Jul 15, 2023

The businesswoman who sees colours in words and numbers

YesColours' customers, says creative director and co-founder Emma Bestley, are willing to paint anything in its best-selling Electric Blue: from sheds, church bells and even rat cages.

“There is something mystical and magical and it’s a blue that is doing something to people that I never thought it would do,” says Bestley.

It is testament to Bestley and co-founder John Stubbs’ vision in launching not only a quality, eco-friendly paint brand but their mission to reduce the UK’s paint waste.

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The business was born in the pandemic when Stubbs phoned Bestley — both university friends — and talked about how his father-in-law was getting rid of paint tins. “I then started moaning as my pet hate is the rusty leftover tins,” recalls Bestley.

With Stubbs’ background as a career product manager in the design sector, the duo set upon a business idea and designing pouches as packaging.

“They have come to the forefront with food and beverage and beauty but a lot are non-recyclable,” says Bestley. “We wanted to create fully recyclable pouches, right down to the lids and nozzles.”

Having invented Europe’s first recyclable paint pouch, the brand now creates and sources all of its paint locally in the UK, without adding any harmful chemicals.

Yet, it still took time due to a lack of raw materials during COVID before the founders tested for temperature and drop tested for courier handling.

Tellingly, the pair have refused to look at trends, instead focusing on relatable connections to colours: be it movies, nature, food or music.

Bestley says: “Once you have those visual images, you boil it down and you realise you have the whole colour wheel.

“If you want to be a sustainable brand, when you talk about trends they are too short lived. We don’t want people to paint a wall and then again in six months. The way we saw our brand was to be positive and it would talk to people who are creative.”

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The first colour they developed was its Electric Blue. Launched last summer it uses pure ultramarine pigment and is now a best seller on its third batch.

“There are a lot of Frida Kahlo [Mexican painter] and Marrakech-inspired walls now in Britain and in people’s gardens,” says Bestley.

Following pouch tests, the next step was finding the right manufacturing partnership. With some brands setting up their own production line, YesColours found a 100-year-old, fifth-generation company in Manchester. “Their quality of paint I think is the best in the country,” admits Bestley.

Her creativity and colour insight is enhanced, she says, through being diagnosed with the hereditary Grapheme-colour synaesthesia.

“It’s a genetic brain mutation which sounds horrendous but it’s not,” she says. “Your senses are merging. It’s almost a useless superpower but for a co-founder of a paint business it’s almost the most perfect thing I could have experienced.”

Bestley sees colour in words and numbers and, from an early age, they have stayed the same. “For example, the days of the week I see Monday as red, Tuesday as blue and so on,” she adds. “It’s helped me memorise things such as telephone numbers or friends' names. When I was young I assumed every young person’s brain processed that way.”

She only discovered the condition in 2006 when she watched a Channel 4 documentary, while it is estimated that up to 4% of the population has Grapheme-colour synaesthesia, with most not realising they have it.

Bestley exudes positivity with both her synaesthesia and her business outlook. “It’s always been slightly organic growth,” she says. “We always knew we were going to be positive and not finger-wagging when it came to our eco credentials and sustainability.

“We didn't want to be intimidating. We don’t want people to think we are all about bright colours and drench our house in it.

“Having a name such as YesColours, as John says, we are a colour company that just so happens to sell paint."

With most paint tins coming in 2.5 litre tins, YesColours took the step of selling in one litre pouches after seeing over ordering as a contributing factor to paint waste, while Stubbs says that around 55 million litres worth of paint goes to waste in landfill every year.

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He says: “We wanted to disrupt the customer journey and produce packaging more recyclable in people’s homes and that paint wasn’t being stored in sheds or under stairs.”

“Already we are conscious of how people buy paint,” Bestley adds. “I think we would be millionaires if we just threw brilliant colours in a tin and it would be easy and quick.

“But the way we talk about paint and our pouches, it is a considered purchase."

The business offers free 15-minute consultations should consumers want a second opinion. YesColours are also happy to eschew the current fads of beiges and greys, instead setting out its stall as a niche company aiming to be colourful.

“We never want to be prescriptive, we want to guide and inspire but never tell people this is the way it should be,” adds Bestley.

“After all, we have all the colours of the colour wheel. There is something for everyone and that’s what makes it inclusive.”

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