The first time we tried Optiat we were blown away and had to find out more about their story. They secured first place at our inaugural Pitch + Plant pitching event last year and since then have been busy bees, raising a successful round on Crowdcube and developing new products.
We caught up with Co-Founder of Optiat Anna Brightman ahead of their talk at Vevolution Topics: Ethical Fashion & Beauty on Tuesday 10th July.
Let’s start from the beginning - how and why did Optiat start?
The initial idea to make sustainable coffee scrubs from repurposed used coffee grounds came about from a culmination of different things. Firstly, my brother (and co-founder of Optiat) William was bought a cafetiere and was making his own coffee every morning. He lived in central London with no garden and so didn’t have plants to put the grounds on (as many people do) so instead he was simply throwing them away. He got to thinking that if he alone was throwing away so many coffee grounds each morning, then, given the size of the coffee industry, on a wider scale there must be an awful lot of waste – and he was right! If we could create a product which could help to minimize this then that could only be a good thing!
From idea to concept in less than 3 months, we launched Optiat in April 2016 at the London Coffee Festival, selling out of our coffee scrub range! After the immediate success of our scrubs we decided to expand our range to create new products from different unloved ingredients and that was how Optiat was born.
How did you discover the beauty benefits of leftover coffee waste?
Research, research and more research! We spent many many months absorbing as much information as we could. We then launched an initial range of three prototype scrubs, gathering feedback from our initial customers before launching our current range about a year later. We were aware that people have been using coffee on their skin for many years around the world. However, no one seemed to be making coffee scrubs from used coffee grounds. This realisation came in parallel to the huge rise in awareness of the devastating impact of microbeads on our environment. As we all look towards natural alternatives for our exfoliators, repurposed coffee was the perfect option.
We began approaching coffee shops and asking them what they did with their coffee waste, they explained to us that it was simply thrown away. We gradually built up a portfolio of restaurants, bars and cafes and now we collect from around 60 coffee shops in London. The ingredients that we repurpose into our products retain their quality. Coffee, for example, has been shown to be higher in antioxidants once it has been brewed than beforehand, so the used coffee grounds that make up our scrubs are just as good (if not better) for your skin! The fact that it is collected from artisanal coffee shops and restaurants also means that it is the highest-quality Arabica coffee, as opposed to the lower-grade, cheaper Robusta coffee found in most coffee scrubs.
The caffeine in coffee helps stimulate blood flow, effective against skin conditions such as acne, eczema, cellulite and stretch marks, addressing those areas in need of renewal and regeneration. The caffeine can also help to brighten up your complexion, leaving you with a fresh looking glow, plus coffee is the same pH as your skin - meaning it won't leave it feeling dry. That’s a whole lot of skin goodness to be throwing to landfill!
I read that 500,000 tonnes of coffee is sent to landfill each year in the UK alone which was a reason for you creating Optiat. Do you see Optiat repurposing other food waste or other waste in general? And would you want to create another beauty product or something in a different area?
Absolutely. After the success of our coffee scrubs we were keen to expand our range and see what other natural ingredients we could begin to rescue and transform. Our second range is a range of certified organic face masks made from repurposed unloved hemp husks (a natural by-product of the manufacture of hemp seeds) which we collect from an organic hemp farm in the English countryside. Relatively known as a superfood, hemp is a holistic ingredient used for a variety of purposes including for fuel, protein, fibre and medicine. The husks are an excellent source of minerals and a rare source of insoluble fibre. We combine the hemp husks with clays, activated charcoal and other organic ingredients to create our range of three face masks: for oily/combination skin, sensitive skin, and for men! When used topically, the hemp husks act as a gentle exfoliator to lightly buff away dead skin cells and cleanse your skin for a glowing complexion. We have three more ranges due to launch before the end of the year – its go go go!
Circular economy products are booming at the moment but there was a time not too long ago that if you told someone they could clean and exfoliate themselves using someone’s old coffee grains they would have laughed at you. Are you seeing more people come around the idea of getting more life out of products?
For us it is all about seeing potential where others don’t. We’re starting a movement to make circular skincare both aspirational and accessible. We have certainly noticed that sustainable ingredients are increasingly becoming an entry-level expectation, rather than a point of difference. Just being natural or organic is no longer enough.
We hope not only that companies can look to minimising what they are wasting but also that more people like us can step in to give a new purpose to those ingredients that companies can’t find a use for in their own industry. We need to work together to minimise waste from all sides - Let’s all search for better ways to do things!
Hopefully, Optiat is proof that waste doesn’t need to be wasted.
So you and Will are brother and sister - do you find the balance between siblings and work colleagues easy or tricky to manage?
Both! I guess you have to be wary of mixing family life and work life, but honestly for us it works really well. I think the reason for that is that we are so different from one another. We each bring our own strengths to the brand and balance each other out. Yes, there can be disagreement and the odd argument, but we are able to speak our minds freely with each other so the resolution is always speedy. The worst part is that we have to be pretty disciplined when it comes to professionalism – we’re still working on that! – as we take on our first staff members later in the year I think any bickering will have to be quickly eliminated! The best part is that it’s so much fun, we laugh a lot and take great joy in being able to share Optiat’s success with the rest of our family.
How important is sustainability to you outside of the beauty world? Do you try source sustainable and circular economy products in the food, fashion & lifestyle industry too?
Very important! Buying items where the business is run ethically, in a way that makes you proud to own the product and put your financial resources behind the vision that business, is key for me. The price of fashion is horrifyingly cheap and people have got used to paying low prices for products they know very little about. Transparency is hard to come by and the true repercussions of our purchasing choices are hidden from us. The longer you have an item, the more uses it gets, the more you drive a circular economy. Getting more uses out of every product and keeping every item in the system as long as possible to extract maximum value is, as you know, what we are all about – in the beauty world and in our personal lives too!
I apply this same philosophy to all of my purchasing decisions, whether it’s the clothing I wear, the food I eat or the skincare that my brand produces!
You recently closed a £217.000 fundraising round on Crowdcube. How are you investing the money?
With the money raised from our current crowdfunding campaign we are now able to scale up our production runs in order to meet the increasing demand for our products and to reach a wider audience. We plan to establish a team who will help us to achieve our ambition of making Optiat the go-to brand for ethical and sustainable skincare. We have used some of the money to launch the production of our new range of palm oil-free organic soaps made from brewed chai spices - which we will have ready in time for Christmas!
What other circular economy + beauty brands excite you?
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that we need to rethink our attitude to what we are currently considering as “trash”. Luckily the “zero waste” movement is really picking up momentum and consumers and brands alike are beginning to really grapple with our current issues with waste.
Some great examples of such brands are: Snact, Nibs Etc., Dash Water, Rubies In the Rubble, Toast Ale, Spare Fruit and ChicP. We feature several of their products in our themed gift boxes on our website!
For anyone wanting to start out in your industry what advice can you give them?
My first bit of advice is to not feel like you must take on board everyone’s advice - Trust your instinct! There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions and many of those opinions will be conflicting. It can be difficult when people tell you what they think you should do differently, or changes you should make to your business, but none of those people will know your business like you do, so make sure you’re not swayed off course or pulled in different directions. There’s no harm in listening, but you don’t have to take everyone’s advice and run with it!
What are your plans with Optiat for the future?
There is a huge amount going on for us at the moment and it is incredibly exciting. In the next couple of months we will be revealing a completely new look to the brand in conjunction with releasing new coffee scrub scents, our chai soap bars, a brand new face serum and a new lip balm. We have been busy bees at Optiat HQ and CANNOT WAIT to finally be able to share what we have been working on!