At Circular&Co. we are constantly inspired by other brands who are offering innovative products through circular design. When we discovered UpCircle’s products and story we simply had to learn more, so we caught up with Co-Founder Anna Brightman to share her story.
Prior to launching UpCircle with her brother William, Anna worked as an area manager of several supermarket stores. Despite the huge responsibility, this role afforded her, she was keen to forge a new path in an industry closer to her heart. Anna combines her passion for skincare and previous experience in logistics and management to single-handedly manage operations, marketing, and new product development for UpCircle.
Tell us how it all began… We understand the need to reuse coffee granules was identified first, how did that develop into sustainable skincare?
It all started about three years ago now. My brother William (my co-founder) used to make his own coffee each morning using a cafetière. Living in central London he didn’t have a garden and so didn’t have enough plants he could use the coffee grounds on, so instead, he was simply throwing them away. 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.
He decided it was a great starting point for a business idea, but wasn’t sure what that idea was – that’s where I came in. Throughout my teenage years, I wanted to be a makeup artist so always had a keen interest in beauty and skincare. I knew that coffee had loads of great skincare benefits, so… lightbulb moment! Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable circular skincare products?
We began our journey collecting coffee grounds from one coffee shop, we now collect from 100 coffee houses across London – our list is always growing!
As a family-run business like ourselves, what are your most important company values and ethos?
We want to leave the world better than we found it, that’s why every UpCircle product is made from a core ingredient which would otherwise have been discarded. Our brand name encapsulates our core purpose: sustainability and promoting the power of the circular economy. UpCircle also hints at ‘upcycling’, the process of making something better from things that already exist.
Ethical, sustainable, fair trade, organic ingredients cost more – it is also costly to produce handmade products in the UK. 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. For us to achieve a more sustainable future we must be able to offer products at prices that are attractive to the masses.
If we can provide competitively priced, high performing products from upcycled ingredients then we are demonstrating that the beauty industry can become a lot less wasteful.
What motivates you to follow the principles of circular design? Was there a ‘moment’, or something that inspired you?
Lots of skincare and beauty brands can claim to be natural, or vegan, or cruelty-free… You could go so far as to say that “Natural” is the new “normal”. So, we wanted to go a step further by creating waste-fighting formulations. What other beauty brand can claim that their products have saved literally hundreds of tonnes of valuable ingredients from ending up in landfill?
We made a name for ourselves as “the skincare brand who collects coffee”. Soon enough we had businesses coming to us asking if we could come up with a circular skincare solution for the by-products of their companies. This is what happened with our soaps made from repurposed chai tea spices. The founder of a family-run chai company approached us and told us that after making his chai syrups, he is left with huge quantities of aromatic spices. So, we began drying them out and using them as the natural fragrance of our soaps.
1/3 of all food produced is wasted. It’s one of the most wasteful industries in the world meaning that it gives companies like us a huge number of ingredients from which to do better things. Food ingredients can have powerful effects on the body – inside and out – so there’s an opportunity for us to create beauty products from food ingredients that are being discarded yet still have much to offer the skin. Our first batch of soaps made from repurposed chai tea spices saved 5 tonnes of spices from being thrown away.
Where do you find the inspiration for new products? How do you stay ahead of trends?
Primarily from observing our surroundings. For example, where we are located, we work among lots of florists. I observed that every Tuesday they throw away huge quantities of flowers that they have not sold in the previous week. So, for our next range, we plan to save and transform flower petals from our neighbouring florists and from wedding venues. Our love of flowers is not likely to wane any time soon, so we have an abundance of ingredients to work with – an endless supply. The only limit to by-product beauty is a lack of imagination!
Our concept itself is ahead of trends for the beauty industry. Our business is centred on innovation, our tagline is “Pioneering skincare. Regenerative by design.” Each product we release is innovative because no one else has done what we do. We are a disruptor brand – trying to tackle issues of waste in the beauty industry is no easy task! In the past, we were convinced by investors that the industry wasn’t ready for our waste-fighting mission, so our branding was led by product performance rather than our unique “trash to treasure” story. After 2 years we underwent a dramatic rebrand where we reversed this decision. We put the circular economy ethos front and centre, going against advice, and UpCircle has catapulted forwards as a result.
Read part 2 here!