pain. I have come to find that not trying to distract myself from feeling pain, but to really sit in it and be with it, is the best way to move through the grieving process.

EMMA STANDS IN FRONT OF A PAINTING BY DON BINNEY

After my newfound focus on my health saw me change the way I ate, for me it was a natural next step to look at what I was putting on my skin.

The seeds of my brand were sown when I learned that a product I had been using to treat my hyperpigmentation contained a known carcinogen, and that another of its ingredients could be used to clean sewer pipes. I was told by my doctor to stop using it as it was unsafe, and found out that it had been banned in Europe and Japan. Speaking to my doctor really made me feel the changes to what I put on my skin were necessary.

I wanted the La Mer of natural skincare, and it didn’t exist. I tried to find products that were truly natural and safe, while still being efficacious and having evidence-backed results, but came up empty.  

I was used to investing in high-performance, premium creams and serums, and suddenly, I found myself at organic health shops trying to find a natural equivalent. I was looking at shea butter and argan oils but realised that these products were not going to deliver the type of results that I was used to, so I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the beauty industry. This meant creating a line of 100% natural, non-toxic products that would be just as efficacious, if not more so, than their synthetic  chemical alternatives.

The Emma Lewisham brand was three years in the making, and a lot of the work we were doing was pioneering in the skincare industry. I love the advances we’re seeing in the natural skincare space: we’re seeing more and more highly efficacious ingredients that also feel luxurious. Some of my favourites are plant stem cells, collagen peptides, and Pentavitin. Pentavitin is an ingredient that acts like a sponge, and holds the water in your skin’s epidermis for 72 hours, which is great for keeping skin plump.

I see our brand’s ultimate purpose as changing the beauty industry for the better. Seeing those changes is the most meaningful part of my work and is what drives me every day.

Right from the start it was equally important to me that Emma Lewisham doesn’t compromise the health of people or of the planet. To my mind, the most sobering and concerning element of the beauty industry is that it is a huge contributor to global environmental and social issues. These include disrupting ecosystems, depleting non-renewable natural resources, excessive water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions (from supply chains), and the billions of units of packaging sent to landfill each year. I spend a significant amount of my time exploring  how we can act more responsibly and sustainably.

EMMA WEARS DRESS BY RIXO AT MUSE BOUTIQUE. PAINTINGS BY COLIN MCCAHON (LEFT) AND MARGARET STODDART (RIGHT)

One of the best things about my job is that no day is ever the same.

It’s very rewarding to be at the laboratory with our scientists, working through and signing off on new formulations. I also love spending time connecting with our customers, and make sure I spend part of every day personally answering customer questions and feedback. Being genuine and authentic is important to me, but I think that is something people need to see and learn about you over time.

EMMA’S HOME PREDOMINANTLY FEATURES FAMILY HEIRLOOM ANTIQUE PIECES

My favourite skincare product is my Skin Reset, which I love for promoting ultra-glowing, even, and dewy skin. It was the original product I developed, and it’s proven to outperform some of the most recognised vitamin C and brightening products in the world. I apply it day and night and it’s truly transformed my skin.

I wear our Skin Shield Face SPF 30 every single day to protect myself from UV rays and also from pollution. Eighty percent of visible facial ageing is from UV exposure, and man-made pollution not only damages skin directly but also contributes to the erosion of the ozone layer, meaning we’re getting more sun exposure than ever, even on cold, cloudy days! Our SPF formulas protect from the sun and also contain antioxidants, boosting its pollution-fighting powers, so I am very active in promoting this as a core product in our customers’ skincare routines.

My mother and grandmother worked in professional jobs, and growing up I remember them taking such pride in their appearance.

Their clothes were well-tailored and elegant, and they took a minimalistic approach to makeup, but always wore beautiful, uplifting tones of lipstick, which is something that I now do too! I feel wearing lipsticks always lift my look and mood.

My most embarrassing beauty experiences were my years spent wearing far too much makeup. In my twenties I used to want to cover up all of the hyperpigmentation I suffered with, and definitely went overboard!

My products have given me so much confidence back in my skin, so I hardly wear makeup at all now, which is such a liberating feeling. When I do wear it, I look for products to add extra glow or pep. I love YSL Tatouage Couture long-wearing lipsticks, and Ilia Beauty Radiant Translucent Powder SPF20 Moondance. I reapply it during the day to top up my UV and pollution barrier. If I want an extra polished look, I like using Mecca’s Hydra Cheek Tint and Illuminating Balm Duo and then adding some bareMinerals Mineral Veil powder over the top.

