This month’s That Girl is the truly stunning – Annabelle Baker! Not only is she beautiful inside and out, but she’s also a director at one of our favourite cosmetics brands, LUSH Cosmetics. Annabelle’s worked with LUSH for 16 years creating cruelty-free and eco-friendly beauty products that we love here at Sassy.
We chat to Annabelle about where to find eco-friendly shopping spots in HK, Hong Kong’s environmental issues, the new LUSH spa in Hong Kong and the challenges she faces in her role.
Tell us about your background and where you’re from. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I feel very lucky to have grown up in London, which is an ethnic and cultural melting pot. Being surrounded by different cultures fuelled my desire to travel. My love of Asia started young when I was in a class with nearly all-Japanese students from the ages of seven to nine. For a long time I was obsessed with everything Japanese – everything seemed so much cooler to me! When my older brother moved there 16 years ago, I was admittedly a little jealous he had got out this way first!
For some time my husband and I had been keen to move abroad and try somewhere new, so I asked LUSH about moving overseas. Luckily at the same time the opportunity of HK came up and having always wanted to be out in Asia and having a brother still here, now in China, it was an immediate yes. Two months later we had rented a flat in Olympic.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
At the moment we still live in Olympic at One Silver Sea. When we came here, we had four days to find an apartment and we looked at nearly 25 places, but as soon as we walked in we knew this was the place for us. It feels like you have space and having a pool was a huge plus point. It’s also very easy to get around from here. I travel a lot so being close to the airport, the office and our stores is important.
When we moved from the UK we had just gotten married, so we had some nice things that would have just sat in storage if we didn’t bring them all with us! We collect magnets from the places we have been too and those are now in the kitchen above the stove – each one has a story. My husband and I have been together over 15 years, so some of these go back to when we first started dating. I think longer term we are craving space (like any other person here), so we are likely to move further out to Sai Kung, which is where my husband is mostly based.
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
Eclectic, I seem to buy lots of things and don’t put much thought into what goes with what! So a lot of times it is a bit of a mishmash. I am a sucker for beautiful dresses and if I could, I would wear one everyday! In the UK I loved buying coats, all colours and styles – most of which are now at my parents place. I am lucky to have super stylish friends here in Hong Kong, in London and in LA, who are always great at finding new places to shop and unique designers.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I work in retail so I love shopping. I love Causeway Bay for Forever 21 and Eslite book store – I could spend hours in there, plus there is a herbivores café tucked away on the 9th floor. For jewellery I like the collections at Polkadot Boutique (which also stock my summer dress staples from what the frock?!) and there is a shop across from Oolaa on Bridges Street that sells a great collection of vintage finds but also nice necklaces for a very reasonable price.
I like stores that sell a range of products so I’m happy to spend time looking around Kapok and WDSG for gifts and accessories. Me and Gee in Mongkok is amazing – the place is open till 3am – and is full of vintage clothing… I’ve bought some really cool bits from there. Also Zara is a bit of a staple for me – although the danger is you could be wearing the same thing as everyone else!
Any tips or secret shopping finds you can let us in on for eco-friendly products?
Asides from Just Green, actually many of the stores around HK are now stocking more eco-friendly products. Market Place, ThreeSixty in Elements, city’super and even Taste stores have good options, so it really is a lot easier to pick up home essentials (see Sassy’s Top 10 Health Food stores here). If you want a different experience for food, try and head to Perma Club where you can pick and cook your own food, from earth to plate, with a group of friends. Or if you would like to learn more about what to do with your food waste or permaculture design then head up to the Kadoorie Farm in the New Territories (see more organic farms in HK here!).
Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I am a total Flawless convert for pedicures and manicures – there is something really relaxing about the place and the staff are fantastic. I haven’t yet found “the one” for hair but have had great service at The Firm. If I have an injury I go to Charlie’s Acupressure and Massage Centre of the Blind in Central and they sort me out. Longer term I am looking forward to having the LUSH SPA here in Hong Kong!
What would your ideal weekend in Hong Kong involve?
Boxing with the Bikini Fit girls in the morning (see our Bikini Fit review here) or a hike then breakfast. Then heading out on a junk boat with a big group of friends and continuing the party back in town until the sun is officially up. Sunday’s are my downtime days so normally opportunities for a much-needed afternoon nap, brunch with friends at the Hyatt or reading a new book.
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
Being vegetarian in HK is pretty easy, island side. Kowloon side it is a bit tougher especially where I work in Lai Chi Kok. On top of that I am also gluten intolerant. For food I love MANA!, Little Burro, Grassroots Pantry, Life Café, Aberdeen Social Kitchen and The Awakening. For drinks I am a total cocktail drinker so 001, Le Boudoir, Aqua and Stockton.
What do you do to stay fit and healthy in Hong Kong?
I work out everyday with the team and girls at BikiniFit. I was having a particularly unhealthy weekend, a year ago, and saw an advert pop up on Facebook for a session starting the next day and I was lucky enough to get on it and I have never looked back! Starting the day with that amount of positivity and energy really sets me up for a successful day at work.
Where’s next on your travel hit list?
We have just been mentally writing our bucket lists and mine is getting longer by the minute. I am consistently studying the Cathay map to see where next to go every time I get on a plane, which at the moment is pretty frequent! I am planning with a group of friends to climb Mount Fuji in July but after that, Komodo Island for diving and Guilin and Chengdu in China. Hopefully in January we will head to the Galapagos Islands and Peru for our next big trip!
