FOR eight days, Brandi Halls tucked her long, dark hair under a blond wig, concealed her brown eyes with blue contact lenses, slipped on a pair of non-prescription eyeglasses and headed to work.
She also started going by the alias Katherine Mains.
No, Halls is not an actress, but she is going to be on TV. The former North Vancouver resident is the new director of brand communications at Lush Cosmetics and will be featured on an upcoming episode of the W Network's Undercover Boss Canada. Each episode features a company executive who is transformed into a frontline worker with a disguise and fabricated background story. The "boss" works alongside their employees to learn new skills, find out what people really think of the company, and discover the unsung heroes of the workforce.
"Katherine," which, not coincidentally, is Halls' real middle name, is supposed to be from Kelowna, B.C. with experience behind the cosmetics counter at a drug store.
When Halls, 32, discussed her undercover intentions with her fellow Lush executives, their biggest concern was something other than the credibility of her adopted persona.
"I have quite a distinct voice and a sort of notorious laugh within the company," Halls explains. "Their first reaction was 'Oh my gosh, how are you not going to get recognized by your voice?'"
Fortunately, the trick went off without a hitch and Halls was able to get her hands dirty (or clean) at Lush retail locations and manufacturing facilities across Canada.
For someone who has been touting Lush's fresh beauty products since joining the company as a public relations assistant 10 years ago, the task of hand-peeling kiwi fruit to put in soap offered a new perspective.
"To actually get in there and hand make these products myself was a completely different experience, a lot more physically exhausting than I would have ever anticipated," Halls says, explaining that lugging giant bags of ingredients on her shoulders and hand-churning soap was no easy feat.
Despite her best efforts, she still managed to throw the factory into overtime.
"I just wasn't fast enough in any of these functions on the manufacturing side. As much as I tried, I just could not keep up with the pace that everybody else was working."
Halls was much more comfortable working with sales associates and store managers on the retail front.
"Given a few more days of their hands-on training, I probably could have mastered that," she says.
Her behind-the-scenes work allowed Halls to gauge what improvements needed to happen within the company. For example, many employees were unaware that Lush, which already has 170 stores in North America, plans to open another 120 over the next three years. Communication is something Halls says she will be able to improve in her new role as the director of brand communications.
Halls grew up in Lynn Valley, attended Collingwood School in West Vancouver (also home to Lush CEO Mark Wolverton) and left the North Shore six years ago when she opened up a Lush press office in Manhattan. She's now in the process of relocating back to Vancouver, where Lush opened its very first store in 1996.
When her Undercover Boss episode airs, viewers and Lush employees will learn about more than just her professional life. They will also meet Halls' boyfriend, who lives in New York, and her family, who still lives on the North Shore.
"It sort of lifted the veil on me to this entire company, which is a difficult thing to do," she says.
But the opportunity to be an undercover boss was worth a bit of personal exposure.
"The overarching feeling that I walked away from this with was just incredibly proud to be part of the Lush family and to have met such inspiring people along the way."
The Lush Cosmetics episode of Undercover Boss Canada premieres next Thursday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m. on W Network.