We talked to Anna Brightman, the co-founder at UpCircle Beauty about transforming leftover natural ingredients into quality skincare products and she had the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Anna Brightman: We are all doing well, thank you. Admittedly, 2020 was a difficult year, and it’s sad not to be able to spend time with loved ones at the moment. But we’re feeling optimistic about 2021 and hopeful for a very gradual return to “normal”.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded UpCircle Beauty.
Anna Brightman: At UpCircle, we make sustainable skincare products from ingredients which would otherwise be discarded.
UpCircle was founded by myself and my brother William. William and I came from fairly corporate backgrounds but were left feeling ultimately unfulfilled. We wanted to start a business with a purpose beyond profit, a business that leaves the world better than we found it.
It all started about four years ago now. William asked his local coffee shop what they did with their used coffee grounds at the end of the day and was shocked to hear that they were producing so much that they had to pay the council to remove and dispose 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 I 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, and we now collect from 100 coffee houses across London – our list is always growing!
How does UpCircle Beauty innovate?
Anna Brightman: 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 other brands and us is that each of our products is made with a core repurposed ingredient. No other beauty brand is doing what we do, and we are pioneering the by-product beauty movement.
The very existence of our brand, given our brand mission and model, is a demonstration of taking the lead with regards to the sustainability within our industry. No other beauty brand is doing what we do. We’re the only brand to scale up repurposing ingredients into skincare formulations. The pioneering nature of what we do is illustrated by the extent of the opposition to our idea at the start, mentors and investors alike told us that the industry was not ready, that tackling issues of waste in the “shallow” beauty industry would not work. Our rapid growth has proven that not only is it possible, but it’s also in fact, extremely popular! We hope our success will inspire the industry as a whole to become less wasteful – without compromising on quality or style. The circular element to UpCircle is what makes journalists write about us, retailers stock us, and customers try our products.
The fact that UpCircle is such innovative means that we are being used as an example of how big brands can be better, and as a source of inspiration for new brands. For example, Prince William and David Attenborough recently announced the new Earthshot Prize, which will award £50 million over 10 years to innovations and organizations that help repair the planet. In their announcement, the BBC chose to interview the US as an example of a successful planet-friendly business!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Anna Brightman: 2020 was a year of constant obstacles…to survive a year like that you have to be willing to pivot your offering and come up with new ideas.
In March, for obvious reasons, we decided to release a Hand Wash. We all did a LOT of handwashing in 2020, so you might as well make sure you’re using a good one! We decided that with every bottle sold we would donate £1 to charity, and we would rotate the charity each month. Month 1 we donated to Refuge, a domestic abuse charity, following the deeply concerning increase in domestic violence since lockdown began.
We saw a sharp increase in online sales at the start of lockdown 1, which has continued to rise ever since. However, our circular economy ethos relies on the functioning of other industries for the creation of the by-products that we use in our products. Our signature coffee scrub range, for example, is made up of coffee grounds that we collect from cafes all over London. With almost all of those coffee shops closed for the majority of the year, paired with the increase in demand for our products, we faced a huge challenge keeping our products in stock.
We donned our entrepreneurial caps, continued to think outside the box, and just about managed it… through varied and imaginative means.
We also sent out pamper parcels to show our gratitude to those working on the frontline. We announced the initiative and had 1000+ requests within the first hour. Our gesture was mentioned by press giants like The Independent, Hello and R29 – with a live interview on BBC Radio!
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Anna Brightman: I have to make difficult choices every day. But, yes, during Covid we’ve certainly had to make sacrifices that we wouldn’t normally have to make – like changing colors of our packaging temporarily because there were such limited availability and much longer lead times. Whilst this is a bit painful to have to do; fortunately, people have been very understanding. Something’s gotta give!
Lessons learned include simply letting things go and moving forwards, not looking back!
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Anna Brightman: I’ve always had a very thick skin, but it had to get even thicker since launching this business! It’s important not to take things personally and accept that you can never please everyone.
I deal with stress by keeping an active lifestyle (nothing better for relieving stress than going for a run!) and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I’m also lucky to live with my sister. She keeps me sane!
What about your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Anna Brightman: We keep our eyes open wide!! It’s always good to look at what other brands are doing and what they’re prioritizing. That said, we try not to analyze trends because they are fleeting. By the time you’ve identified a trend, it’s usually too late, as trends are backwards-facing. As a brand, you must be ahead of trends or setting them yourself.
However, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are keeping ourselves informed of the latest innovations so that our products are the best that they can be! The key element of this is seeing your brand, product or business as constantly evolving – that’s very important to us here at UpCircle.
Your final thoughts?
Anna Brightman: Our product launches for next year include an ocean-friendly SPF, a Hand Wash, Hand Lotion and Hand Sanitizer Trio, which we plan to launch widely into restaurants and hotels. We’re also developing a Night Cream and Lip Balm – all set to launch in 2021. The repurposed ingredients for those include seaweed extract and kiwi water! Stay tuned!