Meet Jo-Anne Chidley, Founder of Beauty Kitchen sustainable beauty brand. A sustainability expert, chemist and herbal botanist, Jo set out to change the face of the beauty industry with the world's first circular beauty business. Over 99% of beauty products packaging is thrown out after single use.
How did you get started on your sustainability journey. What challenges did you face to set up a sustainable brand?
My experience began with a background in chemistry and herbal botany. Naturally, I have curiosity around skincare formulations and wellbeing because of this, but I have always been obsessed with sustainability. The rationale behind why I started the company stems from my struggles to find truly effective natural products that considered the sustainability of ingredients & packaging at the same time. The lack of these products sparked a passion to take this matter into my own hands. Sustainability is at the core of everything I do in my day to day life, so of course, this was always going to flow into my business too.
There are always barriers to entry when you innovate and create products and services that no one else has done before. This is where you have ongoing challenges, from employing people, to suppliers who have worked in a more traditional manner.
Building up a dedicated community to our vision of multi-attribute sustainability has been the toughest. Explaining to people that we are a sustainability company that just so happens to be in beauty at the moment, rather than a typical beauty company. We have attracted people from the beauty industry who were just the wrong fit to our culture and ethos. Growing pains in any business happen for all sorts of reasons, however, you learn from them and in the end, it makes you more robust and gives clarity around who you are as a business. Sustainability is about progress and pushing the boundaries, never about perfection; and growing a business is the same.
With this consistent clarity, we can focus on our end goal of making sustainability a priority in everyone’s minds, from corporations to consumers.
Is Beauty Kitchen one of the first beauty brands to get the B Corporation certification. How do you implement it in your organisation?
We have always been a mission-led organisation so becoming a B Corp was relativity easy for us, as culturally we were already living these principles until we decided to get the independent verification through the certification. As a B Corp, you must balance purpose over profit, so we understand the importance of transparency, and hold no secrets. We want to act as a hub of knowledge for both consumers and corporations alike, so are always talking to retailers and brands about collaborating to raise standards within all industries.
We were the first high street beauty business to become a B Corporation and we are proud of this!
It’s a rigorous process to gain certification by which we are legally required to consider the impact of our decisions on our workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. B Corp standards filter into our culture, and therefore, any decisions that are made by anyone in our organisation considers the three elements: Human, Environment & Commercial. Our ongoing commitment to using business as a force for good, from our sustainable beauty products to our internal workforce to the external charities and organisations we support.
Beauty products contain microplastics that are both environmental and health hazards. Why isn't there more education about this issue?
The Zero Plastic Inside certification is awarded by the Plastic Soup Foundation to products that contain absolutely no microplastics like ours. We have long supported their campaigns to ‘Ban the Microbead’ which has been a global success. However, over 500 microplastic ingredients are still being used in the cosmetic industry today, often to act as a cheap filler.
The main reason there isn’t much education on this is that microplastics are currently exempt from the standard procedures (REACH) that apply to chemicals distributed on the European market. Therefore, they do not need to be registered and little is known about the critical properties of these substances, such as persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxic characteristics. We are optimistic that we can change this, however, and collectively contribute to eliminating microplastics from all industries before they eliminate our planet.
What's your take on greenwashing in the industry as "clean beauty" and "natural products" become marketing buzzwords?
As a starting point, customers should look for companies that are certified independently, from Vegan Society to Cruelty-free to B Corp. If a company has taken the step to have an independent audit this demonstrates a willingness to be transparent and they will be on the journey to more sustainable products and business, even if they are not as far down the path as us or others in the marketplace.
There will always be greenwashing, however, as everyone becomes more aware of the global topics of climate change, microplastics, ethical trading, inclusiveness and being responsible for where you spend your money, this will encourage companies to be more transparent as they are put under the microscope by their social media & customer engagement.
From a sustainability point of view, it’s been difficult to overturn current norms within the industry, especially with misleading information from greenwashing. Customers trust brands and businesses, so it’s up to us to provide the correct education.
It is difficult to change habits but education and evidence that sustainable beauty can be a success will provide positive examples to the industry. More often than not, we find it is the consumers that have the power to create change. They are the ones demanding a change to our waste policies and have an appetite to reuse, the cotton shopping bag or coffee cup for example, so the industry needs to listen to this demand. Right now, my one piece of advice is to look beyond the label and research into businesses with solid accreditations and multi-attributes such as B Corp and Zero Plastic Inside.
Is BK one of the first circular beauty brands with refill stations at supermarkets? How challenging was that to set up?
You’re right! Many brands that appear sustainable don’t focus on the bigger picture. It is not enough to refill a smaller bottle from a larger bottle, that’s a very linear approach. To take it even further, businesses must think longer-term and place the circular economy and Cradle-to-Cradle principles at the heart of every decision. This way you are changing overall behaviour with both consumers and current business practices.
The benefit of being one of the first circular beauty businesses is that we have already gone through the trials and tribulations of setting this into place. We are now not afraid to share our knowledge, so in reality, it makes perfect sense for other businesses and big corporations to follow suit and make sustainable beauty the norm.
Is it challenging to be waste-free in your personal life with a new baby?
Yes and no. Having a baby is a different experience in your life & lets you view the world from a different angle. You start to question practices and processes that you took for granted or didn’t notice before. It is about discovering new ways to be waste-zero, as I like to call it. Whether by switching to reusable nappies (which took a couple of months for me to do), or looking to more sustainable clothing brands (organic cotton with no microplastics) and second-hand items (which I have always bought anyway).
What is your favourite beauty product?
Ahh, this changes all the time. At the minute though, our Abyssinian Oil Night Halo Potent Sleep Mask is incredibly nourishing. It has been a great multi-tasker for any dry bits and to save my hands from all the washing we are doing at the moment!
What is the easiest eco-friendly swap you have made?
Sustainability has always been at the heart of everything I do, both in business and my everyday life. If I were to suggest an easy swap though, I would say look to your most used items as you’ll make the biggest impact there. For me, that’s with plastic bags at the supermarket. We all go food shopping right, so there is no excuse to not reuse and be prepared.
What is the most inconvenient eco-friendly swap you have made?
Disposable nappies, I did buy biodegradable with a limited amount of chemicals in them, they are single-use & the environment will never thank you for them being dumped or incinerated. Reusable nappies are great. You just need to integrate it into your lifestyle. For me it took some practice and organisation to know what to do with them, how do you clean them? What happens if there is an emergency? What if someone is looking after your baby for you is it right to ask them to do this? There were loads of questions I needed to answer before fully committing. I did this over about 8-weeks by gradually phasing out the disposables and have not looked back since.
What is a common misconception about going eco-friendly?
That it’s expensive. In reality, packaging, and single-use items which you are physically throwing away cost more than reusing and repairing. Another misconception is that people believe recycling is enough. In fact, only 9% of plastic globally is recycled so we need to look at reuse and waste zero as the alternative.
What is your favourite eco-friendly or plastic-free product?
This must be cloths in all their formats from reusable (cotton, hemp, bamboo, linen, muslin) wipes for babies to face cloths for yourself and others in the family. There really is no need for single-use wipes. They are easy to get, wash, dry quickly and last a long time I always have a few in my bag.
What’s next for you?
We are ever-evolving and want to grow the brand to be the number one choice for sustainable consumers. Right now, we are in the process of planning to launch our next generation Refill Stations. These technologically advanced stations will dispense our Leaping Bunny approved, microplastic free, natural, vegan and organic products whilst incorporating "Return • Refill • Repeat" points.
Jo-Anne's journey is truly awe-inspiring. We wish them the best of luck.