An interview with Kimberly Voang
Hello Kimberly, UpCircle Beauty™ is based in South London and is a rising star in the skincare sky. How would you describe the company in three sentences?
We save leftover ingredients and upcycle them into beautiful skincare. We’re on a mission to make upcycled skincare the mainstream, proving that you don’t have to choose between doing the right thing and getting the best results. We’re proud to be the UK’s #1 upcycled beauty brand.
What would you say is the main age group or the average age of your customers?
The average UpCircler is 35-40 years old. However, we have customers of all ages!
Would you say that the two founders of UpCircle, the siblings Anna and William Brightman, hit the Zeitgeist with their products?
Our founders created a brand that forces us to challenge our perceptions of what we consider as waste, the products are all about seeing potential where others don’t. The UpCircle founders started a movement to make circular skincare both aspirational and accessible. They saw that sustainable ingredients are increasingly becoming an entry-level expectation, rather than a point of difference. Just being natural or organic is no longer enough. In fact, we go as far as to say that “natural” is the new “normal” and normal is boring. So, we go a step further with our waste-fighting formulations.
We hope not only that companies can look to minimising what they are wasting but also that more people like us can step in to give a new purpose to those ingredients that companies can’t find a use for in their own industry. Hopefully, UpCircle is proof that waste doesn’t need to be wasted.
On your ingredients list I count 18 different ingredients like juices, extracts, powders, seeds, fruit water, grounds, oil, stones, stems, petals etc. that are used for products. Where and how do you source all these ingredients?
We upcycle 20 different by-product ingredients from varied industries, including the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries into our skincare formulations.
The ingredients we upcycle are grown organically and harvested seasonally, they’re also grown in the climates that suit the plants best. For example, we upcycle mandarin fruits grown in Seville in Spain. The fact that we are purchasing part of the farmed plant that originally had no value means that we are providing a new revenue stream for the growers.
Our upcycled extracts, waters and powders are obtained without flash distillation nor microwaves, they are the result of only natural processes. We repurpose residual fruit waters leftover after the creation of juice concentrates. Water is often the first ingredient in skincare. It therefore plays an important role in the sustainability of the overall formulation and is a great target ingredient to replace with a more sustainable alternative.
Where and how are the by-products processed/upcycled so that they can be used for your creams, cleansers etc.? Can you talk me through this process?
That depends on the ingredient and is different for each one. I’ll give two examples:
We collect over 100kgs of coffee a day and can make 42,000 face scrubs per month with the quantity we are currently collecting. We're partnered with over 100 independent coffee shops across London that we collect the used coffee from and we've rescued 400 tons of coffee so far.
Our Face Mask is made with the fine powder of discarded olive stones. Olive stones are a by-product of olive oil production, we source them from Benamejí (Andalucia) at the heart of the Spanish olive growing region. The olive powder is combined with rejuvenating white kaolin clay, coconut powder and baobab oil. The olive powder acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and a source of antioxidants. 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. Our Face Mask can be used to fight blackheads, minimize pores and prevent breakouts, leaving the skin cleansed, refreshed and balanced!
As your ingredients are by-products (and in some cases, I assume, real waste products) that are now raw materials for you: do you have to pay for these raw materials or do get them for free?
This depends on the ingredient. Most we pay for. Some we only pay for the logistics of getting the ingredient to us. Others we do not pay for but we put significant resource and man power behind collecting and processing the ingredient to make it suitable for use in skincare.
You use spent coffee grounds as well as coffee oil. The spent coffee grounds are sourced from coffee shops. How do you organize the logistics for the collection from (as I know from your website) about 100 coffee shops? And how do you avoid a spoilage of the grounds, especially mold?
We collect each day, taking what has been produced in that one given day. We collect as close to closing time as possible. The process of making the scrubs begins the very next day.
What are you doing next with the spent coffee grounds? How are they upcycled and in which form are they used (powder, paste...)?
We use coffee grounds in our signature range of face and body scrubs, we use coffee oil in our best-selling face serum and eye cream. For confidential reasons I unfortunately cannot provide more information. I hope you understand.
I totally understand! But I´m sure you can tell me which of your products feature the spent coffee grounds?
We have two body scrubs, Lemongrass and Peppermint, and three face scrubs which have different oil blends to suit different facial skin types. The Floral Blend is for sensitive skin, the Citrus Blend is for dry or dehydrated skin and the Herbal Blend is for oily or spot prone skin.
And the coffee oil? I assume it´s extracted from spent coffee grounds. Is that correct?
And for confidential reasons you cannot tell me how you extract the oil?
Can you tell me which of your products contain the coffee oil?
Yes. They are mainly used for our Eye Cream and our Face Serum!
What are the properties and benefits of coffee oil? What impact does it have on the skin?
There are a number of benefits for the skin. For example, the coffee oil firms and tightens your skin; fine lines and wrinkles look smoother. The caffeine stimulates the blood circulation which lightens up dark circles around the eyes; it also makes blood vessels smaller which causes a reduction of skin puffiness and can make skin look less red. You can read all about it here:
https://upcirclebeauty.com/pages/3-benefits-of-coffee-oil, and here: https://upcirclebeauty.com/blogs/upcircle/can-coffee-oil-help-your-skin
I may change the focus a bit now. On your website you say: "Our aim is to reduce waste in a variety of industries, and we are proud to support low-income workers around the world where we can." Can you tell me a bit more about this? In which way do you support low-income workers?
We fund an impact project in Goa, India, called Project “Saaf Samudra” which means “clean sea” in Hindi. With our funding this project removes 1,942 kg of multi-layered-plastic (MLP) from Goa’s coastline, before it enters the Arabian Sea. In other terms, that's nearly 1 million single-use plastic pouches removed from the coastline! The impact project empowers waste-workers with a fair wage as well as economic subsidiaries, health insurance and access to a dignified and inclusive workplace.
It's so important to remember that plastic pollution is as much of a human problem as it a planet problem. Waste-workers often have no access to healthcare, secure pay or formal workplaces. We want to change that.
Kimberly, thank you so much for your time!