Sustainable Corporate Hampers Brand Spotlight - Q&A with Anna Brightman of UpCircle Beauty

Co founders of UpCircle Beauty

We are Social Stories Club, a sustainable corporate gifting supplier based in the UK. Today we are back again for one of our brand spotlights.
UpCircle Beauty create award-winning sustainable skin care using by-products from other industries. The brand is 100% natural, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, handmade in the UK and housed in 100% recyclable packaging. Creating a positive environmental impact is at the heart of what they do and by reusing would-be waste ingredients, they have already saved 350 tonnes of coffee grounds from going to landfill!

We are absolutely thrilled to feature UpCircle products in our gift boxes and we think you will love their story of impact and innovation. This week, we caught up with one of their founders, Anna Brightman to have a chat about sustainable beauty, how the idea for UpCircle came about and what’s next for this brilliant beauty brand.

 We hope you enjoy!

Firstly, tell us a bit about you got started – How did you come to realise you could use surplus coffee grounds and other would-be waste items in beauty products?

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? Our repurposed ingredient portfolio now includes ten would-be waste ingredients from varied industries, including the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries. We have collected and transformed 350 tonnes of used coffee alone, based on our current growth rates this will rise to 1,000 tonnes in the next five years.

UpCircle Beauty founder collects coffee grounds from cafes

UpCircle Beauty collect coffee grounds from artisan cafes around London.

That's amazing! So, what is the mission behind UpCircle Beauty? Can you tell us about the positive impact your brand is having?

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 is not 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.

It's also important to us that we give back. We have donated to One Tree Planted, Amazon Frontlines, Rainforest Alliance, Refuge, Save Elephant Foundation, and The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. We donated thousands of pamper parcels to frontline workers and gifted children’s books with ethic minority protagonists to over 100 UK schools, as a gesture of support for the BLM movement.

Our brand is sustainable and scalable but we maintain ethical, positive impact best practice.

It seems like in the past few years especially, there has been a huge improvement in conversations and education around sustainability and waste. What changes have you noticed in the beauty industry?

At present there is a lot of consumer interest in brands who are not impatient to make money, but impatient to enact change. Consumers want to support authentic brands that are committed to the environment, whether that is through sustainable ingredient sourcing, innovative packaging solutions, or natural and organic products. Consumers are increasingly looking for transparency - are they authentic or simply paying lip service ('greenwashing')? The idea of voting with your money is important, people want to buy from brands whose values are their own. As a brand it keeps us on the top of our game if our customers hold us accountable!

There’s also been a lot of progress in the beauty industry regarding packaging and brands beginning to offer packaging refills. We have designed our packaging return scheme to be simple and streamlined. We want as many UpCirclers as possible to make use of the scheme, so we have ironed out any pain points! There’s a separate “Refills Collection” on our website where all prices are subject to a 20% discount vs. the usual retail price. We also automatically email a Freepost return label, so it’s as simple as could be! Circular ingredients, circular use of packaging. It just makes sense!

purifying clay face mask by UpCircle Beauty

Clay Face mask - made with the fine powder from discarded olive stones

What has been your biggest business milestone to date?

It’s so hard to choose one! Having 3 dragons fighting over us on Dragons’ Den was certainly a high! When I won a live pitching event to Sainsbury’s buyers which led to our range being launched in their stores nationwide…that was pretty amazing too.

But to be completely honest, I cherish the little things the most. When customers take the time to email or even send letters, showing before and afters of their skin and letting us know how much they love UpCircle – those sorts of things that make me most proud. Knowing that I create products that make people feel good about themselves is the best and most inspiring feeling in the world.

Finally, what’s next for UpCircle Beauty? Are there any other would-be waste products you would like to experiment with?

Absolutely! Our product launches for next year include an ocean-friendly SPF, Hand Cream, Lip Balm and a bath range. The repurposed ingredients for those include seaweed extract and discarded flower petals from florists and wedding venues! We also have FIVE products launching next month. It’s still early days and we are 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 are highly motivated to continue sourcing varied ingredients that are ending up being thrown away prematurely.

We hope you enjoyed this interview as much as we did! A massive thank you to Anna for sharing her story and giving us insight into UpCircle Beauty. If you would like to learn more about UpCircle Beauty and the amazing work they are doing you can check out their website here!

You can also find UpCircle Beauty products in our brand new Christmas Gift Boxes and Build Your Own Gift in the Social Stories Club shop. If you are looking for sustainable corporate Christmas gifts for employees click here and sustainable Christmas hampers for clients click here. 

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