Behind The Brand: Upcircle
Updated: Jun 4
London-based vegan beauty brand Upcircle are heading for iconic status just four years after launching - small wonder when they tick all the boxes for sustainability, innovation and efficacy. Co-founder Anna Brightman puts forward a very strong case as to why we should all be using it
Let’s start with the brand’s packaging. Given that 120 billion 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 which can’t be recycled, it’s nice to see brands going above and beyond to reduce this waste. Their story began with the idea of giving used coffee grounds a new lease of life, and since hooking up with hundreds of cafes across London, they have now transformed more than 250 tonnes of the stuff into our sustainable skincare. Products include coffee body and face scrubs in citrus and floral blends, blended with fragrant rosehip and orange oils, and soaps that give brewed chai tea spices a new beginning. There's a best-selling Hydrating Face Serum with jojoba, sea buckthorn and rosehip oils and their latest products are made with discarded fruit stones. Upcircle sell worldwide - not a bad effort for a team of four all under 30. Mental!
We all know that food ingredients can have powerful effects on the body - inside and out - so Upcircle take these discarded bits and bobs - coffee grounds, syrup and fruit stones - and turn them into beauty products. Wait, their marketing materials are also made from paper that’s produced from recycled coffee. All their products are cruelty-free, vegan and organic. ALL OF THEM. Here I am smothered in their Coffee Face Scrub which leaves skin feeling so soft you'll swear you've had some fancy dermabrasion session:
I’ve also tried their cleansing balm and face mask and my skin felt incredible afterwards. I’ve not used either for a long enough period for them to have the dramatic effect that so many customers report, but first impressions are seriously good. Like, 'Hello, where have you been all my life?' kind of good. So much so that I bought another cleansing balm for my friend’s birthday right after using mine. It’s so luxurious - it glides onto your skin, washes off easily and leaves your face as soft as a bunny rabbit’s tummy if you parted its fur and kissed the pink bit. You can’t get softer than that. Plus, the sustainable packaging looks lovely on my bathroom shelf and the smell is out-of-this-world divine.
This is Anna and she's here to save your skin. And the planet. We love Anna
Anna, apart from the obvious - buying your products - how can we incorporate sustainability into our beauty routine?
If you’re just starting out in trying to create a more sustainable beauty routine then just keep in mind that it will be a gradual process. Resist the urge to empty your cupboards and start all over again at once – there’s no point in creating waste in an attempt to try to minimise waste! Use up what you have, and then next time, think about what improvements you can make in each of your purchasing decisions. The key to sustainability is quality over quantity.
There have been so many innovations in skincare in the past two or three years, one of which has been the introduction of serums into our every day routine. Do they really work?
I’m a big fan of serums. Our Hydrating Face Serum is actually our best-selling and highest-rated product. It’s delicately scented with geranium and rose essential oils and infused with coffee oil extracted from recycled grounds. High in caffeine and antioxidants, coffee oil fades dark spots and under-eye circles.
I’m 47 and when I don’t get enough sleep I look like I’ve been at a rave in a field for two days and walked home through a sandstorm. My skin breaks out and the circles under my eyes are darker than Katie Price’s fake tan stains. I can't be the only one screaming for help first thing in the morning. Should I be using your serum?
Well, it’ll definitely help! It’s very multi-dimensional as it’s suitable for all skin types - light enough for those with oily skin, whilst nourishing enough for dry skin too. Similarly, it can be used morning or evening. In the morning, you can use it to nourish and brighten the skin through the day. At night, it can be used to fight wrinkles and repair skin damage.
If you want to use it as an alternative to a thick night cream you can apply the serum to cleansed skin before bed and allow it to work its magic while you sleep. You’ll wake up to soft, dewy, nourished skin.
I like the sound of that. What else from the range suits 40+ skin? Many of my friends have developed hormone-related acne in peri-menopause, some have woken up with rosacea and all of us would like to erase our lines a tiny bit.
