Creating a circular retail model: UpCircle Beauty

UpCircle Beauty - How to create a circular retail model

Winner of the Good Retail Awards’ Sustainability Initiative Award, UpCircle Beauty, has gone above and beyond to contribute positively to the environment through their circular retail model. Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Anna Brightman, Co-Founder of UpCircle Beauty about their inspirational approach to sustainable retail.

Meet UpCircle Beauty

UpCircle Beauty believes sustainability should be circular, which is why they are proud to be the UK’s #1 upcycled skincare brand. They offer truly differentiated products that are forward-thinking, planet-friendly, high performance and accessibly priced.

“The brand has existed for about 6 and a half years now and started with the idea of wanting to find a solution to coffee waste, which is a large-scale environmental issue that not many people know about. We were shocked when we found out that when it is disposed of by industries, it rots and produces methane in landfill. This is where the brand idea came from, that we could use this in our products. We have expanded on this product and become the UK’s number 1 circular beauty brand, leading with this boldly and unapologetically in everything we do.

“We now work with more than 20 upcycled ingredients and our growth has been astounding. It’s amazing to see the industry and consumers are ready to take on an approach like ours in the beauty industry.”

UpCircle Beauty using waste ingredients in their circular retail model

Changing attitudes towards circular retail

In recent years, there has been a noticeable change in consumers’ preferences and buying habits. Anna explained the trends she has spotted.

“We have definitely noticed a shift, particularly post-covid. Consumers have become a lot more savvy about what sorts of products they put on their skin, the brands they want to support and the idea of voting with your money has also become a big concept. People are wanting to shop small and shop local and they care a lot more about the things they put on their body and the ethics of cosmetics, particularly with young consumers.”

UpCircle Beauty using waste ingredients in their circular retail model

Creating a circular returns scheme

UpCircle Beauty has launched a packaging returns scheme that sees customers get their very own packaging returned back to them, as well as introducing a discounted ‘Refills Collection’ service. Anna explained how this model was introduced, as well as the response it has received.

“This is something we wanted to do from day one. We’re known for our circular use of ingredients, so it made sense that we’d have circular packaging as well. The beauty industry has a bad reputation for packaging, so things like a pump in a beauty product are often very difficult to recycle, for example.

UpCircle Beauty - How to create a circular retail model

“We started by looking at the brands that advertise themselves as refill schemes and made purchases, so we were customers and could see how it worked and what the pain points were. We found that many didn’t have the schemes advertised well, or were only available on one product. Some people had packaging returns, but you could send back your perfect packaging and get somebody else’s back that had dents and marks, which would be disappointing.

“We sell our refill products with a 20% discount, so you purchase any product you want that you have empty packaging for, ready to be refilled. You get a prepaid sticker by us, pop your jars in a box, they come back to our warehouse, we sterilise using dry heat, refill it and send it back with any other products you’ve ordered, all together.

“It’s been growing month on month by 20%. It’s something we’re very proud of and we’re putting a lot of staff, time and money into it. It’s been so worth it in the end.”

Challenges to improve sustainability practices

As with every great idea, it will come as no surprise that there have been challenges to overcome in introducing this circular retail model.

“There have been lots of challenges and we try to communicate that it’s not always plain sailing. On social media, everything is made to look easy, but it takes trial and error and a lot of grit, hard work and money essentially being wasted by trying something and it not working out perfectly at first. Our determination has kept us as frontrunners as we’ve persevered.

“When we started, we were one of the first people doing things like this, so at the beginning, we had to get everything like ingredients tested ourselves. Now it’s more popular, so we can speak with a supplier and see if it’s something they have available and they can send us samples of something they’ve already got the certifications for and that they’ve done the processing of.

UpCircle Beauty using waste ingredients in their circular retail model

“Because of our commitment to circularity, we have complex certification challenges. Some suppliers don’t see gaining certifications on waste products as their priority, which makes it too challenging to have certifications everywhere. The certification bodies acknowledge this as a problem and we hope this is something that will be resolved before long.“

Major milestones

When asked about the stand-out moments since the launch of UpCircle Beauty, Anna said:

“Launching with our first American retailer, going on Dragon’s Den and starting to grow a team have been major milestones. Me and my brother are now supporting a team of 20 people. We sell in 45 countries with a team of just 20 people and we can bring people into our team and offer them full autonomy. We make sure people feel their ideas are listened to and our brand offers that, which is something that brings me joy.”

Creating a circular retail business - Good Retail Awards profile with UpCircle Beauty

The future of UpCircle Beauty

UpCircle Beauty has big plans to continue to grow and evolve, making sure they can benefit as many as possible with their circular retail model. 

“We’re always looking to continue to innovate and look at what the next thing could be. The next thing we do will be our first entry into the haircare category. Finally, we’ve come up with a hybrid of a liquid and solid shampoo which is 50% lighter but delivers 3 times more washes than a traditional shampoo would. So this is the sort of thing where we’ll wait until we get it right and are doing something truly right before choosing to launch something. This represents us going into a new category.”

Creating a circular retail business - Good Retail Awards profile with UpCircle Beauty

Staying up to date with UpCircle Beauty

There are countless ways to stay up to date with the latest news at UpCircle Beauty.

“We have fantastic customer care at hello@upcirclebeauty and we’re very proud of the personal touch we take with personal contact. We’re on all socials, including Instagram and TikTok, which we use a lot. You can also sign up to our email mailing list. Every week, we send out emails that we try to use for idea sharing and sharing a circular lifestyle. This includes ideas on how to make skincare products from items you already have in the home, to upcycling activities you can do… so it’s more of a channel of inspiration and shows our dedication to a circular lifestyle. We try to practice what we preach, even beyond skincare.”

UpCircle Beauty's business model interview

Winning at The Good Retail Awards

Anna shared what it means to have won the Sustainability Initiative Award at the Good Retail Awards.

“It means the absolute world to us. We’re a small team where every person in the team is fully responsible for their area of the business. So getting recognition for the hard work helps us continue to push forwards. It gives that added drive and it lifts spirits, particularly this time of year. Our refill scheme was entirely executed by one person in our team for example, so it means the world to us.”

Catherine Erdly, Founder and Retail Strategy Consultant of the Resilient Retail Club, commented: “It’s great to see a focus on a refill scheme that is easy and intuitive for customers to take advantage of.”

Click here to view the full list of Good Retail Awards 2023 winners.