Well, we made it to the end of January! Time to check in with those New Year’s Resolutions. If you, like myself, vowed to make a conscious effort to become more sustainable in all aspects of your life this year, then look no further than this week’s interview.
This week I sat down with Anna Brightman, co-founder of Upcircle Beauty; a beauty and skincare brand hell-bent on paving the way to a brighter, more sustainable future for your skin and the planet. So grab a cup of joe and get comfy. We hope you enjoy this week's conversation!
Welcome Anna! Tell me a bit about your childhood and how you feel that has influenced you today?
I had a pretty great childhood. I have particularly fond memories of our summer holidays. My parents were both teachers, so we were able to venture away as a family for six to seven weeks each summer. I miss that! Looking back, I think it’s clear my Mum has influenced me a lot regarding the person I’ve become. She’s an absolute grafter and I think some of her work ethic has rubbed off on me and William (my brother and co-founder)! Our work ethic is what has enabled us to grow so quickly in the first few years of starting UpCircle.
"We are the only skincare and beauty brand (that we know of) that has centred its entire concept around the idea of upcycling ingredients. "
I bet! So how did you get started in the beauty industry?
In the very early days, whilst still working our previous jobs, we booked ourselves in to as many trade and consumer shows as we possibly could. Most were related to the beauty industry, but we also visited and exhibited at wellness shows, fitness shows, and vegan shows; anywhere we thought the audience would be interested in us. It was a great way to test the market and gauge people’s responses to our products and concept.
That’s really smart. When did you decide to start up UpCircle and why?
It all started three years ago. William used to make his own coffee each morning using a cafetière. Living in central London, he didn’t have a garden and didn’t have enough plants he could use the coffee grounds on, so instead he threw them away. Eventually, he asked his local coffee shop what they did with their waste coffee and was shocked to hear that they were producing so much that they had to pay the council to have it removed and disposed of on landfill sites. I knew that coffee had loads of great skincare benefits, so… lightbulb moment! Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable, circular skincare products? Good for the planet, good for your skin!
That’s a great motto! So, tell me about your ingredients and what makes them different?
We’re all about preventing skin-loving ingredients from going to waste; we do this by transforming other industries’ by-products into our products. We started out making face and body scrubs from repurposed coffee grounds that we had collected from artisan coffee shops. Then, we extracted the coffee oil to create our bestselling certified organic face serum, before moving onto rescuing chai tea spices, which had first been used to brew chai tea. The chai spices are used as the natural fragrance for our palm oil-free soap bars. We then began powdering fruit stones, which are by-products of the production of fruit oils, like olive and argan oil. We are the only skincare and beauty brand (that we know of) that has centred its entire concept around the idea of upcycling ingredients.
That is so cool! And has working with influencers been key to the brand strategy?
Brand story is vital. In our increasingly faceless society fuelled by anonymous transactions and run by big corporations, it is the story that sets you apart. Influencers are a great help when it comes to telling the story of a young brand like ours. So far in our journey we’ve engaged with a fair amount with micro influencers, but less so with macro influencers (although we’d also like to explore this avenue in the coming years). They are certainly a great way for us to reach new customers and build a buzz on social media.
Very true! What is your favourite thing about having started UpCircle?
I am most proud of the fact that we are pioneering the by-product beauty trend. We’ve made a name for ourselves and we’ve proven that our business is scalable. I take a lot of satisfaction from this. I just find it so exciting that my brother and I have built our brand from scratch…and people are actually on board!
People are totally on board…Including me! So, what is the best part of your job?
The fact that I am my own boss.
I bet that never gets old! And what’s your absolute favourite product within the range?
That is a tough question because my answer changes all the time. At the minute it would have to be our face moisturiser; I use it every day. It’s made from powdered argan shells, which are the by-product of making argan oil. We blend the argan powder with soothing, nourishing ingredients like aloe vera and cocoa butter. It’s got a wonderful texture and a gorgeous scent. I can’t get enough!
Ooh, I need to try that! Can you tell me about the ways in which UpCircle prioritises sustainability?
Since launching three years ago we’ve rescued over 100 tonnes of coffee from cafes and coffee shops across London, transforming them into our coffee-based skincare range. Based on our current growth rates, it is estimated that we will have saved an additional 1000 tonnes in the next five years. We began our journey collecting coffee grounds from one coffee shop, we now collect from more than 100 coffee houses across London; and our list is always growing! We have unparalleled sustainability credentials; it is the most important thing to us that we produce products that are as sustainable as they can be.
How inspiring! Okay, and what would you say were your biggest challenges in starting up a beauty business?
One challenge is maintaining an attractive price point for consumers, whilst ticking every box that consumers are looking for. Ethical, sustainable, fair trade, organic ingredients cost more. It is also costly to produce handmade products in the UK. However, we commit to all of these things, whilst remaining determined to create a brand whose sustainable products are accessible to all. We do not want price point to be a barrier towards making sustainable choices or supporting a sustainable brand.
That is clearly something you are very passionate about! So what makes UpCircle stand out from other beauty brands?
At UpCircle, we elevate leftover natural ingredients, bringing them back to life as beauty products your skin will love. Our products are natural, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, sustainable, handmade in the UK and housed in 100% recyclable packaging. But the key point of difference between us and other brands is that every product is made with a core repurposed ingredient. “Natural” is the new “normal”; we go a step further with our waste-fighting formulations.
I love that! What would you say has been your biggest "pinch-me" moment?
Probably having three dragons fighting over us on Dragons’ Den. Madness!
"You never know what is going to happen or what could go wrong, and if you don’t fix something, no one else will! Delegation is a thing of the past!"
Absolutely! Could you describe your average day?
Hectic! Varied! Challenging! Dynamic!
Would you say that you have a work/life balance?
This is a difficult one, and honestly it depends. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In November and December my honest answer is probably not! But in January – yes!
What has creating a beauty brand taught you?
I have to be a ‘go-with-the-flow’ type in order to adapt to the unpredictable and varied challenges that come with being a business owner. You never know what is going to happen or what could go wrong, and if you don’t fix something, no one else will! Delegation is a thing of the past! Sometimes, I might have to work all hours of the night if, for example, a big wholesale order comes in with a very tight deadline. But there may also be times when, let’s say, a friend is visiting from abroad and I can take an afternoon off to spend quality-time catching up. So my routine is varied and I can be flexible, which is great!
That is so important! What is the best part about working with family?
William and I support each other so that our personal lives and our out-of-work priorities are unaffected. We definitely have our non-negotiables! Time with my friends and family is crucial to my happiness, so I always try to weave my work life around that.
Finally, what’s next for UpCircle?
I’m eager for us to be able to offer a full skincare range, to cater to whatever skincare concern you may have. I’m also highly motivated to continue sourcing varied ingredients that are currently being thrown away prematurely. At the moment, I am planning our Christmas 2020 product launches and excited to be re-purposing flower petals from local florists! Nothing is safe from being UpCircled; only our imagination can limit us!
Like what you read? Head to Upcircle Beauty to shop. Or if you fancy checking out some previous interviews you can find them here. All images are via Upcircle Beauty.