Born in lockdown – the story of Circla, London’s refill beauty business
Claudia Gwinnutt was on the brink of her first big contract supplying refillable beauty products to hotels, when Coronavirus sparked the UK’s first major lockdown.
The deal was paused and, left with lots of stock, the 31-year-old decided to start selling direct to consumers instead. It turned out to be a very fortuitous pivot.
A year on, her company Circla is going great guns – providing refillable, eco-friendly beauty products and household cleaning products to homes all over central London – delivered by bike courier or electric van. Local Buyers Club members save 15% at Circla.
Claudia, a former banker, explained: “The idea for Circla was born a few years ago when the David Attenborough/Blue Planet effect was taking place. I’ve always loved beauty products and was looking at my own plastic consumption – my bathroom was filled with single-use plastic that couldn’t be recycled and when I went to look for other solutions, I found nearly everything available meant compromising on quality.
“Shampoo bars didn’t cut it for me and I didn’t have time to visit a zero-waste store for a refill. I started looking at sustainable packaging and the circular economy. My original idea was to have a milkman style business delivering refillable beauty products to households (which is what we’ve ended up doing) but my friends told me it would never work and, when someone introduced me to a hotel looking to reduce their single use plastic, I decided to sell to hotels instead.
“I quit my job at Barclays and was due to launch in March 2020 selling refillable beauty to three hotels – then lockdown happened and I was stuck with lots of miniatures. I started selling them to the public as pamper sets and soon people were asking for refills. It gave me the confidence to pivot and go with my original business idea.”
Claudia set to work setting up the logistics of delivering Circla’s products and collecting empties to reuse. In the early days she roped in friends and family (including her mum and dad) to help with deliveries.
Now she’s teamed up with a bike courier to deliver in North London and is benefiting from free use of an electric Zip Van in South London courtesy of an arrangement with Fulham Council. Circla delivers to Zones One and Two and pockets of Zone Three.
From a studio in Fulham, Circla has big vats of refills from a range of brands (most local and independent) and refilling machines. Their products are passed on to customers in glass or aluminium bottles. Sustainability is at the company’s core – Claudia takes great care to only source brands with a strong environmental and ethical approach.
Claudia added: “Launching the business in a pandemic has been more than stressful – it’s exhausting. I’m thinking about Circla and responding to customer enquiries 24/7. But business is going well – I have a steady stream of customers! My husband Bruno has helped out a lot – manning the stall at markets and pop-ups.”
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