Every year, UK manufacturers produce 2.1 million tonnes of plastic waste. Despite what we’ve been told, it’s a mess that won’t be solved by recycling.
As one of many consumers disillusioned with the UK’s plastic-heavy, recycling-focused way of doing things, Claudia Gwinnutt wanted a change. But in searching for a more sustainable alternative, she found the market for convenient, refillable products was also lacking. That’s why she founded Circla.
We sat down with Claudia to find out how she built the brand from the bottom up — and to ask for some of her go-to sustainable beauty tips.
Hi Claudia. What was your reason for starting Circla?
Like a lot of people, over the last few years I've become more aware of the damage our behaviour as consumers has on the planet.
However, when I started looking into different options, everything being proposed felt like it was either a lower quality product, or something which would create a huge inconvenience to my life. So while I might make the change, in reality I wouldn't be able to maintain it and manage the upkeep.
I wanted to launch something whereby a customer didn't have to sacrifice on the quality of the product, and would be just as easy as their regular shopping. Without that, I don't think refills could ever go mainstream.
What did you do before launching Circla?
I did the absolute opposite of what I'm doing now! I left university and went straight into a corporate job working for Barclays, having joined on their graduate scheme. While I didn’t dislike the job itself, I found that what I was doing unfortunately didn't give me much purpose or meaning.
As I was getting closer to the age of 30, I realised that I wanted to be doing something I was more proud of — something that made me jump out of bed with excitement. That’s when I decided to start Circla.
What's your favourite thing about running Circla?
I definitely think it's the variety. While it can be incredibly stressful and your brain can go to mush by the end of the day, I'm someone who gets bored quite easily so being able to jump between so may different things is a lot of fun.
On any given day I’m speaking to brands and selling new products if they're launching, working on the day-to-day operations of Circla and dealing with the web development team, or making decisions on the design and creative side of things. I love that variety!
Talk us through your own sustainable beauty routine.
I'm obviously a big fan of lots of Circla products. In all my bathrooms I have handwash, bodywash and lotion by Malako. I love the scent of it, and I love a lotion like theirs that isn't too clammy feeling but is still really moisturising.
From a skincare perspective, my absolute hero product is the UpCircle face scrub. I use it once or twice a week. Most scrubs tend to be really drying, but I love this one because it’s super hydrating and you can use it often. I love the smell, too. I know coffee can be a little bit contentious, but I'm obsessed.
I tend to switch between the Evolve cleansing melt and the Upcircle cleanser, the latter especially if I've got a lot of makeup on because it really does get rid of everything. Then I use Bao moisturiser, which I love because it's got hyaluronic acid in it, and also a Baobab face oil from a company called Wildtree, who’ve just launched with us.
Which Circla product couldn't you live without?
I'm completely obsessed with Evolve’s shampoo and conditioner. I've been using them for years. They were probably one of the first eco-swaps that I did, when I was looking for a company that used a lot better ingredients. I tried various shampoo bars which unfortunately didn't work with my hair, and when I landed on Evolve I fell in love.
From their production methods to the fact that it's all made locally by a group of artisans, their whole ethos is just great. It's thoughtful, well-made, and it actually works. It smells good, too, which is important because I'm really fussy on scents. I absolutely love it, and I've got my whole family hooked on it.
Which sustainable switch have you found most easy to make?
For me, it was reusable makeup pads. I was never really a face wipe person, but I used to use a lot of cotton pads. When I discovered the reusable alternatives, I just found them so easy. It's something where I think you actually get a better quality product, because it's softer and you can rinse it with water where a cotton face pad would disintegrate.
And what sustainable switches have you found harder?
There’s actually two: deodorant and toothpaste. I've tried lots of the deodorants, and while I really like that it's refillable, I do miss something that is an antiperspirant and not just something that masks the scent. I know the founders of Fussy, though, and I‘ve pre-ordered one of theirs, so I'm really intrigued to try that.
In terms of toothpaste, while we stock toothpaste tablets, I've found that quite hard to make as a switch. I find myself missing the foam and the sensation of a paste over a tablet. I'm trying to persevere as I do really realise the impact, but I still think there's more potential for innovation there. A squeezy, reusable bottle for toothpaste? I'm hoping that gets made.
What’s next for Circla?
I'm so excited that we're finally working on our packaging. Up until now, we’ve used existing packaging solutions — a mixture of glass and aluminium for a lot of the products, with a plastic pump. The pump is something we ask customers to hold onto but, whilst they're reusable a couple of times, after a while they become a waste stream.
That’s why we've started working with a packaging engineer to ask some interesting questions. How do we get rid of plastic pumps? What packaging material would have the least impact on the planet? And how can we make sure these bottles are reused not just a few times, but a hundred times?
What headline would you love to read about Circla in the future?
I'd love to see us be able to roll out across the UK. A circular economy, with reuse models that place the convenience and the customer at the heart, really is the future. But at the moment we're limited operationally by having to be London-focused, so seeing Circla rolled out across the UK would be a dream come true.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give to someone just starting out on their sustainability journey?
For me, the first one is: don't give up. Don't be overwhelmed, and definitely don't be made to feel guilty. Life is to be enjoyed, we all want nice things, we all deserve to be treated and to treat ourselves with stuff that makes us feel good. As you embark on your sustainability journey, just keep trying, find what suits you, and be easy on yourself.
Secondly, don’t try and start all at once. You wouldn't go from eating meat seven days a week to being vegan. You need to find something sustainable to your lifestyle, and small switches are the best way. I love the quote ‘It’s only one straw… said eight billion people,' and I really do believe in that idea of cumulative impact.
My third piece of advice is that sometimes the sustainability movement, particularly on Instagram, actually leans you into buying lots of stuff. I see a lot of people buying stuff because they don't want to be shamed, when what they have at home is perfectly good.
If you already have an electric toothbrush, or a stockpile of cotton pads, use those first before you find a more sustainable option. The worst thing you can do is actually throw stuff away, because a lot of that rubbish ends up not being reused or recycled.
Starting your own sustainability journey? Join the refill revolution by shopping our whole range of skincare, haircare and bodycare products now.