While working at Westfield Group within the brand ventures team, Philip Taylor came up with the idea for vegan skincare line Carbon Theory. Launched in 2018, it is known for its acne-curing line-up of cleansing bars, serums, and masks. The British native taught himself how to make soap by watching YouTube videos and started crafting his product range right from his kitchen sink. The range is currently sold in stores including Carbontheory.com, Boots, and Ulta.
The Carbon Theory skincare range
What inspired you to launch your brand?
I’d become increasingly aware of newspaper articles around acne and how young people were going straight to the doctor for medications that can play havoc with your body. The options were dated brands with nothing catering to new consumers. It fast became my quest to offer an alternative to medical intervention.
To stand out, I opted for a soap that could be affordably priced. I was aware that no-one else in the category was making soap bars, specifically for skincare. I chose charcoal because it was an up and coming ingredient with cleansing attributes, and merged it with tea tree – an ingredient I had always highly rated – for its antiseptic properties. I was keen to include shea butter to offset the concern that soap could be drying. I ordered some ingredients online and watched a few YouTube videos. I made soap in my kitchen which destroyed our white resin sink!
After sharing samples with my friends, they encouraged me to seek distribution. And so I approached Soapworks, the Scotland-based soap manufacturer founded by The Body Shop’s Anita and Gordon Roddick.
With consumers migrating to liquid soaps, Soapworks had hit upon rough times. Together we saw an opportunity to reach a younger audience – millennials who wouldn’t have previously purchased soap bars – and they agreed to develop commercial formulas for Carbon Theory at no charge. I purchased 200 samples for £200 and approached Boots, where they gave me a shot in 180 stores within their category called Beauty Finds. Traditionally only 1 in 20 brands perform strong enough in the 12-week testing ground to graduate to a permanent fixture. Carbon Theory succeeded and is now in 1,300 Boots stores in the U.K. We’re now their “biggest selling medicated skincare line’.
While there were a lot of beauty brands out there, I wanted to create a true mass ‘skincare’ brand – a modern-day Clearasil. I was aware that the skincare industry was huge commercial growth globally. So it felt like the right time to launch a unique skincare concept to market.
How would you describe your unique selling proposition?
From an aesthetic standpoint, nothing else looks like our brand. We have a unique market proposition. Our products guarantee proven performance at an accessible price point. Everything we do is user-generated. We have never paid for influencers, all our social media endorsement and advocacy is organic and we feature real customers across our marketing channels. We are very aware that problem skin is a very emotive topic and so we are very honest with customers about the results that they can obtain from using our products.
What is your brand ethos?
Simple, natural ingredients and everything is about performance first. Everything we stand for comes back to our somewhat cheeky hashtag #CleanAF. Our whole product range is about being clean, as clean as you can possibly get. Clean ingredients clean skin and clinical packaging. We will always make products at an accessible price point that generate impact. If you’re a teenager, you can buy a product for £6 that will help you feel and look better for 3 months. That’s the Carbon Theory ethos.
Can you tell us about your key products?
The first product we launched which has become the iconic hero product was the Carbon Theory Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar.
We genuinely believe we have created a timeless essential that will be around for a long time. The “black soap” is where it all began and it is consistently a top ten best selling product at Boots.com.
I was still working in my sponsorship role at Westfield when I launched the soap. I kept stock of it under my desk and would mail out orders at lunch that came through my own website supplemented my distribution at a swatch of 180 Boots stores as part of their Beauty Finds program.
Then one day in May my phone started blowing up. I had 10 orders before lunchtime which was bizarre. It transpired that the Daily Mail had published an article about the Cleansing Bar calling it a “miracle” for acne sufferers, supported by social before and after posts of users showing improvements. Within three hours we had 3,000 orders [online] purely off the back of the Daily Mail and Boots sold out of three months’ worth of stock in three hours. That’s when the magic happened. Users of the product flocked to our Instagram page to share their positive results from using it.
The range now includes a Facial Purifying Tonic, a Facial Moisturiser, a Mineral Mud Mask, and a Facial Exfoliating Scrub. Just launched in the U.K. and in the plan for an autumn, US launch are Overnight Detox Serum and Body Soap. We regularly ask our Instagram followers what they want and many asked if the facial soap could be used on the back, shoulders, and legs so we added a ”unique-to-the-category” body soap.
Who is the Carbon Theory customer?
Everyone! Teens to adults, pregnant women, 16-year-olds through to 50+. Our customer base is 85 percent female but products are equally suited to men.
What are your plans for the brand?
To become the most recognized performance led brand in the category, with best in class ethics and proposition. We really want to crack the US. We launched in Ulta in February 2020 and sold out in the first week. New products in the pipeline include a topical spot treatment which is currently in the testing phase. It includes silver and zinc oxide. What’s important for us as a brand, is that our customer plays an integral part in our evolution. We’ll continue to listen to them and create products in response to their skin concerns.