Tuesday, 19 October 2021

The West End 'double AKT' conquers the stage and new investments

Written by Lily Hobbs
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Born to perform - thanks to its theatrical founders - AKT, an upmarket natural deodorant, is hitting all the right notes as it secures £1.5 million in funding from Stonebridge, the digital-first consumer brand investment firm headed up by DTC entrepreneur James Cox. 

Made for high performances on everyday stages, AKT secured generous funding to make its all-inclusive, all-natural deodorants even more sustainable.

Amassing an ever-growing cast of consumer and beauty editor devotees with its sophisticated gender-inclusive fragrances and award-winning, aluminium-salt-free formula that 'actually works', AKT will use the investment from the London-based financier to increase the plastic-free firm’s footprint across Europe, in addition to enhancing its subscriptions, loyalty programs and eCommerce experiences.

The luxury firm, founded by Ed Currie and Andy Coxon in 2020, also plans to develop its range of 100% recyclable products beyond their hugely successful deodorant balms – already proving a big hit with Esquire, Vogue, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar, along with a huge network of influencers from backstage, to stage and screen.

With the playful tagline 'Tested on dancers, not animals', the earth-conscious start-up - which manufactures its elevated gender-inclusive natural deodorants in the UK - has ambitions to be a leading luxury, plastic-free natural skincare brand.

About The Brand

Founders Ed Currie and Andy Coxon had busy jobs in London’s West End theatre district. Performing eight shows a week under searing hot stage lighting in popular musicals, mainstream deodorants simply were not making the cut.

'We had active lifestyles being performers: rehearsals and auditions during the day, then we'd go to the gym, to dance class, all while doing eight shows a week,' explains Ed Currie. 'In those creaky old theatres you have to go up five flights of stairs to your dressing room and then down again to the stage, so we were just very sweaty people! Wearing the same costume night after night, things just used to get a bit stinky.'

'I’d stick on a T-shirt and five minutes later it would smell. It was ingrained in the fabric and I couldn’t wash it out. I tried everything on the market: natural deodorants, traditional stuff like Sure and Lynx and then extra strength antiperspirant, which burned my armpits and stained my clothes. I was just getting so frustrated, throwing away T-shirts every other week. And I was just like, I hate this, I’m going to figure out how to do this myself, because somebody has to... there must be a way!'

This led to Ed tinkering in his Camden kitchen to create a deodorant that was going to work for him. 'I started researching online and found a very basic recipe to make at home. It gave me a terrible rash, but I didn’t smell. It did, however, give me the itch to delve deeper.'

This marked the beginning of Ed’s three-year journey as he poured blood, sweat and tears into crafting the product he would later take to market with his co-star, Andy. When they hit a winning formula, they began handing out samples to their friends working in theatre, knowing that they would appreciate it too. 'The West End was going crazy for it. All our friends and family loved it,' says Ed.

The glowing feedback did not initially lead to a business plan. But then a chance meeting with Caroline Quentin, and her husband, Sam Farmer backstage at a friend’s performance, sparked a second surge of activity. Farmer, a cosmetic formulator, gave them some advice, telling them they needed to raise money.

The duo took boxes to every single West End theatre, handing out over 1000 products and asking people to post about it. 'We crowdfunded with a Kickstarter campaign and gave a sample to every single person performing in the West End.' With this network, 'we hit the target of £15,000 within 24 hrs and had raised £50,000 by the end of the month. We were then overwhelmed with over 3000 units to make.' Ed explains.

Then, along came the pandemic. Overnight, theatres were closed and productions ground to halt. 'The pandemic is a big part of our story,' says Ed, 'Andy was in day two of rehearsals as the leading man, Tony in West Side Story at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester when lockdown was announced, so missed out on a huge role and was instantly out of work.'

'When we both lost our jobs, we realised that we had to put all of our time and energy into AKT to survive. When we launched in May 2020, its reception just blew us away.'


Priced at £18, AKT is a premium player in the plastic-free, natural deodorant market. With three different fine fragrances inspired by nature, Scene 1 (Orange Grove - Petitgrain, Mandarin, Neroli), Scene 2 (After Thunder - Cedar, Eucalyptus, Orange) and Scene 3 (The Onsen - Vetiver, Lavandin, Yuzu), the multi-use deodorant balm is applied using a brass applicator that takes inspiration from gua sha, the Chinese method of massage and lymphatic drainage.

'We wanted to create an earth-conscious, natural deodorant with high-end fragrances designed for all genders,' says Andy. 'Our customers don’t want to smell like teenagers anymore. In fact, many of our customers use the deodorants as a replacement for their perfumes as they can’t get enough!'

While AKT uses a DTC subscription model, welcoming new customers with a permanent 15% discount, legacy retailers are also interested such as Selfridges, which brought the brand into stores as part of its Project Earth initiative, and John Bell & Croydon, who adorned its Wigmore Street windows with an entire AKT window display.

Ed says, 'AKT works like a moisturiser as well as a natural alternative to antiperspirant. We use intensely nourishing ingredients like Calendula and Shea, and have developed a proprietary blend of natural, mineral and plant powders called DEO-BARRIER COMPLEX™ that rest invisibly on the skin and absorb natural perspiration throughout the day - without blocking your sweat glands.'

Managing Partner at Stonebridge, entrepreneur James Cox (Simba Sleep, Carbon Theory, Mahabis) said: 'Natural deodorants have been gaining significant momentum with consumers due to growing awareness of the potentially harmful effects of aluminium-salts in deodorant formulas.

The organic deodorant market is set to be worth $158.5 million by 2025, AKT’s perfect blend of style and substance positions them well as a future winner, with the same attributes giving them license to extend the range at speed.

They have these incredibly sophisticated fragrance profiles that actually perform. It really works as an effective deodorant. Something, other brands in the space haven’t achieved.'