I’m meeting Anna Brightman in a restaurant on the South Bank. She hugs me, asks me how I am, and if I found the place alright. Anna’s office is located in a railway arch, and is stocked pile high with organic skincare products, with a couple of desks for her and her brother, William, crammed in too. Anna, 25, has gone from from feeling ‘’like a tiny cog in a massive machine’’, working for a well-known supermarket chain, to being a co-founder of a Dragons’ Den winning brand in just two years.
It all started when her brother asked where coffee grounds from every coffee shop ended up at the end of the day. It didn’t take much research to find out it all ended up in landfills. Surely there must be better ways of disposing of that coffee, Anna and William thought. The siblings run Up-Circle, a brand that’s all about reusing (i.e. upcycling) everyday products, such as coffee, tea leaves, fruit stones and flower petals. That’s right, things you would normally just throw away. “That’s the whole point of what we’re doing, to try to challenge people’s perception of what we are currently viewing as waste,’’ Anna says.
Her favourite part of the brand is coming up with new ways to reuse otherwise throwaway products. At the moment she’s working hard on fruit stones, and next perhaps flower petals. She loves spending stretches of time pondering how they can possibly use such ingredients in beauty products, before finally cracking the code. Her second favourite part is the social interactions. She tells me “It’s incredibly inspiring to meet so many other young women, who are going it alone and turning their backs on corporate jobs and deciding to be their own voice.’’
Anna kept her corporate job for as long as she possibly could, juggling both that and the extensive task of shaping UpCircle. She highly recommends other young people wanting to start their own business to do the same. “Yes, you’ll be tired. Yes, you’ll have a lot on your hands”. But according to Anna, keeping your day-to-day job is one of the best things you can do. “Because it does take a while for you to actually be making profit. So set yourself up for the best success that you can, I suppose. Cling on for as long as you can,’’ she says with a laugh.
It’s easy to tell, by the passion Anna projects, that she truly loves what she’s doing. Even if it means working with her brother, which can sometimes be challenging. The job as an independent business owner gives her massive flexibility, and no two days are the same. Days contain everything from product development, to preparing wholesale shipments, to speaking on panels, conferences and talks. Anna tells me it’s a lot of hard work, but is still convincing about loving what she does. It’s because she truly believes in what they’re doing. Their goal is to expand, of course, but also to en-courage a more circular economy. Before simply throwing something away, they want to make people to ask themselves ‘’Actually, is this the end of this object’s life, or can I find a new use for it?’’ Anna says.
They’ve got “big plans’’ according to Anna. As of now, everything the business puts out, from packaging to business cards is sustainable, but Anna sees even further than that. She can see them streamlining packaging even further, and she can see them taking on the hotel industry’s massive production of single use items in their bedrooms. Anna’s personal goal is for her own beauty routine to consist of only products from her own brand.
When I ask her if she could see herself doing this forever, she insists the future is always uncertain, though she won’t give up UpCircle anytime soon. They still have so much to achieve together, and to Anna, there’s no doubt they’re “just at the very start of the journey’’.
Written by Hedda Fors