Meet Annabelle Baker, director at Lush Asia Limited and Hero Parent to Blake, her 5 month-old firstborn. Working for the eco-friendly, ethical cosmetic brand Lush not only fulfills her but has enabled her to move to an exhilarating part of the world: Hong Kong! She talks to us about sharing parenting duties equally with her husband while working in a fast-paced city, reducing her environmental footprint and about why she wants to spend Blake’s first Christmas back in England.
I grew up in London’s cultural melting pot, which gave me a taste for travel and different cultures from a very young age. Many of my extended family lived abroad and at my first primary school, I was the only western student in my class, while all my other classmates were Japanese. Hence my love of Japan and Asia!
My mum is a great inspiration to me, she looked after us when we were very young and then went on to run her own business. She had her own flower shop in Chelsea, London and she definitely planted the seed of female leadership from an early age but also that you didn’t have to follow the typical route. Just that you should love what you do. Neither of my parents went to university, although my grandfather was an Oxford graduate. So whilst I knew I wanted to go to university, I also knew it wasn’t necessary to be successful.
What I love most about working at LUSH is that every day is different and watching the company and our staff grow and change. There is nothing better than seeing people develop and succeed. Our business never stands still; it is constantly evolving through innovation. We are challenging the typical business model by putting people, environment and animals before profit and it is very exciting to be a part of a company that is genuinely doing this but is still making a profit. I’ve had people say to me that we sound more like a NGO than a business but to me, that means other companies may say they can’t follow the same route but they can. It’s a choice. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have things to work on, we do. I’m not sure we will ever be finished innovating how we do business but that’s part of the fun.
Everyone can reduce their environmental footprint on a daily basis, even though it can sometimes feel as if you can’t make a difference. It may feel as if it doesn’t matter whether you buy that extra bottle - yet every one of the bottles that go to landfill are purchased with the same thought. We can’t do everything, so start by focusing on something you care about and make a behavioral change that will positively impact the environment. For me, I think our plastic usage is out of control. So I have a reusable canister and coffee cup, sure it is a bit more work to remember but it’s worth it. And don’t give up when you forget, just remember for the next time. Buy what you need and look at the packing of what you are taking home. We are some of the worst food wasters in HK yet 1 in 4 children do not get 3 meals a day and 1 in 3 seniors struggle to meet their basic needs.
I also try my best to buy ethically sourced clothing and I’m personally a huge fan of vintage shops, like Mee&Gee in Mong Kok. I like that more mainstream brands like H&M and Levi’s have more options available for garments made of organic cotton or recycled plastic, which makes shopping for more ethical alternatives easier. Blake probably has more organic cotton clothing than me or my husband, it is interestingly much easier to buy for babies.
I chose to become vegetarian when I was 10 because I got to see firsthand where our meat comes from. My grandfather had a substantial farm both arable and pastoral in the UK and I think I am still today the only vegetarian in my family on both sides! I plan to raise Blake in an environment where he understands he has a choice and what those choices mean. So when he starts on solids we won’t be raising him as a vegetarian but I will be educating him on where food comes from.
I’m lucky that I have a very supportive husband and so we balance working and looking after Blake together. We both have businesses that we run, so whilst we are very busy we are fortunate that we can have some flexibility. We live in Sai Kung, as my husband’s business is there and that means he can be home by 5.30. At the moment we have a nanny two days a week, my husband looks after Blake three days a week and I look after Blake on the weekends when my husband works. Our family time is mornings and bath times. However, we are lucky that we can also travel together. So when Rich was working in the Philippines last month for two weeks, Blake and I went over for the weekend and this week I need to go to Korea for work so he and Blake are going to come. I love that Blake gets time with both of us and it feels like a partnership in raising him. From listening to others experiences this often is not the case and women are left trying to work and be the primary caregiver. My dad jokes now, seeing how involved Rich is, that he realizes how much he didn’t do.
I used to go to BikiniFit every day and I greatly miss it but it is too far to go to the island to work out, especially as my office is in Kowloon. There is a great personal trainer locally, her name is Alison and I’m looking forward to doing sessions again. Trying to do that and go back to work full time without additional help at home wasn’t possible. I think being away from your home country you realize how much help we would have had with family, if we were living there. I think that is where a helper is amazing, to provide that support. We haven’t had that support yet but we have a great person starting in December.
My friend’s parents said to me that the most important thing you can do for a child is just to love them. It sounds so simple but I think we sometimes worry too much about schooling and them growing up. I want him to know that everyone is equal and that no matter his choices on future partner or what he wants to do in life, we will love him just the same. And the rest is up to him. I hope with this mindset he will grow up kind and considerate of others but most of all happy.
We are spending Christmas back in the UK with both sets of family at my parents' home in Suffolk. They live in the middle of nowhere with lots much of space, so very different to Hong Kong. Open fires, long walks and the cold crisp air is what I will be looking forward to. Suffolk is very special to me as it's where my mum grew up. My parent’s house was also my grandfathers. As children we used to go there for Christmas, so I’m very excited about Blake having his first Christmas there. It’s also where we, and two of my aunts, got married. My sister, brother and hopefully both their partners will also be at home. As my brother lives in China we don’t often have everyone together. This is also the first time our families will have spent the holidays together, which seems ridiculous as this will be the 17th Christmas Rich and I would have had together, but as Blake is the first grandchild on both sides it is something to celebrate. So there will be some merging of traditions and hopefully some new ones made!
I think it is great to see more companies like Baby Hero, being inspired by real experiences to drive change for others. Personally, I had a difficult health issue after delivering Blake and I’m so grateful for the care I received and for knowing that I was in the best possible hands. Being so vulnerable is frightening. I find the idea that, if I had been somewhere else or if I wouldn’t have been able to afford the right care, my outcome might have been different, very humbling. The work Baby Hero does in helping babies and mums is inspiring to me.