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Interview with Anna Brightman, Co-founder of UpCircle Beauty

In this video, Dr Maria Sherrington interviews Anna Brightman, Co-founder of UpCircle Cosmetics to find out more about this sustainable brand.
Welcome, Anna, and thank you very much for speaking to us today. So first of all, I’d like to ask you to explain to us the unique story of how you started UpCircle Beauty. Sure. So for anyone who’s not clear, UpCircle is a skincare brand, and our ethos is centred on using byproducts as our core ingredients. So the idea happened just over four years ago now. The brand’s founded by myself and my brother, William. I think it’s fair to say that we both came from fairly corporate backgrounds, pretty safe career paths, nice paycheck, nice opportunity, progression, all of that. But fundamentally, we would come home at the end of the day, thinking, is this it? Is this my career for life?
And perhaps wanting to do something that had, I suppose, a greater value in the world. And so then, you kind of begin this period of knowing that you want to switch, but not having that idea, and you’re sort of waiting for inspiration. And often, when you talk of starting a business, you think of it as having a problem and a solution. And so it was my brother, William, who, I guess, found the problem that we wanted to solve. So on his way to work one morning, he went into a coffee shop and asked them out of complete curiosity, what do you guys do with all of the coffee that you produce throughout the day?
Like, what happens to it at the end of the day? And he was really shocked when they told him that - this is just a small, independent cafe, not a big chain - they produce so much per day that they have to pay the local council to dispose of it at landfill. And so all of a sudden, he’s like, “right, well, that’s crazy, you know, think about how popular coffee is and think about how many cafes are doing the same thing, just chucking away all of this coffee to landfill”. So that was our problem. We wanted to find a way to use this ingredient, and that was kind of where I came in.
And teenager, I wanted to be a makeup artist, and I knew of all of the great skincare benefits of coffee. So I said, oh, why don’t we start collecting it, saving these cafes the expense of just sending it to landfill, and turn it into skincare products instead. So that’s what we started doing, and then we just built that out as our concept. So originating with coffee, and then broadening that out, and making our concept, being that each of our products would recycle a byproduct from another industry that we would then use in this skincare formulation instead. Sounds great.
So looking at your website, it’s very clear that you are guided by a mission, and you express a vision on there as well. Could you please tell us a little bit more what your mission and your vision, what they involve? Yeah, of course. So I think first and foremost, we’re a brand with a purpose. We want to leave the world better than we found it. We want to have a positive impact. I think that the beauty industry has quite a poor reputation when it comes to the impact on the planet. It’s seen as quite superficial, quite fickle. It’s aesthetics before anything else.
So we want to help to shake that reputation, I suppose, by showing that you can create high-performing products that work. They do what you’re buying them for, which is the most important thing, but they also do not have a negative impact on the planet. So you can talk about the sort of stamps that we represent, the tick boxes that we tick. All the standard ones. We’re natural, we’re vegan, we’re cruelty-free, it’s sustainable, it’s responsible packaging, it’s all handmade in the UK. We’re obviously a family-run business and a young team.
But then, beyond that, as a female founder, particularly, there are other things that I want my products and my brand to stand for, particularly given that we’re working within the beauty industry, and that’s a general inclusivity. I think that the beauty industry that we don’t want to be a part of can make women in particular feel insecure or like they’re not good enough, or it’s just fundamentally unrealistic in its messaging or its imagery. So I want UpCircle to be different, in that we represent skincare for all. And we do that through many, many different things. But for example, we would never ever Photoshop our images. We don’t use professional models.
We use friends and family and people that love our product, genuine customers. I speak on female issues as frequently as I possibly can. And so those are some of the broader values, I suppose, that we also stand for as a brand, beyond our core mission, which is to minimise waste by reimagining ingredients in skincare. You’ve spoken about the use of byproducts. So you’ve spoken about the start of the business and the coffee grounds and so on. And given the fact that your signature coffee scrub is made up of coffee grounds, that you collect from coffee shops all over London, given the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of a lot of those coffee shops, how did you…
And at the same time, I know that the demand for your products increased. How have you gone about actually keeping the products in stock, given the potential shortage of those byproducts? It’s been a huge challenge. Our biggest challenge of 2020, and unfortunately, it looks like that’s going to continue into 2021 as well. Yeah. It’s been difficult. Demand increased massively, and supply chain got a lot more complicated. Lead times tripled. And right now, Brexit isn’t making life any easier either, so we face a huge mountain every single day. And I guess we just had to go back to the sort of entrepreneurial spirit that got us here in the first place, and really just think outside the box.
So our daily coffee collection yield, for example, went down to about 20% of what we normally would be collecting. So we got on the phones, and we started looking for mobile coffee trucks, which seemed to pop up here, there, and everywhere, and started basically collecting from them instead. We were very fortunate in March of last year that we had just finished a collection round, so we were sat on large volumes of stock at the start of the first lock-down. But we’re just… I think technically in the third lock-down now, and we are absolutely not in the same position.
