There can be few job titles that sound quite as exciting as “inventor”.
And after more than 33 years as a creator, Helen Ambrosen admits she still gets a kick out of her work at Lush, the Poole-based fresh cosmetics company.
“It drives me potty sometimes and it is very exhausting,” she said.
“But I think I need it. It’s my way of life and I love it.”
Helen started out making products with co-founder Mark Constantine, learning how to make cosmetics and develop new products.
Her personal record has been creating a tonne of hand and body lotion from the workroom at Mark’s house in a single day. But it’s not quite as simple as just coming up with a best-selling product. Lush prides itself on its environmentally friendly ethos, so Helen’s role is a little more involved.
“The invention is literally thinking about what the customer needs, and not necessarily what they want,” she said.
“For example, Lush Toothy Tabs, solid toothpaste tabs, were invented because it reduces packaging to landfill. A lot of what I do is often based around solving environmental puzzles and offering people alternative products to those that are tested on animals.”
Helen’s speciality is bases – she created the bubble bar base, which is a solid form of bubble bath, and also the Toothy Tabs base. But it’s not just the ideas that she comes up with.
“I am involved in every phase,” she explained.
“Once you have invented a product you never lose responsibility for it. Some of our products are over 18 years old, but you are always following up to see how they’re doing.
“I’m always interested in the quality of our products and how they are being presented. I love hearing how people use them and I learn an awful lot from that feedback.”
Following the process through from beginning to end means Helen gets the “hugely satisfying” task of seeing the products produced and merchandised.
“After all these years in the industry I now know a good product when I see it,” she said.
“It’s great when you realise people are going to like the product you are creating. Sometimes they don’t turn out how you envisaged them. You have to listen to the customer.”
Helen admits there are always ideas buzzing around in her head – as there is always a need for a new product.
“Inspiration is not hard to come by at all,” she said.
“I wear myself out thinking about what is needed and how to develop all my ideas. When there is a need for a product and giving people what they need and not what they want.
“If we always gave them what they wanted it would just be shower gels. New ingredients are hugely inspirational too.”
The henna natural hair colours are a particular favourite invention of Helen’s – she created the “bricks” of henna, which are a solid version of a material which has been used for thousands of years, and have an improved effect on the hair.
But there are some inventions which have proved elusive – Helen admits there are lots of products which she would love to make, but hasn’t been able to get right just yet.
“I’m very aware the product has to work well for the customer, and if it doesn’t work for them they won’t buy it again, so it is very important to get it right,” she said.
Helen has one golden rule when it comes to successful inventing: “I couldn’t do what I do without using all the products myself,” she said.
“This is an absolute must when inventing products. It sounds so simple, but it is essential.”