A thriving career and a growing family, Director of LUSH, Annabelle shares her tips on managing it all
Dishing out pearls of wisdom, Annabelle Baker dives straight into #realtalk when it comes to what she’s passionate about. Having grown up in London, Annabelle had always wanted to move to Asia at some point in her life. And as a student, her mom had introduced her to the beauty, skincare and bath brand, LUSH. Serendipitously, she would find herself living in Hong Kong and working as the director of LUSH years later. She shares with us her favourite/holy grail products from LUSH to use during pregnancy, three practical tips for busy mamas, and the reality that balancing a career and family is all about being conscious of sacrifice and choice. Read more in this edition of That Mama.
Tell us about yourself and how you found yourself in Hong Kong.
I’m a Londoner, passionate book reader and avid explorer. A number of my extended family live all around the world and I was always keen to live abroad. When I was at primary school, between 5 and 8, I was in a class of mostly Japanese students and I fell in love with everything to do with Japan. I mean who wouldn’t?! The culture, the food and people –it all seemed like an amazing place to live. My brother moved there in 2000, for nearly 9 years, and only just moved home about a month ago (having lived in China for the last 8 years). So, I always had a drive to live in Asia, when the opportunity of Hong Kong came up at work, I grabbed it.
Describe your personality with three words.
Loyal, energetic and compassionate.
Tell us how you got into the beauty and skincare world?
My Mum! She was the one who introduced me to LUSH! I came home one day from school and found these nice smelling pots in the fridge and she suggested I go and see if they had job opportunities. So, one of my friends and I went to the Kings Road store and both got hired. At one time, many of my friends and my sister worked at the same shop which made it a lot of fun.
What is it like working for LUSH?
Exhilarating, dynamic, fun and challenging, two days are never the same! The brand started in 1998 and has changed so much and yet remains true to its core beliefs. We like the Thomas Jefferson quote best “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”.
I love being part of a company that doesn’t pretend to be perfect. LUSH allows every staff to be part of how we shape our future. For example, maternity leave. When I was pregnant last time, I rushed back to work, although perhaps not as fast as other women in Hong Kong. Being back at work three months after I had Blake was a mistake. I was quite ill after I had Blake and he came before I had even finished work with an emergency C-section, so I was still realistically recovering. I could have taken longer off but financially that wasn’t viable.
However, for this pregnancy, LUSH will now offer up to 6 months off (full pay) depending on length of service and regardless of position based on feedback from a number of staff within the business. I’m really proud that we now have a great parental leave scheme and partners (that work for LUSH), regardless of sexual orientation, can have up to 4 weeks off.
What I’m particularly proud of, is that in Hong Kong, this applies to all staff regardless of hours worked. I know the 418 regulation is meant to help part-time workers but for me, if you have a permanent contract you should be entitled, on a pro-rata basis, to all benefits not just if you work over 18 hours a week.
What are your holy grail top 5 products from LUSH and why?
Right now during my pregnancy, these are the products I can’t live without:
- Therapy Massage Bar for moisturising the bump and to help the elasticity in the skin.
- Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner for the shower and to ensure my skin isn’t too dry.
- Roots Hair Treatment – I think I’m one of those random women that lose hair during pregnancy and this has really helped and made a massive difference after too.
- Gorgeous Facial Moisturiser
- Sleepy Body Lotion – this cream really has helped me get a good night’s sleep when you need it most!
Which products does your son love the most?
Bath bombs! Although he has tried to eat one once so I have to watch him like a hawk! I use Dream Cream Body lotion as he has a bit of eczema and I find this works best for him. He also loves the fragrance of the Christmas Golden Pear soap.
If you could choose a new career what would it be and why?
I had a long-standing dream of working for the UN, particularly in disaster relief helping cities and countries rebuild. Growing up I was very interested in natural disasters and did my undergraduate degree in Geography to study this further.
What are your top three tips for busy mums?
- Sleep as much as you can, whenever you can.
- Make commitments and stick to them – my husband and I are the only ones that will put Blake to bed in the evening or get him up in the mornings and we support each other to ensure we can cover, if the other one is busy at work or travelling.
- Try to eat well and make sure you get some sanity time. In HK, this is easier as there is the option of helpers but sometimes we all, regardless of what help we have, overdo it and can burn out. But my truth is, that stay-at-home parents/caregivers have the hardest job – it’s relentless and exhausting. If you are the parent at work, being mindful of the other parent no matter how tired you are. You’d be surprised how much it means to them when you get home from work and help wherever you can.
