Meet Anna and William Brightman
Co-founders of UpCircle Beauty (formerly Optiat), William and Anna transform ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, such as used coffee grounds and brewed chai tea spices, into natural sustainable beauty products like body scrubs and soaps. Here’s their story.
1. Why did you start UpCircle Beauty and what were you doing before?
Back in 2015, we had a thought: if we’re throwing away a cafetière full of coffee grounds every morning, how much is going to waste from coffee shops all over London? A lot, as it turns out. So we decided to do something about it. We began collecting coffee grounds from artisan cafes and restaurants across London, turning them into sustainable natural skincare products.
Before this I was an area manager for a well-known supermarket chain and William worked in finance – so we both made a big change!
2. What were the biggest sources of inspiration and support when you were starting out?
Our parents have been a huge support ever since we decided to go down this road. The business was actually based out of their house for the first 2 years. We started by just taking over one small room at the top of the house as an office. By the time we moved the business out, the entire house had been completely taken over, we’re talking floor to ceiling stock – even in the kitchen. It was insane. Any parents who are willing to put up with that surely deserve a mention as top supporters!
3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting the business?
That we should all embrace our differences. William and I are polar opposites, so it would be easy to think running a business together would be a disaster. However, we have come to realise that in fact, our differences are what make us work so well as a team. No one is the full package, no one is perfect, but if we can all come together then between us we can conquer anything!
4. What has been your proudest moment/biggest achievement so far?
A standout achievement is getting offers of investment from 3 Dragons on Dragons’ Den last year. But more recently, we have reduced our plastic packaging by 99% and are pretty chuffed with that!
5. What piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out?
Don’t 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!
6. What piece of investment did you make in the business that was worth every penny?
Since launching UpCircle Beauty we have saved more than 30 tonnes of coffee waste from landfill. No mean feat. One of the necessary investments that we made was purchasing giant barrels for the coffee grounds that we collect. We used to use much smaller metal tins which would hold around 20kgs, but they were soon insufficient for the quantities we were dealing with. We’ve now got a LOT of these big barrels, taking up a vast amount of warehouse space – but we would be lost without them.
7. Which element of marketing has made the biggest impact on your business?
We feature our products in as many subscription boxes as we can. The boxes all have different themes, be it beauty boxes, vegan boxes or period boxes. They’re a great way for us to reach new customers and build a buzz on social media too.
8. What do the next 12 months look like for you?
Our intention is to keep on innovating. We’re in exciting early development stages looking into how we can make use of things like apricot stones, or even flowers left over from wedding venues. We believe consumers are already looking more at this kind of ‘sustainable activity’ from the companies they purchase from, and that will only continue. Our vision is to be the trusted skincare brand known for circular economy in the beauty industry.
Do you have an interesting story to tell about how your business got started? Tell us about it.