How Lush Cosmetics Is Helping Cotton Farmers in Fukushima

©. Katherine Martinko -- Lush wraps its bath bombs and other products in cloth, rather than wrapping paper.

The cosmetics retailer purchases organic indigenous cotton from this now-marginalized area of Japan, providing much-needed income.

Ever since a catastrophic earthquake hit Fukushima in March 2011, resulting in the meltdown of three nuclear reactors and the release of radioactive material into the surrounding environment, this rural northeastern region of Japan has never recovered. The world’s attention may have wandered elsewhere, but the residents are still struggling to pick up the pieces of the shattered lives.

According to Chiemi Kurosawa, an employee of Lush Cosmetics in Japan, the region has faced tremendous economic difficulty because people avoid it. Tourism has dropped by eighty percent. The local agricultural sector, once strong and thriving, has shriveled up because people don’t want to buy food that comes from there. Every crop must undergo radiation tests before it can be sold, but even when approved for sale, people are still reluctant to buy, resulting in price drops. The 10 million bags of rice produced in Fukushima in 2016 were sold at 26 percent below market value.

As a result, more and more farmers are giving up their lifelong careers. It’s easier, and more affordable, to be a permanent evacuee, supported by the government and the nuclear power company, than to continue struggling on the land. The region has the highest rate of farmland abandonment in the country. Approximately 110,000 residents have left altogether, leaving many people without neighbors, feeling more lonely and isolated than ever.

There is, however, one initiative that is working hard to change this.

A local agricultural group called Iwaki Otento Sun has come up with a way to keep farmers employed by growing a particular type of organic cotton indigenous to Japan. This cotton is woven into cloth, printed with colorful patterns, and sold to Lush Cosmetics for gift-wrapping.

Fukushima organic cotton

© Katherine Martinko -- A pile of organic cotton from Fukushima, Japan

Lush has used knot-wraps in place of wrapping paper for many years, tying bath bombs and package-free bar soaps in artistic ways, using the old Japanese art of furoshiki. It has sourced fabric from vintage scarves, women-run cotton cooperatives in India, and wraps made from 100 percent recycled polyester; but over the past year it has established this new partnership with Iwaki Otento Sun. Fukushima-sourced wraps will be available in all of Lush’s international stores next month.

Lush knot wraps

© Katherine Martinko -- A display of Lush's new line of organic cotton wraps

Kurosawa, a cloth buyer for Lush, recently attended a company summit in London. While there, she read aloud a letter from Iwaki Otento Sun’s founder. One paragraph stood out in particular as an important reminder of how business, when conducted ethically and conscientiously, can be uplifting and make a real difference in people’s lives, as it has in Fukushima:

“We think that there’s a connection between us humans and soil, each supporting one another to live. We don’t want an end to this ecological cycle that we have built up. Our main goal is to regenerate our environment and our community, but we have one more dream that is very important to us. It is a regeneration of people’s state of mind.”

Visit a Lush store anytime after March 2017 and you’ll be able to see the beautiful colorful wraps for yourself.

TreeHugger attended the Lush Summit in London, England, in February 2017. There was no obligation to write about this topic or any other presented at the summit.