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Behind the brand: Wild, the UK's leading refillable deodorant brand

The stories you don't know about some of the world's best and little-known brands

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Charlie Bowes-Lyon, co-founder of the UK’s leading refillable deodorant brand, clearly remembers the day he cried at work.

Wild had launched its first limited edition scent, Peach Bellini, ahead of Valentine's Day. Over 20,000 deodorant refills with the scent arrived at Wild’s warehouse with three days to launch. However, the manufacturers had failed in their remit, the batch melted and were unusable.

“We had literally told everyone we're launching this,” recalls Bowes-Lyon. “This was our big bet of the quarter and it was a serious kind of panic mode. Luckily, we were saved by a few things falling our way and managed to make another batch.”

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Stumbling blocks have been limited since Wild launched in March 2020. In 2022, it achieved sales of £26.2 million and, ahead of the Christmas rush in 2023, were 105% up in sales year-on-year.

Wild’s wider mission is to remove single-use plastic from our bathrooms with natural, refillable alternatives, the company having been shaped by life-long friends. Freddy Ward and Bowes-Lyon have known each other since growing up together, living 20 minutes apart in Scotland, before attending University of Edinburgh.

Wild also launches limited edition scents as part of its engagement reach. Photo: Wild
Wild also launches limited edition scents as part of its engagement reach. Photo: Wild

Ward was later marketing director at HelloFresh, Bowes-Lyon in the same field while also running his own business, Climate Cups, a reusable coffee cup and water bottle outfit. They now split their roles at Wild; Ward on operations and finance and Bowes-Lyon staying in marketing.

“Climate Cups took off in a way bigger way than I was prepared for,” recalls Bowes-Lyon. “We did something like 10,000 sales in the first month. I think the kind of crazy desire that people seem to have for genuinely good sustainable products that didn't really exist, especially at that point, was very evident.”

The business was soon sold and the duo set upon finding a sustainable formula in the household, one with solid consumer retention. Bowes-Lyon says: “We looked at the kitchen and there were companies already doing a great job there. In the bathroom there wasn't really anyone in that space, coupled with the crazy high percentage that all plastic waste comes from the bathroom, which tends to be single use.”

Wild co-founders Charlie Bowes-Lyon and Freddy Ward, right. Photo: Wild
Wild co-founders Charlie Bowes-Lyon and Freddy Ward, right. Photo: Wild

After all, how many households have two rubbish bins, one for recycling, in their bathroom? It is estimated that UK households throw away 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year.

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“With deodorant, it felt like a kind of really easy product to disrupt,” adds Bowes-Lyon. “Historically, it's probably been the most boring product there is.

“We felt we could go and create something that was really vibrant, really colorful and fun that people would share on their Instagram and be happy to talk about. Whereas I think previously the idea of people talking about their deodorant was probably kind of a farcical idea.”

The success story in 2023 saw Wild sell well over 1.3 million cases and five million refills (figures up until last September).

Wild is billed as the UK’s No 1 natural deodorant brand.
Wild is billed as the UK’s No 1 natural deodorant brand.

Wild also has a penchant for wacky scents and produces limited editions through the year which engages their customers. Their first for a Halloween scent, Toffee Apple, sold out in two weeks, while they have also concocted caramel popcorn and lemon meringue pie.

“I think it's just a great way to engage consumers with the brand,” admits Bowes-Lyon, “not everything has to be like a super kind of smart sophisticated scent.”

Wild’s quality output means that scents are six to nine months in the making, while the company now uses experts who use “all sorts of clever machines that can match scents”.

It’s a far cry from when the founders went through over 30 iterations of their first product and the duo tested them on their armpits. Now Wild uses premium products such as coconut oil and shea butter to ensure 24-hour protection, while a VIP group for consumers has grown to over 10,000 people. For their Halloween 2024 scents, Wild had over one thousand responses with ideas.

The Wild team picking up litter on the River Thames. Photo: Wild
The Wild team picking up litter on the River Thames. Photo: Wild

Rapid scaling saw Wild heralded last year by The Sunday Times as the fastest growing company in the UK over the last three years. “It was a big accolade for us,” says Bowes-Lyon. “At the same time, it's a lot of pressure.”

Last year they launched a refillable shower gel in what has been billed as the world's first 100% plastic-free, compostable bottle.

“The plan was always to remove plastic from the bathroom as a whole.” adds Bowes-Lyon. “It took about two years in the works because we were trying to create a plastic-free compostable bottle that could carry a liquid, which had literally never been done before.

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“The way it works is you get a dispenser, a case for life just like the deodorant, and then you just put your refills in, compost them once they're empty and they'll kind of biodegrade. Trying to pitch this idea is quite alien to them [retailers] because the actual packaging itself has an expiry date. You've got to use your refill within nine months, otherwise the actual bamboo packaging will start to biodegrade.”

Wild is now looking beyond Europe, with fulfillment orders in the US and Australia growing 600% and 300% respectively, while they are still broadening their reach closer to home. “In Portugal, for example, there's a lot of people who know and use Wild there," adds Bowes-Lyon, "even though we've never done any purposeful marketing in those countries. It just shows as well, there's potential for growth.”

Behind the brand: Charlie Bowes-Lyon on..

Being a co-founder…

“We've been going nearly four years now and it's a nice kind of upward trajectory on both revenue and profitability. But underneath, I think there's always a large amount of chaos, there's problems, there's lows that you have to really learn to contend with.

I've been a sole founder before and it's quite lonely. One of the things about being a founder of a start-up is you get these extreme highs and lows. Not necessarily emotionally yourself, but within the business, and they initially come fast and frequently. Having a co-founder who can share those moments with you and either be sad or happy about it is great.”

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