Work That Works: Camilla Brown, Collagin

I first met Cam Brown, one half of the founders of alcohol company Young in Spirit, at the pub. So there’s some kind of synergy that our relationship has come full-circle and I’m now interviewing her about her runaway successful craft gin brand, Collagin, the first ever gin with added collagen.

We met at the Edinburgh Castle in Camden for the occasion of our mutual friend Jamie’s birthday, and I remember my first impression of her as one of being in awe: vivacious, confident and outspoken, she was always destined to do something other than the static PR job she was in. But back then I had no idea that would mean a rip-roaring career in booze and a more-than successful appearance on Dragons’ Den!

I spoke to her about her journey to the Den, success in a male-dominated booze world and how she works in complete synergy with her ex-boss and business partner, Liz.

What made you want to start an alcohol brand? Where did the original idea come from?

Liz and I both worked in PR (she was my boss!) and in April 2016 we’d just nailed a successful PR campaign for a new ‘anti-ageing’ gin, with coverage going worldwide. People were asking where to buy it and stock it world wide, and we thought there might be something in it…

With a little goading and then many overly-excited after work phone calls Liz and I decided to turn that PR stunt into reality, and thus began a journey of ups, downs and frankly hilarious tribulations. We became ‘Gintrepreneurs’, launching our gin in March 2017  and working tirelessly on the new business outside of our full-time jobs before finally decided to quit and focus on Collagin full time. The idea of combining two hugely popular worlds – beauty and booze, was something that we’d never seen done before, and the response so far has been amazing.

Collagin with grapefruit
Fever-tree and grapefruit: the perfect Collagin serve

Wow, thinking about it you’re right – no other brands doing this come to mind. Yet the audiences for both beauty and booze, particularly when it comes to gin, must be so similar! Why Collagen?

The gin industry is worth £1.6 billion, and the collagen industry is set to hit £26 billion by 2025. They are both hugely popular in the world of our target market, so by combing them to create a truly stand out gin we have set ourselves apart from a very saturated market. We love that our bottle could easily sit on a back bar or a beauty counter.

I can vouch for this – I currently have an empty Collagin bottle housing some roses! It really is beautiful. 

You have a really inspiring team of two women: how do you split jobs within the business, and is it easy to maintain your friendship while you work together?

We are so different which is why it works. We realised when we lived in London we were complete opposite sides of the Victoria line, me Walthamstow and Liz Clapham, which epitomises our personalities. But that means we have completely different skills and the jobs fall naturally into place.

On our business cards I’m ‘The Duke of Spirit’, so I deal with the taste, flavours, serves etc as well as the PR. Liz’s card reads ‘The Duchess of Brand’ so she makes everything look beautiful, but she’s also the organised one who keeps the business running day to day. We both share on and off trade sales, which is nicely competitive, and we love working the trade and consumer shows together. Our friendship started in an office, so we’ll always have the air of business around us which works.

“In business we accept the obstacles and do what we can to get around them: our darkest days turn out to be our best”

Camilla Brown, Collagin

I love that – it feels like a proper yin-yang relationship. The real Tess and Claudia of Gin ;)

Have you found it difficult to be a women-led business in an industry that is traditionally male-dominated?

At first we did. Many people, mainly men, told us we couldn’t do it and that two PR girls would not be able to launch a gin company. But the doubt, lack of belief and negativity just spurred us on!

We found a good mentor, an even better financial director, then with the undoubting support from our friends and family we set off on our journey, accepting the obstacles and doing what we could to get around them. Our darkest days turned out to be our best.
Our investors are all men which must say something!

“Regret is so much worse than failure.”

It’s brilliant to hear how you took power and strength from the naysayers, that’s how to do it. What has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve come across since starting the business?

When we first launched we came up against so many obstacles, I’m so surprised (but proud) that we carried on, especially as we had full time jobs at the time. Our original name was illegal, our original recipe was turned away by some larger distillers, our original designs were ghastly… but we didn’t rush. We waited until we were 100% with everything (and above board) which mean when we did launch, we got amazing feedback and huge instant sales, which is rare for a new product in such a busy market.

Camilla Brown, Collagin

Camilla, Liz and Collagin

I could definitely learn lessons from this: when it comes to business I’m always jumping in feet first before I’m ready. What has been the biggest success?

Launching with John Lewis nationwide and Ocado in the same month was insane. But I think nabbing two Dragons in The Den is something that will be up there for a long time.

Which one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start their own brand?

Don’t think about what could happen, just do it. If we knew about the hurdles we’d come up against we both say we wouldn’t have done it, but right now we’d be stuck in an office job we hate and wondering “what if?”. Regret is so much worse than failure.

Camilla Brown, Collagin
What’s next for Young In Spirit?

We have recently launched a limited edition Rose Pink version, and we have some exciting gift sets in the making for Christmas.

Also with the help of the Dragons we are looking to focus on expanding internationally next year and get even more flavours and products on the market. Watch this space!

I’m SO excited to follow the next part of your journey, Cam: your story is truly inspiring. Thank you so much for speaking to me!

You can follow Collagin here on Instagram and buy your very own bottle (it’s delicious) here.

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