We are super excited to bring you the first 'Chats with Makers' feature for 2021, and wow, it's impressive! Every month we will showcase a new independent business on our blog and Instagram. Think artists, candle creators, textile makers and jewellery designers to name a few, we hope you will enjoy reading and discovering some fabulous small businesses to support.
Claudia Gwinnett, Founder of Circla and all round eco-hun explains more about Circla and how it was ultimately created to make a difference in the beauty industry. Sustainability is fundamental to Circla's business model, and Claudia shows passion and dedication to this cause.
It was great to meet Claudia in December at The Old Royal Naval College Christmas Market. Her bubbly personality and uplifting story really stuck with us. If you're feeling the January blues, hopefully Claudia's story about overcoming big hurdles and pivoting her business will inspire and motivate you to push on.
A date for your diary: Thursday 21st January - Circa x LMM Instagram Takeover and Live at 6pm
What is Circla and where did the name come from?
Circla is the traditional milkman service but reimagined for beauty. Our mission is to make the most responsible choice the convenient choice and that is why we come directly to your doorstep to collect your empties and replace with a refill.
I went around in circles (no pun intended!) in choosing the name, I had these long lists of names, I got friends together to brainstorm over pizza and wine as I was fixated on picking a name that alluded to what we do, a circular business, but I didn't want to just add the word eco or refill to something.
One day I was cycling to our co-working space playing around with variations on the word circle and Circla just came to me. When I got to the office I quickly checked if the domain was available and when it was and only 99p I thought ok this is it.
When did your business first start and what made you do it?
I started Circla in November 2019 and it has been a rollercoaster of a ride. Originally our focus was on providing refills for amenities in the hospitality industry but when Covid hit all our contracts were cancelled, after a fair few mini breakdowns I then decided to pivot the business to our new model.
I started Circla because I could not look at any more images of the amount of waste that was violating our oceans, littering our landscapes and contaminating our landfills.
Most of this waste comes from single-use packaging, for example in the beauty industry 2.1 billion units of packaging is produced every year and only 1% is reused. That is just crazy. As consumers, so much of the responsibility is normally placed on us. I believe retailers, manufacturers and obviously the government should accept more responsibility. Consumers deserve better choices and solutions that remain convenient, accessible and affordable.
How important is sustainability to your business?
Sustainability is at the heart of what we do at Circla, it influencers every decision we make. We go beyond just focusing on reducing single-use packaging, we only work with brands who meet our sustainability criteria, all our deliveries are emission-free and we use reusable energy in our cleaning and filling process.
We are by no means perfect, but our motto is progress over perfection and we have lots of things we are working on to improve. Our goal is to be carbon positive and where we can quantify the exact amount of waste we produce as a business.
How do you find new brands to work with?
The first brand to join Circla was UpCircle. A brand I had discovered a year before at a market in Hackney, I became obsessed and knew I wanted to work with them. It is a real mix of how we find brands, sometimes I will discover them online, friends and customers will recommend a brand or brands will reach out directly to us. We are pretty selective on who we work with, part of our proposition is that we do all the work in curating the brands so that a customer can rest assured that the product is not only good for them but also good for the planet.
The biggest thing we look for is a commitment to do better, to ensure they have transparent supply chains, are working towards sustainable manufacturing and have a positive impact on the community.
What is your favourite product in the Circla collection and why?
My favourite product is the UpCircle Face Scrub - I am simply obsessed! Most face scrubs leave your skin feeling tight and dry after use but this scrub leaves your skin silky smooth and radiant. I use it two - three times a week.
I love the philosophy behind UpCircle, where they take ingredients that would otherwise be wasted and repurpose them into beauty products. For the face scrub, they collect coffee grounds from multiple coffee shops and it creates the most amazing texture for a scrub.
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame last year?
It was definitely having to pivot the business away from our hospitality model. We were literally just about to launch our hotel pilots in April when Covid hit and given the contracts we had in place with hotels it meant we didn't get paid despite having purchased all the stock. There was a very surreal moment where all of a sudden I had to take all my living room furniture to my parents place and replace it with thousands of shampoo bottles!
Which digital platforms and programs have helped shape your business?
Social media and particularly Instagram obviously plays a huge role but we have actually found offline marketing whether thats outdoor media campaigns, door to door marketing and most recently (before lockdown 3) having a space at local markets was amazing for driving brand awareness and on-boarding new customers.
For us being in front of a customer, explaining what we do, letting them see the products has been really successful. I am hoping that once lockdown ends we will get a regular spot at a few markets.
Your story is so uplifting. Do you have any advice for those looking to start their own business?
My best advice is be prepared to accept that some things will fail, you will make mistakes and a lot of people will give you a million reasons why your idea won't work. I can't even begin to tell you how many times people have told me that Circla would never work, that it would be impossible to get brands on-board or that we would never be able to set up the logistics.
Listening to peoples advice is obviously really important but at the end of the day if you believe in something, have the passion and the drive to make it work don't let anyone hold you back.
Oh, and have patience. It is so easy to compare yourself to what other people might be doing, but no business is an overnight success story. If you speak to any founder they will all have their own stories and most of the time you will be incredibly surprised at how long they have been working on it until it becomes a success.
Any future projects or plans for this year?
Yes - we are currently working on launching a bespoke Circla reusable bottle. The packaging we have been using today has been a mixture of glass and aluminium and whilst this is great its not really fir for purpose for reuse models. Alongside this, we have 12 incredible brands in the pipeline to join Circla and I am really excited to get them launched.
How can readers find Circla?
If you've enjoyed this interview, or have any further questions for Claudia, please get in touch. Join us on Thursday 21st January at 6pm to find out more about Circla on Instagram Live.