Beauty by Design: Circumference
Breakthrough skin care brand founder Jina Kim on driving a new wave of sustainability, and the myths that plague a heavily greenwashed industryRead more
Sustainability is a matter growing ever more complex in beauty. Its presence is imperative – but with murky representations and little regulation, its definition has become diluted. The result of a fearless dig to drive the way forwards, Circumference is a skin care brand that employs next-level sustainability practices with a model reconstructed from scratch. The brains behind the breakthrough is Jina Kim – once instrumental in the launch of ethical activewear brand Girlfriend Collective, now turning her expertise to another industry that needs her…
Has beauty always been a big part of your life?
Since a small child to now, beauty has always been a big part of my relationship with the women in my life. As a young girl surrounded by women who took such meticulous care of their skin (and still do), I was enamoured with all the beautiful skin care and beauty products they had on their vanity. It shaped my perception of beauty and taught me that skin care is a practice of diligence and consistency.
Long before K-Beauty became a trend in the US, my mum, grandma and aunts fully lived it.
… And does the same go for sustainability?
I spent most of my childhood in Seattle, where being environmentally conscious was ingrained in our household in many ways. But even then, I never quite understood the significance and the urgency to innovate. These days, we’re constantly bombarded with signals enticing us to consume, and it’s difficult to recognise that this pattern contributes to negative impact on our environment as well as our own health and wellbeing, and that of others.
Working in sustainable fashion is what became the catalyst for Circumference. Through this invaluable experience, I quickly understood the hunger and readiness that consumers today have for sustainable solutions.
Over-sourcing of critical, valuable ingredients has put a strain on the natural environment, resources, and the humans that tend to the lands to produce those materials.
How is Circumference different from other sustainable skin care brands?
The word “sustainability” has so many different definitions. While it’s encouraging that sustainability is becoming a more common topic in beauty, most brands gravitate towards packaging to help guide the conversation. Reducing packaging waste is a critical component to us as well – but first we wanted to address the broader problems we saw behind the scenes…
Our approach revolves around developing innovative ways to source ingredients in the most sustainable way possible, and closing the loop to create circularity in our supply chain. When it comes to packaging, using post-consumer recycled, recyclable and compostable materials is our absolute priority. We use glass for jars and bottles, and seek recyclable plastic components in all areas possible. Beyond that, our paper materials are FSC certified and we use up to 50% post-consumer recycled paper for our printed materials and boxes.
Your formulas use native-grown botanicals sourced from countries all over the world. What made you choose this method over locally grown ingredients?
Our industry has become reliant on cheap, commercial cash-crop plants such as coconut oil and palm oil. Demand for these ingredients have skyrocketed, which has put a strain on independent producers and farmers who cultivate plants that are culturally and geographically native to their regions. We source our ingredients from small, independent producers around the world as part of our mission to economically and spiritually help them to continue to cultivate their native plants, in the healthiest way possible.
Beyond that, it also allows us to find powerful, rich ingredients from biodiverse environments, which ultimately translates to higher efficacy skin care products.
We partner with other agriculture-driven industries to source their byproducts and waste.
How do you weigh up the environmental impact of importing ingredients against the ethical importance of using native plants?
The added logistics of transporting materials does add to our carbon footprint. We ultimately try to strike a balance by weighing up the pros and cons in every decision we make. There’s certainly a lot to take into account when making conscientious choices—and we’re currently working on a scalable solution to offset our carbon footprint, looking towards becoming fully carbon neutral in the very near future.
Can you shed light on the brand’s unique Waste-Not Sourcing Initiative?
After two years of research and development, we launched our industry-first Waste-Not Sourcing Initiative—in which we partner with other agriculture-driven industries to source their byproducts and waste.
For example, for Active Restorative Moisturizing Cream, we source our grape leaves from a local winery in New York that produces extremely high quality grape plants. While the winery (which operates a 90+ acre vineyard) focuses on cultivating and harvesting grape fruits for the purpose of wine making, we harvest the grape leaves and vines (typically gone to waste, despite the powerful nutrients they possess) and usher them into a new lifecycle to be used as skin care ingredients.
We extract the byproducts for all their rich, skin-nourishing actives such as powerful polyphenols, enzymes, antioxidants—and once extracted, we return the mulch back to the farms to be used as compost for next season—effectively closing the loop and proving that circularity can be achieved in beauty.
With the rise of clean beauty, synthetic ingredients have gained an increasingly bad rap in recent years – is all-natural really the answer?
Synthetics play an integral role in skin care. Our formulations are a careful blend of both synthetics and natural ingredients to maximize not only efficacy, but the stability of our bioactives and safety of our consumers is paramount.
Obviously there are synthetics that are harmful to our health and wellbeing but we’ve found that many of the fear-mongering angles associated with synthetics and chemicals are more marketing than reality.
We advise all of our customers to understand what place natural ingredients and synthetics play in skin care, because both are absolutely essential!
While natural ingredients possess a lot of powerful properties that are beneficial for our skin, without synthetics, they can be highly unstable and ultimately unsafe for use.
How can we detect deceptive tactics and greenwashing in beauty?
It’s become increasingly difficult. The buzzy terms we see in our industry – natural, organic, clean, etc. – have become convoluted, manipulated and, unfortunately, unregulated. Most brands now claim some level of clean, sustainable, natural, etc… But it’s rare that brands actually present evidence of their practices and there's very little transparency behind these claims.
My advice is to always ask questions and understand what's really happening behind the scenes. Look beyond just the product label into the brand’s practices, their ethos, and mission at large. Are they being truthful and transparent in their claims? If you notice enough dissonance in their messaging versus what they’re selling, it’s time to ask some questions—social media empowers consumers with just as much of a platform as it does brands, so be bold in demanding more transparency and education.
What change do you wish to see in the industry?
The barrier of entry for the beauty industry is lower than ever. There are third party chemical suppliers, accessible contract manufacturers, cheap pre-made formulas—and this makes it incredibly easy to create poor quality beauty products, with very little innovation nor authentic, genuine interest in positive impact.
With that in mind, I’d love for this industry to embrace ingenuity and innovation, particularly in sustainability, to continue to push it forward.
What’s the next step of the journey for Circumference?
We’re actively working to expand on our Waste-Not Sourcing Initiative with new ingredients and new partners – we’re currently testing a number of new formulas, as well as revisiting old ones. Developing and growing Circumference is a constant for us and we want to continue to push the boundaries of how high efficacy skin care can meet the leading edge of sustainability.