Favourite organisational hack/tips and tricks?
Prep, prep, prep! I can’t do anything in the kitchen when Blake is around so I have to be ready and plan ahead. As someone who struggles with planning ahead this is a challenge but I’m slowly getting better at it!
How has being a mom changed the way you view your professional life?
I don’t take things so seriously. My family is more important than whatever I’m faced with at work. I’m still as passionate about my career and the company I work for, but I feel I can see things with more perspective and I am able to prioritise better.
How do you balance work and mama life?
I think in HK, if you have help, then it’s much easier to have a balance. My husband and I have opposite schedules, he has time off during the week and I have the weekends. This means our kids will get the most amount of time from us. My husband, Rich takes Blake to pre-school groups twice a week and is mostly home by 5pm. And we are fortunate to have an amazing helper, Cristina, who joined us when Blake was 7 months. Without a doubt, she helps create the family balance. The reality is that there is a sacrifice for everyone; if you go to work you don’t get the time with your kids, if you stay at home you have to give up your career, and if you have a helper they have had to leave their family to help with yours. I believe it’s about understanding you can’t have it all but acknowledging you have an active choice in what is a priority for you, what is best for your family and accepting that this may change over time.
What do you do to get in that “me” time?
My favourite thing to do is exercise, if and when I can. I was a lot more active in my last pregnancy but this time round I’ve found it so much harder to do and I’m knackered! I also approve new therapists for our spa so that’s a nice perk that I can go, get treatments and just relax!
What do you find to be the most challenging part of parenting?
That it doesn’t end – there is no time off and still 18 months on that is hard work (especially as we are currently in the middle of a sleep regression). The lack of available space or acceptance of breast feeding in public in Hong Kong is another challenge. Blake hated to be covered when I was feeding him but you are made to feel so uncomfortable if you feed in public. As a first time mama, I felt quite self-conscious but this time around I don’t care so much, the baby is going to be fed wherever and whenever they need!
What is the most rewarding part of parenting?
All of it! It may sound stupid but no matter how tired I am, I still want to get up first thing and be home as early as I can to spend time with Blake. The other week I had parked the car while Rich and Blake were walking back to the house. Blake just saw me and came running at me with his arms out, shouting ‘Mama’. There are no better moments.
Name your funniest and/or most memorable parenting moment.
Most memorable parenting moment was travelling with Blake by myself. I’ve done a few journeys but the first was the most memorable. My husband was working in Boracay for a few weeks so we went out to visit over a long weekend. That journey is not simple with numerous car trips, two planes and a boat. It looks so close, but it’s far! It felt like a great achievement when we arrived!
Favourite family holiday destination and why.
Thailand. No matter how many times we go, we still love the people, food and country. Koh Samui is particularly easy to get to from Hong Kong with kids and has a great set-up.
What are your favourite spots to eat at with your family in Hong Kong?
At the moment, at home! Blake loves food but doesn’t love to sit at the table for long so anywhere that has a high chair and we can eat quickly is great for us. In Sai Kung, the square is good as you can take turns: one parent can eat and the other one can run around after the kids!
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a parent? Worst advice?
I don’t think I’ve had any bad advice. Every family/child is different so whatever someone shares with you, you have to see if it applies. It’s all useful and good to share with others as it might work for them. For best advice; two things, my friend Anita suggested the Gina Ford “Contented Little Baby book”. I didn’t follow it verbatim but it was useful to give us a daily routine, and an idea on milk/food levels. Blake slept through as soon as we had given him the right amount of milk and in his own room at five months. Secondly, having post-natal support. My friend who is a midwife told me how important it was and I am so grateful to her and Karin Seigler who was a great help to me.
Something that you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
I wish I had acknowledged the possibility that being a parent could be the most fulfilling job, although pre-children you don’t know what you haven’t yet experienced!
What has been your most humbling moment as a mum?
Cleaning up projectile poo off the walls three times in one special night!
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
I wake up in the middle of night thinking about…
…needing the bathroom! Haha, the reality of being pregnant. Sometimes, I still wake up and panic about Blake, if he is still breathing… I’m not sure if that ever goes away.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I don’t walk in the door 10 minutes before Blake goes to bed. I need to be home at least 30 mins before or come home after. Blake loves bedtime though (normally) and we have the same routine: bath, bottle, story and then bed. Simple but effective.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Morning. Maybe I’m the opposite of most people in Hong Kong but I love seeing the start of a new day.