UpCircle Beauty is the sustainability skincare brainchild of sibling duo Anna and Will Brightman. After discovering 3 years ago, that over 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds in the UK are sent to landfills, an idea to repurpose the grounds was born.
Since then, UpCircle’s vast range has grown to include other natural ingredients in their products such as cardamom chai and tangerine.
We spoke to UpCircle’s co-founder Anna about, pitching to Dragon’s Den, the importance of sustainability, and having a work-life balance.
Where are you from?
Brixton in South London
What do you do?
I am the co-founder of UpCircle Beauty. We make sustainable skincare products from ingredients which would otherwise be discarded.
What is your typical day like?
The great thing about heading up my own company is that rather than having one clearly defined role, me and my very small team must fulfil all roles between us, which means my days are very varied. Of course, when we have a bigger team around us then this will change, but until then we are here, there and everywhere! Some days are almost entirely operations based; managing outgoing orders, manufacturing and delivery is a huge task and on some days it is all I deal with.
On other days I may be out of the office all day, we do lots of shows and festivals and I get invited to speak at many events on topics such as sustainability, zero waste and promoting a circular economy. This is something that I may have found daunting in the past, but speaking to a captive audience about a topic I am passionate about, is something that I have found increasingly difficult to be scared of! In fact, it is now one of the aspects of being a co-founder of UpCircle that I find most fulfilling.
The other thing that I absolutely love to do is research and develop new products. This is a task which I never really switch off from and often find myself thinking about a lot in the evenings or as I’m going to sleep.
How did UpCircle start?
3 years ago, we discovered that more than 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds that are consumed each year in the UK alone, are sent to landfill. I knew that coffee had amazing skin benefits, so we decided to start collecting coffee from cafes across London and transforming them into sustainable skincare products. Since launching we have saved over 100 tonnes of coffee from ending up on landfill, where it rots to produce methane.
We also expanded out from just rescuing coffee, we now repurpose other skin-loving ingredients such as brewed chai tea spices and discarded fruit stones to create our circular economy skincare products! Each product is unique and has its own story. It’s what makes our range so special.
What has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?
It’s so hard to choose one! Having 3 dragons fighting over us on Dragons’ Den was certainly a high! Hiring our first full-time member of staff was also a huge achievement. Last year I won a live pitching event to Sainsbury’s buyers which led to our range being launched in their stores nationwide… that was obviously pretty amazing too.
But if I’m completely honest I cherish the little things even more. 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 are what I value more than anything.
How do you stay healthy, body and mind?
At the end of each working day my brother William (UpCircle co-founder) and I make sure to check in with each other with what we’ve been up to. We sometimes struggle with actually drawing the line and calling it a day! We work together to ensure that we support each other so that our personal lives and our out of work priorities are unaffected – we definitely have our non-negotiables!
I have to be able to exercise, without that I get groggy and miserable. Time with my friends and family is also crucial to my happiness so I always try to weave my work life around that. I live next to Battersea Park, so when I get in from work I like to go for a jog around the park just to unwind – these sorts of things keep me healthy and happy both mentally and physically.
What inspires you?
My mum. She’s the hardest worker I know (seriously, she never stops) and yet somehow always has time for the people around her.
I’m also inspired by knowing, that I can actually make a difference. I used to work for a large corporation and I felt like I was a tiny cog in a big machine – like nothing I did really made a difference regardless of how hard I worked.
Since launching UpCircle we have rescued 100 tonnes of coffee from cafes and coffee shops across London, transforming them into our coffee-based skincare range. Based on our current growth rates it is estimated that we will have saved an additional 1000 tonnes in the next 5 years. That’s crazy! These sort of stats inspire me to keep on innovating, and to keep on finding skin-loving ingredients to rescue and transform!
What advice would you give to other girls and guys looking to start a business?
When you’re in the early days it can feel like you’re fighting against the tide, with repeated setbacks and challenges. You have to be someone who is able to just absorb those setbacks, re-think and move forward.
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!
What are your experiences of diversity?
I think there has been a fair amount of progress in diversity in makeup, but there is a lot more still to be done. Fenty Beauty did an undeniably good job of bringing the issue of the lack of makeup for ALL skin tones to the forefront. We don’t all fit into a 3 shade spectrum: light, medium or dark! The release of the 40-shade-strong foundation range in 2017 was a game-changer.
With regard to body diversity there is also still a lot of progress to be made, but things are moving in the right direction. I was adamant when we launched UpCircle that our Instagram feed would not be made up of models lying practically naked on a beach in Australia covered in coffee scrub. I wanted our feed to represent our real customers – so our “models” are just that… our actual customers! We have never used a professional model to market our products. For example the imagery on our website is actually modelled by my sister in law who was 8 months pregnant at the time. I wish more brands realised that we connect to things and people, we feel we can relate to.
In my last job I worked for a big corporate, there was very little diversity and the vast majority of management roles were held by men. Now, owning my own skincare business I have enjoyed working in a predominantly female team. I manage our warehouse and logistics and I can’t get over how surprised men are when they see me driving all the forklifts and managing the large scale shipments. They need to get with the times!
Something that comes from within. We focus so much on beauty in a physical sense but I believe beauty is more about attitude… about spirit! It’s the energy you give off and the way you impact the things and people around you. To me, this comes from personality, confidence, compassion and values.
If you could only Slapp on one beauty product, what would it be?
Our Cleansing Face Balm. The scent is unreal and the balm literally melts dirt, grime and makeup (even mascara) off your skin. It leaves my skin clean, clear and hydrating. What more could you want?!
Follow Anna: @Upcirclebeauty