Here is an interview with Anna Brightman, co-founder of UpCircle, who has made a business in repurposing waste into valuable personal care products.
Hello Anna! Can you tell us what your business is and the ambition behind it?
We make sustainable skincare products from upcycled natural ingredients. We salvage these by-products from other industries – primarily the food industry. 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.
For example, the UK produced 23,000 tonnes of fruit stone waste in 2012 alone. So, we released our “fruit stone range”, within which each product is made with the powder of a different discarded fruit stone.
What is the background of the business?
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. One morning his way to work at his previous job William 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.
William 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… that was our 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 hundreds of coffee houses across London – our list is always growing.
Your business is a perfect example of a circular economy business model - finding value in waste, and keeping it in the system for longer. Did you know about the idea of the circular economy before you started?
Yes absolutely. It’s been encouraging to see more and more businesses cropping up over the last five years or so that have a circular model. The world has finite resources, and at the minute we are depleting them at a scary rate. So, if you ask me, businesses that extend the lifecycle of things that are already in circulation, or find ways to reimagine something that was previously seen as being at the end of its service life, are the future!
How easy has it been to have people see the purpose of your mission?
We lead with the efficacy of the end product. In the beauty industry, how “eco” or trendy your story is, is useless if the product doesn’t do what you’ve bought it for.
Our products are collaborative by nature, lots of people are involved in the process of making them and the supply chain spans different industries. The provenance of each product is unique – it’s one of the things that makes our products so special. However, it’s vital that everyone involved understands why we are doing what we’re doing, and what is made as a result of all of our efforts.
Take the coffee supply chain for example. It’s important that café staff and baristas understand why we come each day to collect their coffee – we do this by dropping off samples of the scrubs every once in a while. The next time we go by, those who hadn’t previously tried our products are all of a sudden so much more passionate and eager to get behind our brand mission!
What is your stance on plastic within the beauty industry? How do you manage this in your business, and in your supply chain?
The world has a serious problem with plastic. The beauty industry – glamorous as it may be – is a major contributor. Billions of units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, bulked out by the use of complex lids, multi-layered boxes and cellophane, much of which is superfluous, non-recyclable and ends up in our landfills and oceans. The packaging across our range is 99% plastic-free and we offer plastic-free refill options for the 1%. Aside from our actual products, our marketing materials are made from paper that’s made from recycled coffee cups and we only use paper tape which has been made from recycled fibres.
There’s no point in putting so much effort towards making sustainable formulations if the rest of our business is unsustainable – consistency is key!!
You recently launched your first plastic-free razor. Tell us all about it!
Our Safety Razor uses double edge razor blades to give the closest possible shave whilst being gentle to the skin and economical to use. Many people suffer from shaving irritation, ingrowing hairs and poor quality shave from using electric or disposable plastic razors. For these reasons, many people are turning to safety razors as a solution. The sharp single blade gives an extremely close shave without needing multiple blades to go over the same area which can lead to irritation.
What was the reason you wanted to do it?
We wanted to create a product that would help people wave goodbye to disposable plastic razors! In 2018 approximately 5.5 million people in the UK were using disposable razors. Throwing these away on a weekly basis, it’s not hard to imagine how much is ending up in landfills. Disposable razors are not easily recycled because they are made from mixed materials and the sharp nature is hazardous and clogs up landfill sites. Our razor is 100% chrome, 0% plastic! It’s a much more sustainable shaving option, it’s unisex, it provides a better shave and it’s more aesthetic to look at too! It felt like a no-brainer.
The only challenge has been getting people over the line for the first time. The idea of handling and fitting your own razor blade can be pretty intimidating for someone who has only ever used a disposable. I filmed a very short how-to video and built it into the product page which definitely helped to demonstrate just how easy it is.
Response from your customers.
It’s the best-selling product from our UpCircle Accessories range and our fourth best-selling product overall… that says it all really!
A big part of your business is your social contributions - How do you choose the partners you work with/ missions to support?
This depends on what seems most relevant at the time. We’ve all been doing a LOT of handwashing in 2020, 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. In month 2 we donated to Save Elephant Foundation, helping captive elephants at risk from the lack of income for their owners, due to the absence of tourism during this time. In month 3 we are donating to The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust which works to influence others to create a fairer society in which everyone, regardless of their background, can flourish.
We have more than one passion and our brand represents more than one thing, so we give back in varied ways to varied causes.
Are there any businesses you want to shout about - our readers love to learn more about other brands with similar values
There are some incredible brands out there, all you need to do is look. If you’d like some inspo check out the likes of Rubies in the Rubble, Nibs Etc. Toast Ale, Elvis & Cresse, Wyatt & Jack, Retrospecced, By Rotation.. the list goes on!
Thank you Anna!