• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Claudia Gwinnutt

Here at Spotlight, we had the opportunity to speak to Claudia Gwinnutt, CEO & Founder

Of CIRCLa. She spoke to us about taking the leap and starting a business that is worth jumping out of bed for every day.

Business Background

I started CIRCLa in 2019 after becoming incredibly frustrated at the lack of reusable packaging options and the awful impact single-use packaging (particularly) plastic was having on the environment. Before taking the leap to start CIRCLa I was working at Barclays after joining their graduate program straight from University. Whilst the pay and job security was fab, I always had a niggle at the back of my mind that I wanted to do something else, something that made me jump out of bed every day, that challenged me and gave me the opportunity to utilise a broader skillset but most importantly was fulfilling.

The big idea

CIRCLa was most definitely not a lightbulb moment! When I realised that I no longer wanted to continue my career in banking I decided to take a 6-month sabbatical, at the time I really had no idea what I wanted to do, to be honest, I am not sure I had even given myself the time or space to ever really think about it properly, I had just sort of followed what everyone else was doing or what I thought was expected of me. During those 6 months I spent a lot of time trying and testing a whole multitude of options, I planned a wedding for a friend of a friend, worked in a florist, nearly started an app and nearly made the switch to work for a charity but I also spent a lot of time speaking and researching brands who were focused on sustainability. At the same, the Blue Planet effect was really gaining momentum and there was an enormous focus on single-use plastic packaging.

When I looked at my own personal routine, I noticed how much packaging I was using with beauty and personal care products, originally I thought that maybe there was a way to make cosmetic packaging reusable. I started reaching out to brands to speak to founders about the process of maybe starting a beauty company and quickly realised that actually there was a bigger demand for a service to be provided and all these amazing brands could be part of reusable packaging service. So, it was most definitely not a straightforward journey and even from there, the idea has changed so much over the last 18 months!

Biggest challenges

The biggest challenge I faced was last year, after various pilots and tests in April of 2020 we were due to launch our refill service into the hospitality industry. We were ready to go live with three hotels and then Covid hit, our contracts were immediately cancelled and I was left with thousands of shampoo and body wash bottles with nowhere to go. It was absolutely terrifying. We had burned through all our cash to go live and now desperately needed to find a way to pivot with mini shampoo bottles!

Drive and Determination

Most products today are “linear” - thrown away after one use. In fact, 90% of all packaging is thrown away after just one use, our recycling infrastructure is underused and also can’t handle all that waste. This model sends way too many valuable resources to landfill, incinerators or as we have seen on Blue Planet littering our precious planet. I believe that we desperately need to transfer this packaging to a new way of management which ensures we keep valuable resources in use and stop this waste so we can protect our planet. This is what drives me, it is why I started CIRCLa and why I won’t give up!

Biggest lesson learnt along the way

I have learnt that so many people will tell you no, they will give you a million reasons why it won’t work, they might even laugh at you but you have to find a way to keep going. Remind yourself why you started, dust yourself off and get back up.

Advice for those starting their career

  • Don’t follow the crowd! It is so easy especially post University to get caught up in the start of the rat race but instead question what makes you tick? Ask yourself what frustrates you in the world? What do you wish existed? What things do you always go back to? Most importantly ask yourself what would you do if you knew you could not fail?

  • Try before you buy - go speak to people that do the job you might be thinking of, if you want to start a business could you test it in a really simple way to see if there is customer demand for it?

  • Your first job won’t be your last job - you have so much time to change your career multiple times!

Advice for those wanting to start a business

  • Be prepared for all the highs and all the lows - you will have days where everything seems to go wrong and then the next day something huge can happen.

  • Don’t spend hours in front of a computer - get out and speak to your potential customers, understand where the demand is and what they won’t - find a way to test your product - this doesn’t need to be perfect in fact it should be the opposite - when you look back you should be embarrassed by it.

The best and worst part of your job

The best part of my job is the variety - whilst it can be incredibly stressful at times managing so many different hats I love that I get to learn new things all the time and that it never gets boring!!

The worst part is I hate managing admin, in particular dealing with all the accountancy stuff that comes with running a business.

The future

We rolled out our new model in November last year and it has been a rollercoaster of a ride, we are currently on-boarding 16 new brands, getting ready for our first outdoor media campaign and extending our delivery reach to South London.

Thank you, Claudia, for telling such an inspiring story. If you would like to keep up to date with CIRCLa make sure to follow them on Twitter.

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