Disrupting the beauty industry one refill at a time

Posted on 15 Jul 2019 by Maddy White

The beauty industry has been founded on aesthetics and trends, with environmental impacts not a priority for firms. But, with the climate change crisis firmly upon us, the world and the beauty industry must embrace an eco-friendly future where the grass really is greener.

The value of Britain’s health and beauty sector will hit £26.7bn by 2022, according to figures from Global Data, those who make it in the highly competitive industry have access to lucrative rewards.

The beauty industry is becoming greener - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The beauty industry is becoming greener – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Now it seems, to have a slice of the UK’s billion-pound beauty pie, manufacturers and retailers must consider and be more transparent about their products, from ingredients to supply chain to where products end up.

“With over 1,800 beauty brands operating in the country, it’s no surprise that we are seeing some of the most exciting and creative innovation coming from the UK and shaping the future of beauty across the world,” said Caroline Neville MBE, President of Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) a trade organisation for the cosmetics, fragrance and personal care industry.

Waste not, want not

One burgeoning beauty innovation is reusable packaging, and one company embracing this is sustainable brand, Beauty Kitchen. Having just launched in Boots and already stocked in UK Holland & Barrett stores, the company is growing at pace.

“Money was always quite tight when we were young,” Jo Chidley, co-founder of Beauty Kitchen tells me. “Small things like finishing your dinner were normal. There wasn’t much wasted, and honestly I don’t even like the word waste.”

She says the driver to start Beauty Kitchen was to use it as a vehicle for change within the industry. “Nobody wants to talk about what happens to packaging or products once they are finished, the industry is only interested in ingredients and aesthetics. We want to be responsible for the full life of products,” she says.

Chidley studied chemistry and previously worked as the head of HR for global firm Avon, her background means she has a passion for how things are put together.

“I am fascinated by formulations,” she says. “But the industry needs more than this. We are brilliant at selling and developing products, but what we are not good at [as an industry] is what happens to products once they are sold, the entire life-cycle.”

A circular economy

“We don’t have the services or infrastructure to replace such a great material like plastic. It’s flexible and durable and it is very cheap, the freedom that plastic has given is huge,” Chidley says.

Beauty Kitchen offers over 130 products, some of which in packaging that can be sent back to the company and refilled, a first for the typically single-use industry. She says that beauty retailer Boots has been surprised at the success of the products and tells me that the company has many more plans to ensure its future successes.

The company has four sites in the UK, their HQ just South of Glasgow and three contract manufacturers across the UK including speciality ingredients and soap base manufacturer, Stephenson. Their konjac sponge is made in Asia as the konjac plant is grown there. Chidley says her network from previous roles in FMCG companies enabled her to find the best manufacturers for the job.

Jo Chidley is pictured - image courtesy of Jo Chidley.
Jo Chidley is pictured – image courtesy of Jo Chidley.

“It has been chaotic learning about manufacturing,” she says. “We talk about opening our own factory all the time.” With a predicted turnover of £50m in the next few years, as with many rapidly growing SMEs, Chidley says opening her factory is all about timing, scale and investment.

Selling a service

Chidley says the company is diversifying into offering a product washing service. She says, “We have set up a bottle washing facility here in Scotland. The business sits within Beauty Kitchen and we have already been asked by other beauty brands and companies if we can wash their packaging so they can reuse it.

“It is a massively growing area and what we want to do is set the standard for the beauty industry and then for other sectors. If we consider vitamins and supplements, there are so many plastic jars that are made and none of them are reused.

“But, if you know you will need vitamins and supplements every month or two, pots can easily be refilled.

She concludes: “Like anybody starting their own business, you see a gap in the market and then explore it to understand whether that is something other people believe in.”