One morning last month, I was in Cardiff, filming a story about homelessness and poverty for the BBC. As I sat in a shelter, drinking a mug of hot tea, I noticed I’d been leaning on some small plastic crates squeezed under a table. They were filled with mismatched tubes of toothpaste, little travel bottles of shower gel and an assortment of individual tampons and sanitary towels. Every last product had been donated by either members of the public or staff members. I was told that when a homeless woman got her period and invariably had no money to buy adequate sanitary protection, she’d approach the busy, often chaotic front desk, ask for a towel or tampon and wait for one of the dedicated support workers to retrieve one of the precious items from the crate. Likewise, a homeless man might approach the same desk for a razor or deodorant ahead of an important interview in which he may become housed, employed or eligible for support schemes. All drop-in clients or residents would, at some point or another, need some toothpaste or a new brush and have no money to pay for them. As I sat, staring into the crates at a pile of toiletries I’d see in my own home as annoying clutter, an ongoing conversation I’d been having with a close friend and colleague suddenly felt very urgent.
Between us, Jo Jones and I have spent some 40 years working in and around beauty, surrounded by luxury. We love and value our industry, admire and respect a great number of the good people in it and the very many charitable organisations they support, but, increasingly, we felt frustrated, bored and cross at the amount of waste, expense and needless fuss that has gradually become the norm in launching, promoting and marketing beauty products (a courier delivering me a large box containing heaps of tissue and a single piece of card telling me to “watch this space” for a new make-up product proved to be a watershed moment). It seemed particularly hard to square during a time of austerity and, more starkly, last summer, when Jo and I had each read a shocking report by In Kind Direct, who distribute consumer goods to smaller charities working with Britons living in poverty. The report identified “hygiene poverty” as “a hidden crisis” in Britain, and one that’s growing fast. A lack of basic toiletries is such a big concern for their recipient charities that In Kind Direct distributed £2.2m worth of products to their charities last year – a rise of 67 per cent on 2016.
Whether living on the streets, in shelters, B&Bs, their own homes, what little social housing there is left or hidden from the statisticians on friends’ sofas and floors, people all over Britain (13 million of them living below the poverty line) are finding it challenging, if not impossible, to stay clean – because the truth is almost anyone would prioritise eating over washing. More than half of families reliant on food banks say they can’t afford to buy toiletries. British girls from low-income families are missing days of school during their periods because they can’t afford sanitary protection. In some schools, teachers are bringing in sanitary supplies from home to ensure that female pupils won’t have to suffer the indignity of attending school unprotected. Workers on low incomes, many of them homeless, are visiting shelters for a hot shower and laundry facilities, to allow them to work with dignity and keep their jobs. Cuts to working benefits and other austerity measures, rising inflation and cuts in free school-meal provision mean that the problem is unlikely to improve imminently. This isn’t something from a film; it isn’t happening somewhere far away. This is happening here, in Britain, right now.
Clean hair, skin and teeth are a right, not a privilege. Personal hygiene – while not a matter of life and death – is crucial for our dignity, self-respect, personal pride and mental health
It isn’t right, fair or good enough. Clean hair, skin and teeth are a right, not a privilege. Personal hygiene – while not a matter of life and death – is crucial for our dignity, self-respect, personal pride and mental health. To feel clean is to feel better; to look good often makes us feel more able to face the day and the world. We know that toiletries and cosmetics have the ability to impact a human being’s self-esteem, pride, confidence and employment opportunity.
And so, today, Jo and I are launching Beauty Banks, a non-profit organisation that seeks to galvanise the beauty community – bloggers, journalists at magazines and platforms like The Pool, brands, retailers, PRs, influencers, in-store consultants, manufacturers and, crucially, readers – to provide toiletries and cosmetic products to people living in serious poverty. Whatever we can lay our hands on and whatever you decide to send – sanitary products, disposable razors, shampoo, shaving foam, shower gel, combs, hair bands, face wipes, hand gel, sunscreen, baby lotion, soap, face wash, spot cream, deodorant, moisturiser, Band-Aids, conditioner, lacquer, lotion or lipstick, we and our team of volunteers will sort it, thoughtfully pack it up and methodically send it out to our five (soon more) trusted charity food banks (operated by The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network, who are in desperate need of toiletries) and homeless shelter partners for distribution to those who’ll most benefit from your kindness.
Beyond the absolute essentials, like tampons and soap, we believe items like moisturiser, spot cream and a sharp razor can help support those in crisis who are looking for work, returning to education, suffering from poverty-associated mental-health difficulties or who are simply in need of the same sense of cleanliness and dignity taken for granted by the rest of us. The big beauty brands and their agencies are our first port of call – and we’ll take whatever we can beg, borrow or steal from them. But your help will be invaluable, too.
So, how can you get involved? Well, all those dinky hotel toiletries you hurriedly sweep up before check-out now have a purpose. You can chuck an extra box of tampons or towels in your Superdrug basket, or click for two tubes of toothpaste instead of one before checking out your online shopping cart. You can ask yourself if you’re ever really likely to use the hand soaps your aunt bought you for Christmas, or whether six shampoo bottles is an entirely wise use of bathroom space. As long as it’s unopened and going spare, we want it, because someone desperately needs it. When you’ve gathered together a decent stash and removed any restricted solvents (perfume and nail polish), pack it all into a box and kindly write “Beauty Banks” on every side of it, then post here:
c/o JO JONES
THE COMMUNICATIONS STORE
2 KENSINGTON SQUARE
LONDON W8 5EP
If you’d like to swerve the post office and cut out the middleman (and the P&P charges), you can buy us anything from our Easho wish list here and get it sent direct to us, no faff, no flannel. Actually, maybe flannel. We’ll have those, too.
If you believe you can help us further, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Instagram at @the_beauty_banks