Anna is the co-founder of UpCircle Beauty, the brand known for pioneering the “by-product beauty” trend. When Anna discovered that more than 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds that are consumed each year in the UK alone are sent to landfill, she decided to start collecting coffee from cafes across London and transforming it into skincare products. Since launching UpCircle has saved over 400 tonnes of coffee. The brand also rescues and reuses ingredients from the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries. Anna’s brand has seen staggering growth in the last five years, selling hundreds of thousands of products per year worldwide.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
At UpCircle we make sustainable skincare products from upcycled by-product ingredients. Not only are our ingredients circular, our packaging is too – we have a full packaging return and refill scheme across the UK. Our products are sold in thousands of locations across 40 different countries. In fact, an UpCircle best-seller sells every 90 seconds. We’re backed by dermatologists and celebrities and are certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny. We also remove more ocean-bound plastic than we create as a business, paying the wages of waste-workers in India. We’re proud to be the UK’s #1 upcycled skincare brand.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
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? 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!
How did you achieve awareness?
In the very early days, whilst still working our previous jobs, we booked ourselves in to as many trade and consumer shows as we possibly could. Most were related to the beauty industry but we also visited and exhibited at wellness shows, fitness shows, vegan shows – anywhere we thought the audience would be interested in us. It was a great way to test the market and gauge people’s responses to our products and concept.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We started with a start up loan, then we did a crowdfund. In 2020 we launched our sustainable skincare range into 2000+ retail doors across the UK and USA, tripled the size of our team and launched seven new products. All in the height of a global pandemic. It’s safe to say we have bold ambition for the years to come!
Growing our team is something that excites me greatly. With each new member we have a new wave of excitement, passion and personality. We hired our first ever staff member in 2019, in 2020 we grew to a team of eight and less than a year later we’re up to fifteen!
What are the key successes?
A couple for me would include being listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 or having three dragons fighting over us on Dragons’ Den. Both are things that I can’t actually believe happened!
But to be honest I cherish the little things the most – they are my highlights. 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.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
We face new challenges each and every day. That said, it’s crazy to think that in just six short years we’ve created a range that repurposes FIFTEEN by-product ingredients from varied industries, including the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries.
Being a disruptor brand means that the path that you forge will always be bumpy. Our business is centred on innovation, our tagline is “Pioneering skincare. Regenerative by design.” So, more often than not, we’re the first beauty brand to be working with these ingredients at scale – so we’ve had to figure out our supply chain, manufacturing and general operational hurdles ourselves.
Whichever manufacturer we work with needs to be totally behind our circular economy ethos. This is important because there has been a LOT of trial and error. We’ve faced a lot of hurdles and had to start over on numerous occasions, there have been highs but there have also been lots of lows! The most important thing is that we kept going and found solutions that work.
As a founder you set the tone for your whole team, so there can be a fair bit of putting on a brave face! My resilience is helped by my ability to find humour in any situation – when the world is crashing down what else can you do but laugh?! Then, just roll your sleeves up and get it sorted!
What are your plans now/for the future?
New opportunities for us to bring to fruition in the future land into our inboxes every day! 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 released five new products just before Christmas. It’s still early days and 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.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Starting my own business is the best thing I’ve ever done. Hard, yes, but the most rewarding thing in the world.
No two days are the same. A typical day here contains everything from new product research and testing, to branding meetings, to social media planning, to speaking on panels, conferences and talks. We’re all our own bosses within the team, we set our own to-do lists. It’s dynamic, busy and exciting every day!
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Be bold, have conviction and don’t be afraid to be the first to do something.
One of my other tips (ironically) is 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 of my brand journey 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.
Some of the qualities you’ll need include grit, determination, the ability to see humour in any situation, a problem-solving attitude and ability to dust off your shoulders and start again. Here at UpCircle we have bold ambition for the years to come, but each member of our team knows that it’s up to us to make those plans a reality. A can-do attitude is an absolute must.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you and why?
Viola Davis, Dolly Parton, Michelle Obama, Jameela Jamil, Grace Tame, Dolly Alderton, Stacey Dooley, Grace Tame, Rihanna, my Mum, my sister, my sister in law – the list goes on!
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
All socials are @upcirclebeauty and our website is https://upcirclebeauty.com/