We live among cardboard boxes full of kindness. In the hallway as you enter our house, a stack of multipacks of nappies. On the sofas, tubes of toothpaste, lipstick, and bottles of shampoo and shower gel. My office door is propped open with several cartons of – what’s that now? Mascara, maybe? Perhaps deodorant or tampons.
Wherever you look, boxes upon boxes: donations from the good-hearted. All sent at someone else’s cost. All ready to be torn open and sorted and crated and bagged and batched and collected, and then taken off to food banks around the country by a network of volunteers – friends and family, pals with vans, acquaintances who’ve had their arms twisted. This is Beauty Banks. Earlier this year my wife, Jo Jones, and her friend Sali Hughes set it up as a non-profit. This is what it does. With nothing more than an Instagram account and their own big mouths, Jo and Sali solicit donations of essential toiletries and cosmetics, then give them out to people who need them.
Their motivation in setting up Beauty Banks was straightforward: do some good for people who have less in an austerity-bitten country where not having enough is the new normal. (That’s the UK in case you wondered). The reaction to their appeal for help has been astonishing. There is, it seems, a quiet army of the altruistic out there. All of their donations come via our front door to be sorted and warehoused in our front room – and, when that overflows, in a storage unit down the road. Eventually, all of it goes back out that same front door to be delivered to the places where it will help the most. One of the ugliest phrases in the English language – literally as well as euphonically – is “hygiene poverty”. It means being unable to buy the stuff you need to keep you clean. And it is real. Girls skip school because they can’t afford period protection. Men miss job interviews because they can’t afford to shave. Smelly kids get bullied because a can of antiperspirant would have meant missing a meal.
The very idea of hygiene poverty is unglamorous and icky. It is anti-beauty: the sort of concept for which the industry – with its £200 tubs of moisturiser confected from Nordic algae and its £60 vials of brand-in-a-bottle fragrance – lacks a reputation, a vocabulary and, occasionally, a conscience. It is, to coin a phrase, a fucking disgrace. But it’s here, and it’s growing. Beauty Banks is trying to help. Sali and Jo have between them some 40 years’ experience of working in the beauty industry. Sali writes. Jo does PR. They can access some powerful platforms and influential people. They are also smart, talented, cool and energetic women who know how to get things done. As they have set up Beauty Banks, I have watched with nothing but admiration.
The main hub for communicating with them is @thebeautybanks on Instagram, which has all the information you need to donate. Along the way they have been helped by some incredible people. Their partners at Easho, the online wholesale retailer, have set up a system where you can buy products to be shipped directly to Beauty Banks. The PR and branding company Jo works for – The Communications Store – has lent logistical support and tried not to make too much of a fuss when palettes of conditioner and sanitary towels have been delivered unannounced to their reception. Jo’s dad comes over every couple of weeks and loads up his van to make drops at food banks all over the south east. This now sounds like an Oscars acceptance speech, and it shouldn’t. As Jo says, there are dozens of people she could spend her whole time thanking, but she knows that no one involved in Beauty Banks is in it for a pat on the back. Everyone who assists or donates does so because they genuinely care.
They might feel compassion for people who have little, or anger at a country in which inequality is entrenched. They might simply have been raised to feel a sense of common decency. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that parcels arrive every day, sent by everyone from school kids who have spent their pocket money on toothpaste instead of toy slime, to older people who have put aside a bit of their pension to help others in need. Trafford Food Bank and Women’s Aid Newport are just two of the organisations that have benefitted from Beauty Banks donation
Whoever these good folk are, all their donations go the same way. Toothbrushes and cotton buds, conditioner and cleanser, soap and spot cream – if you send it, Jo will open it, sort it and assign it to a new box. And later that evening someone will come and knock at our front door, collect up all those carefully packaged boxes of kindness, stick them in the back of their Volvo and take them off to a place where they will be valued more than you might ever know.
There is a beauty to that, I think, and it runs pretty deep.
Wildsmith Skin has donated £1000 to Beauty Banks. To help support them in their bid to end hygiene poverty