My absolute top pick from our range for brightening up dull skin would be our Face Mask which is made with olive stones that are left over after making olive oil. The mask can be
used to fight blackheads, minimise pores and prevent breakouts, leaving the skin cleansed, refreshed and balanced. The mask also contains one of the kaolin that removes dirt and impurities from the skin without causing redness or irritation. Turmeric oil in the mask acts as a strong antibacterial and antiseptic agent, leaving the skin looking refreshed and bright. Like we’ve woken up in a Snapchat filter? Haha, yes. Turmeric oil is also known to improve the skin’s resilience – which is great for more mature skin.
Hoorah! What else is in this magic? The olive powder acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and a source of antioxidants. Antioxidants fight cell degradation, which can in turn, help to prevent the signs of aging. Is that all? It also has soothing and strengthening properties. The presence of the powder in our face mask formulation helps to create its gorgeous texture. It has a light, mousse-like consistency and the powder helps with the ease with which it can be spread across the skin. A lot of masks can leave your skin feeling a little tight and dry, but ours is a different story.
This stuff is the nuts. Trust me
What if we’re not sure of our skin type? On our website you can actually shop by skin concern and we list all the products suitable for that issue. We also create bundles of products, like the ‘Dull to Dazzling’ bundle, the ‘Acne Attacker’, the ‘Redness Reducer’ or the ‘Dry Skin Drencher’ – so all the tough decision-making is done for you! We tell you how to use each product on the website, too.
Cool bananas. How did you figure out what ingredients would work to target specific problems? Did you make mistakes and come up with a cleanser made out of old fish fingers or a toner from monkey wee?
Um, nope! We do round after round of formulating and reformulating until we end up with the products that we release. But even after releasing I think you should never view a product as ‘finished’. It should constantly evolve and respond to the latest innovations. We are always willing to upgrade and improve our products time and time again.
Your products tick every box as far as being cruelty-free and eco-friendly goes. How easy was it to find a manufacturer that understood your passion for sustainability?
There’s been a lot of trial and error, and we had to start over on numerous occasions, but we kept going and found solutions that work. There’s definitely a reason why other brands haven’t been able to scale this concept in the way that we have - it’s not easy - but we have had the same manufacturer since day one, so that helps.
How did you fund the business? When we started in April 2016 we were looking for some initial capital to help launch the business, so we applied and received a Virgin Start Up Loan. Around August 2017, Virgin contacted us to advise that they were running their inaugural Crowdboost programme and asked if were looking to raise capital via crowdfunding. As it happened, we only had about six months to take advantage of our SEIS eligibility, so we applied!
This provided us with a platform for growth and gave us access to a wide range of investors. The capital we raised from crowdfunding enabled us to rebrand, implementing all the lessons that we learnt during our first two years and using them to relaunch the business.
Do your products have to pass billions of tests before they go on sale?
All products sold in the UK must go through rigorous testing into things like efficacy, compatibility and stability. We are a vegan and cruelty-free brand so there’s strictly no animal testing involved at any stage. We’re also a Soil Association and COSMOS certified brand, which gives our products a trusted seal of approval and signals to consumers that the ingredients can be relied on to be safe and efficacious.
Finally, what new products do you have in the pipeline? I can’t even imagine where you’re going next – celery stalks turned into make-up brushes, spat-out cat tablets into foot scrubs?
Not quite! Our intention is to keep on innovating. Our most recent range was made from upcycled powdered fruit stones, and at the moment we’re working with surplus fruit waters from the juicing industry and rescuing flower petals from local florists.
You’re like the mad scientist, Dr Emmet, in Back to the Future - but better looking. Are you as busy as him, too?
Yes! We’ve got six new products set to launch before Christmas - a toner, body cream, hand lotion, and some more zero-waste beauty accessories like bamboo make-up remover pads.
That's your Christmas list sorted. You can buy Upcircle products in Boots, Holland & Barrett, Sainsbury’s and Whole Foods and also on their lovely website where you can also get advice on products, how to use them and read their glowing customer reviews. You'll also get 10% off your first order when you sign up. Give it a go and tell them I said hello:
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