BTM in Convo With UpCircle Founder Anna Brightman

Jul 20, 2021 | Conversation

Anna Brightman is the co-founder of sustainable beauty brand UpCircle. Launched alongside her brother William in 2016, the business has grown to new heights with an array of products made from typically wasted materials. Team BTM spoke to Anna all about books, business & having a more sustained difference on the world.

How did The UpCircle Journey begin?

At UpCircle, we make sustainable skincare products from ingredients which would otherwise be discarded. We’re doing things differently and are known as the pioneers of “by-product beauty” or “circular skincare”. Nature gives us lots of wonderful ingredients that make our skin healthier and more radiant – like used coffee grounds, fruit stones and brewed chai spices. But they often end up going to landfill. Why should all that good stuff go to waste? It shouldn’t. That’s why we repurpose more than ten by-product ingredients from varied industries, including the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries.

The idea began five years ago. I asked a 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. 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 my lightbulb moment! Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable circular skincare products?

How imperative is sustainability in everything you do as a brand?

Our brand ethos is built into everything we do and every decision we make. For example, each decision we make has to pass what we call the “win-win-win test”. Is it a win for the skin? Is it a win for UpCircle as a business (cost, availability, supply)? Is it a win for the grower (fair trade, adding value to a plant already being harvested for another purpose)? Every ingredient we upcycle answers these questions with “yes”, making them sustainable from ideation to creation. 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. Sustainability isn’t a part of our business, it IS our business.

Not so long ago, the gold standard for beauty brands was to deliver a great product. Now brands are expected to go much further, to stand for something beyond their products. Beauty brands must prove that there is a reason for their existence, one that contributes in some way positively to the environment, to society, or to supporting individual expression. Our products are natural, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, sustainable, handmade in the UK and housed in 100% recyclable packaging. We back this up with certification from Soil Association and COSMOS. We say that “natural” is the new “normal” – so let’s stand out from the crowd by going a step further.

What is the future for UpCircle?

The products that are set to launch before the end of the year include a Night Cream made with repurposed blueberry extract and a Hand + Body Wash and Lotion pair which are infused with upcycled kiwi and bergamot juice. We’ve also got a range of ocean-friendly tinted SPFs AND a Hand Cream all lined up to launch before Christmas – we’re keeping very busy behind the scenes! We’re eager to be able to offer a full skincare offering, to cater to whatever skincare concern you may have, so new product development is a big focus for us. We’re highly motivated to continue sourcing varied ingredients that are ending up being thrown away prematurely.

Some other by-product ingredients that we’re experimenting with include flower petals from the floristry industry which we’d like to use in bath products and gin distillery by-products that we’d like to use in a Hand Sanitizer. Lots to look forward to!

As if this isn’t enough, we’re also relaunching our candles and our face scrubs with new and improved plastic-free packaging and a fresh new look. Our candles for example have been renamed as “Chai Latte” and “Espresso Martini” to echo the repurposed drinks industry by-products that they are infused with, namely coffee grounds collected from cafes and brewed chai spices that were originally used to make chai syrups!

Here are some recent up to date repurposed ingredient stats which help bring our brand mission to life:

  • In June we made enough body cream to rescue the equivalent of 50,000 date seeds from being discarded
  • Our last batch of soaps was infused with 2 tonnes of brewed chai spices
  • Last month we collected 25 tonnes of coffee from cafes
  • Each face scrub is made with the equivalent of four espresso shots
  • To make 1kg of blueberry extract, which is the hero ingredient of our upcoming Night Cream, the oil of 800,000 berries which would otherwise have gone to waste, is salvaged

You were recently selected for Forbes 30 Under 30, how exciting is it to be a young Female Founder at the moment?

Very exciting! As a founder, I keep a personal target to speak purely on female-focussed issues once a week. I’ve given careers lectures in girls’ schools, offered mentorship to teenage girls looking to start their own business, and featured on countless podcast episodes as a guest speaker, often on the subject of female empowerment or women in business. I also give frequent talks on podcasts and webinars to knowledge-share and inspire the next generation of “green” entrepreneurs.

That said, there is still a long way to go… I am a part of several female founder networks, which I enjoy being involved in. It’s great to see women supporting women. However, I would love it if more men got involved with supporting women in business too! For example, every single International Women’s Day event I’ve ever been involved in has been run and attended by women..

Also, it’s worth mentioning that I co-founded my brand alongside my brother. We have separate, clearly defined roles but we run the business as an equal partnership. I find continually that people view him as the true “CEO” which is obviously frustrating. When someone calls and asks for the “person in charge” and are met with a female voice, I have been shocked at how frequently that results in me being asked to take a message before my brother is available. This only makes me even more passionate about using my platform to hopefully inspire young girls.

“Our brand name encapsulates our core purpose: sustainability and promoting the power of the circular economy”

Anna Brightman, Founder of UpCircle

What’s the one piece of advice you would offer to fellow Female Founders?

Ironically, to not feel obliged to take onboard everyone’s advice. No one knows your business, your personality or your life like you do, so trust your instinct. There’s no harm in listening, but you don’t have to take everyone’s advice and run with it!

I have come to believe that absorbing as much advice as possible at the start was in fact distracting, and only served to water down my ideas through fear of offending or minimising my audience. I now think you risk being pulled in too many different directions at once if you take on too many opinions. We underwent a rebrand two years into our brand journey to undo all the advice we received from people we thought knew better than us. Turns out they didn’t! Instead, be bold, have conviction and don’t be afraid to be the first to do something. The very existence of my brand, given the brand mission and model, is a demonstration of taking the lead with regards to sustainability within our industry. 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, it’s 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.

Our subscribers always love to know – what is your favourite book?

Oooh, it’s far too difficult to choose just one! Last month was Pride Month. As a Team we shared some of our favourite LGBTQ+ resources, from podcasts to books and films. One of the books that came up was “All In” which is the autobiography of tennis player Billie Jean King. It was a great read, covering all topics from trans rights, to inequality in sports, to gun control. I loved it.

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