How did you start out your career and get to where you are now as a Director at LUSH?
When I started in LUSH I didn’t think that I was starting what would now be my career. I was 16 and studying for my A Levels at the time. I was convinced that I wanted to work for the UN or Foreign Office, but I realised that LUSH could help me achieve my goals. By seeing the business work on a grassroots level with communities and natural habitats around the world, I understood that actually we could have a bigger and faster impact.
After finishing university, Mark Constantine, LUSH co-founder, offered me a new opportunity to set up another part of the company, which I took. Before I moved out to HK, I worked my way through the company having been a sales assistant, supervisor, store manager, PR manager, brand manager and working directly with him and our CEO at the time, Andrew Gerrie, on international business development. I have worked with the founders closely since I joined, but hard work and perseverance have got me to where I am today. Giving up is never an option.
What advice would you give for girls who want get into the same industry?
My advice to anyone is to do what you love. As a growing company, I have interviewed a lot of people and you can see the ones that are genuinely passionate about what we do – it makes a huge difference. I love coming to work everyday, that is what we want for our whole team and it is possible to find. If you don’t know right now, keep looking – don’t settle. Look at more than just the industry, look at the company – does it fit your aspirations and beliefs? I am more inclined to hire people who have worked in fields that are related to our company without having experience in cosmetics, especially if they have done it because they are genuinely interested in it.
What are your 5 must-have products from LUSH and why?
Only 5?! My bathrooms look more and more like a LUSH shop these days.
1. Dark Angels facial and body cleanser – since moving to HK my skin is oilier and I find the Rhassoul Mud and Charcoal base really helps remove excess oil and keeps my skin clear.
2. Aqua Mirablis body scrub – despite my face being more on the oily side I find my body is craving more moisture, must be the air-con! So this solid scrub with cocoa butter really keeps my skin super soft.
3. Seanik Solid Shampoo, I travel a lot, so solid products are my go to. I have taken this product travelling to wash my clothes as well as my hair and body. My hair is on the fine side so the sea salt helps with adding more volume.
4. There is nothing better than covering my skin in Gorgeous Facial Moisturiser after a tough day or when I have had a heavy night out. It is light but makes my skin feel super hydrated.
5. I am lucky enough to have a bath in HK, so my go to product is Floating Island Bath Melt. It has been around since I started, so it’s one of the original products. I love the sandalwood and lemon essential oils and cocoa butter mix.
LUSH is known for its strong ethics (being cruelty-free and environmentally conscious). What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your role and in Hong Kong in this regard?
The biggest challenge has honestly been recycling. Given the challenges we face with landfill, I was surprised that recycling here is difficult. From renovation of shops through to day-to-day operations, things are not set up here to make it easy for businesses. Even store leases insist on bare shell but actually many parts of the shop could be reused. As a company that strives to minimise waste, it has been really difficult to have as much control as we would like. For example, we had just started using a company to deal with paper and plastic waste from our office and warehouse to find that they went out of business. We need to do more to support recycling businesses locally and the government needs to take a tougher stance on virgin and non-recyclable materials. Charging for plastic bags is not enough – they need to ban them. We don’t have enough space to deal with the waste we create daily, so we need to make it easier for people by giving them environmentally responsible alternatives.
What easy changes can Sassy girls make right now to lead a greener/more eco friendly lifestyle?
Everyday we make small choices that can have a huge impact. Two simple but hugely important ones are water and food (especially if you are like our team and the first thing you discuss in the morning is what to eat for lunch!). Everyday, 2 million plastic water bottles go to landfill in HK. So, find a colourful water bottle design that works for you and re-use it. For food there are two things we can all do. Firstly try and buy the food you need – food waste is one of our biggest problems and yet there are people living here that do not have enough. Secondly, try having a vegetarian or vegan meal once a week – this alone reduces carbon dioxide by 2.45kg. If you fancy going vegetarian for a month you can save 17 animals – www.vegetariancalculator.com is a great motivator for animal lovers out there!
LUSH supports a number of charities – which charities do you have a personal connection too and regularly support?
Like a lot of people, cancer has affected family and friends, so personally I support a UK charity called Macmillan Nurses. When I was 10 years old I went with a group of my friends to Parliament to campaign against fox hunting, so this is still an issue close to my heart as at the upcoming UK election, the conservative party said they will allow the ban to be overturned – so I won’t be voting for them! I also really support the FurFree movement – I just don’t understand the need for people to wear real fur in 2015 for fashion. To me it makes even the most beautiful person look ugly. I didn’t realise until very recently that most of the trade comes through Hong Kong either. Although it is a big company goal, the fight against animal testing is also a very personal to me. I support the work the H.S.I do globally on educating and raising awareness on this issue.
Most memorable moments at LUSH?
Having been a part of the company for a while I have lots of great memories but three really stick out for me. Firstly, being at a managers meeting when Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve spoke about the treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. To date he has been the most engaging and captivating speaker I have ever seen.
Second, when Mark Constantine, offered to put me through an MBA – I was the only person fully sponsored at Imperial College London at that time and he insisted on me having no obligation to the company afterwards. There aren’t enough words to describe how grateful I am for his belief in me.
Lastly, signing the Soho Square site here in HK, which will be where the first spa is going to be located and the largest LUSH site in Asia. It is a testament to the work our team has done here in the last two years, I am very proud of what they have achieved and grateful to be able to be a part of it.