So there are complications, and we do rely on the functioning of other industries in order for the byproducts that we’re working with to be created. But yes, you’ve just got to think outside the box and make it happen, basically. It’s difficult. We’ve had to make some sacrifices at points, switching out ingredients or changing the colour of packaging. But those are small sacrifices to make on the grand scheme of things, and yeah, we’ve managed it so far. We’ll continue to manage it. But with something like the coffee it was, yeah, a switch to mobile trucks…
Brilliant. So you’ve explained to us that your products contain ingredients that you’ve rescued from other industries. So what bypoducts other than coffee do you use? I mean, I’ve looked at your blog, and it seems that fresh flowers are up next? But there are also other products that you, well, byproducts from other industries that you use. So could you explain that a little bit, please? Of course. Yes, so as mentioned, we started out with coffee grounds. And coffee in skincare is a hugely popular product, so beyond just working with the physical grounds, we then extracted the oil from coffee as well, which we use in a facial serum and a more recent eye cream that we’ve launched as well.
So we work with coffee in the two different forms of that ingredient. And then, after we’d kind of, I guess, made a name for ourselves as those crazy people going around collecting coffee grounds, we started to have lots of other businesses coming to us, saying, okay, I’ve run a chai tea company, and once I’ve brewed through these gorgeous aromatic spices, they unfortunately have to go in the bin, but they still smell incredible. Would you like to use those? And that’s exactly what we did. So we partnered with a Bath-based family-run chai tea company. We dry and grind their spices into our natural soap bars. So that’s another one of our ingredients.
We also work with powdered fruit stones, varied fruit stones, so apricot stones, olive stones, even argan shells that are a byproduct from the argan oil industry that are sourced all over the world. But there are always ingredients that have lots of great benefits in skincare. Beyond that, more recently, we’ve started working with the residual water from fruits. So to explain that a little, if you think about when you make a juice concentrate, so take mandarin juice, for example. The mandarin is squeezed, and then the juice is taken away from that. But the water is evaporated off, and that water is what we are collecting.
It’s more sustainable than a mineral-filtered water, and it’s enriched with all of the intrinsic benefits from the fruit, so loads of vitamins in there, amino acids, et cetera, which have great skincare benefits. And if you go into your bathroom cabinets and you have a look on the ingredients list of those products, you’ll see in the vast majority of them, the first ingredient is water. So it’s a fantastic target ingredient in skincare for replacing with a more sustainable alternative. That’s why we’ve started now infusing these byproduct fruit waters into our products as well. We are also collecting maple bark extract, which is a byproduct from the wood industry. And as you mentioned, up next, we’re working with flower petals.
One of the locations that we have is a railway arch, which we use for storage and some production. And all of the other archways are occupied by florists. So I started noticing that every Monday, they throw away all of the unsold flowers from the previous week. And to me, or anyone else, they look perfect. So to see these giant industrial bins just filled with beautiful flowers. So we’re starting to collect those, separating and drying out the flowers, and are hoping to create some gorgeous petal-infused bath products, hopefully in time for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, all of those lovely gifting events for the year.
Tell us about your packaging and your approaches to that. So I think packaging is probably one of the main areas that gives the beauty industry its bad reputation. And the reason for that is that a lot of the products… Performance really does come first, and we’ve learned that. Yes, we have a new permission, but you don’t want that environmental story to be at the sacrifice of the ease of the use of the product or the efficacy of the product. So what that often means in packaging is that the parts of the packaging are multi-material.
If you think of pump mechanisms or sprays or pipettes, you might have glass, rubber, plastic all in one piece, and that’s where recyclability becomes very challenging. So our approach is that we try to minimise our use of plastic wherever possible. Our packaging is 100% collectible. But we do have 1% of plastic packaging, and that is almost always in the lid or the pump. But we try to think of simple, easy solutions to, again, keep that use of plastic at a minimum. So for any of those products that do contain an element of plastic packaging, we offer a plastic-free refill option. So take our serum, for example.
It has a pipette, but we also offer a version of the exact same product with a simple aluminium lid. This means that for our customers, once they’ve bought one serum, for every repeat purchase after that, they buy it with the aluminium cap, and they simply swap the pipettes from their first purchase over to their second, third, fourth, fifth, et cetera. Same with our scrubs. We use aluminium tubes that have no plastic at all. There’s no plastic lining. And even the top of the tube is just folded. It’s not sealed with a glue, because often glues are what make things more difficult to recycle. All of these materials are chosen, because they can be easily recycled at home.
You don’t need a special recycling plant to visit. They can just be put in with all of your usual kitchen recycling. But unfortunately, aluminium tubes don’t yet have a compatible non-plastic lid, so we offer repeat purchases with no lid at all. We collect those lids, we save them, and we re-send them back to the manufacturers, which results in a huge amount of saved plastic that just begins the loop again, basically. So we’re always just trying to think of solutions to make or offer choices, I suppose, for our customers that they can either choose to use or not use, but that help us to create the most sustainable or ethical products that we possibly can.

In this video, Co-founder of UpCircle Beauty Anna Brightman is interviewed by Dr Maria Sherrington. Anna Brightman shares the unique story of how UpCircle Beauty was started. Viewers will learn more about the company mission of ‘leaving the world better than we found it’ and how this feeds into the various elements of their marketing mix.

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