The NARS Monoi Body Glow has the most gorgeous bronzing, gleaming effect. I apply it all over my body and also on my cheekbones. I also love applying an eyeshadow for a special occasion, and think Charlotte Tilbury has the most beautiful shades.

Hairdressers always tell me I have unusually thick hair! My grandfather is Spanish, and he told me I’ve inherited my great-grandmother’s long, dark Spanish hair.

I don’t colour my hair, to try and keep it super healthy. I’m also very mindful of the chemicals in hair dye, and would rather avoid them. If I don’t blowdry it, it has a natural wave, so if I wear it that way it is more of a fun, relaxed look.  When I’m going out I blowdry it smooth and use a hot iron to curl it so I’m a bit more put together.

My style has changed a bit since becoming a mum and having my own business. I’ve definitely traded my heels in for sneakers and flats.

I stick to a simple mix of elegant, timeless everyday clothes: a sleek blazer, a button-down, and a great pair of trousers. I absolutely love Georgia Alice, as her pieces are of the highest quality and her tailoring is just beautiful. Living in Spain in my twenties, I definitely was influenced by the European style of dressing; the women always looked so stylish and yet effortless, and they never overcomplicated their outfits.

In the summer I wear romantic, voluminous floral dresses, which make an easy impact. Muse Boutique in Auckland and Mode Sportif always have the most beautiful dresses. I also love purchasing from Maggie Marilyn as she shares my passion for championing the planet and all of the people in our supply chains.

I grew up in Nelson, on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s close to beaches and national parks, and is a very beautiful, charming town.  My upbringing was very wholesome, with lots of time spent outdoors and enjoying the nature that was on my doorstep.

My father and grandfather owned a number of farms, so from a young age I spent a lot of time with animals, learning both how to look after them and also the land that they were on. My best friend had a horse trekking business out on a beautiful old estate, so I was often around horses and going on treks though the beautiful terrain. It was a very grounding childhood, where I learnt that it is truly the simplest things in life that make you happy!

I also spent time living in Barcelona, and finished university there. I absolutely love the Spanish culture, art, music, and people. They have such a strong focus on family, friends, and being in the moment, which really shaped the person I am today. It was truly a magical time of my life.

EMMA WEARS TOP AND PANTS BY PARIS GEORGIA

My ideal start to the day is yoga at 7am (usually over Zoom these days), a shower, and then spending time with my 15-month-old daughter, Milla. Milla loves watching me get ready and applying my skincare and makeup for the day, so we have lots of fun doing that together.

For breakfast I have my friend Victoria’s Little Bungalow Kitchen organic muesli, which she makes using seven different types of nuts and seeds. I top it with coconut yoghurt and it’s such a nutritious, filling meal. Then I have my coffee, my WelleCo Super Elixir in water or a smoothie, and am ready to start work.  At the end of the day, I like to wind down with a cup of WelleCo’s Sleep Welle Calming Tea.

EMMA’S BED LINEN IS BY RALPH LAUREN

I relax by cooking a beautiful meal at home, then enjoying it with candles lit and music playing. I am also an avid reader (currently ready The Cartiers, which is fascinating).

I don’t do a lot of treatments on my face, but I do get massages often, which I think are super important for our health and detoxification. I love Spring in Auckland for spa treatments, and HANA, which has infrared saunas and red light therapy.

I am a big fan of Basecamp Power Yoga in Auckland. Cat Thompson, the owner, is such a beautiful person and they have the best teachers, including my friend Claire Robbie (who is also a wonderful meditation teacher – I truly cannot praise her teaching enough).

I focus on nutrition, moving my body through a mixture of walking, yoga, and running and incorporating meditation. 

I am a vegetarian and eat very little dairy. Eating this way has so many benefits for the planet, but it also has given me so much energy and improved my health. I find that you fill your diet with so many fruits and vegetables, it really shows up in your skin, too! At every meal I focus on getting as many nutrients and vitamins as possible.

I’m embracing getting older and the changes that brings. I really feel that the way we eat and live have a big impact on how we look and feel, and therefore how we age. It believe it’s the things we do every day that count.”

Story by Zoe Briggs. Photography by Holly Sarah Burgess.

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