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Lucy's latest venture seeks to put a stop to hygiene poverty. Photo / Supplied

Making A Difference: Soap For Society Founder Lucy Revill

Viva and Dilmah Tea celebrate women creating change for a positive future

While lots of New Zealanders kindly donate things like canned foods and blankets to their City Mission, fewer think to donate beauty products or toiletries, which might seem like luxuries rather than basic necessities. But imagine trying to hold on to your sense of self-respect and dignity when you struggle to afford to keep yourself clean.

People living in poverty need things like razors, deodorant, toothpaste and soap— sometimes in order to keep their jobs — and women and girls need sanitary products, which many, including the Child Poverty Action Group, consider too expensive.

Last month, Wellingtonian Lucy Revill launched Soap for Society, which aims to raise awareness of “hygiene poverty” and do something about it. Inspired by British beauty writer Sali Hughes who co-founded a similar organisation, Revill organised a drive, with drop-off points for donated toiletries in three locations and a fundraising lunch, and partnering with the Wellington City Mission, which can distribute the goods and offers a shower service.

Some companies have already donated, including Health Pak, which makes hotel miniatures, and Bon, which makes organic cotton tampons. “We've got off to a really awesome start, but we absolutely need more,” she says.

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Revill is a policy advisor in the financial sector who also writes a blog called The Residents, about things going on in Wellington. She says when she first heard about Beauty Banks, “it just seemed like a “Duh!” moment”.

“Wellington City Mission, like many charities, is undersupplied in this area. It’s not something we think of as essential, but it’s fundamental to our mental health and our personal dignity. It’s important to think about not just the minimum required to get through, but about how we can support people to feel human again.

“This sounds horrible, but I also think it’s often assumed people choose to be dirty. We can all probably remember that one kid in school who was a bit smelly, but that person probably didn’t choose not to have deodorant. There’s probably stuff going on behind the scenes where that person’s not capable of getting their hands on these kinds of products.”

As a consumer and creator of YouTube and Instagram content, Revill says she already felt “very conscious of how much of it is aimed at selling”, with beauty bloggers often posting videos of themselves unpacking a large haul of gifts and goodies.

She’s mindful of the impact of this kind of rampantly consumerist influencer marketing, and says, “it’s completely fine to be interested in beauty and to care about lipstick, but you can also really care about other people in our society and want to make a difference. Those two things can be interconnected, and that's what I'm trying to do with Soap For Society: to show that you can love beauty but also have a conscience, and think about offsetting certain behaviours. Go and order the whole Fenty collection online, but also use some of your income to support those who need a bit of extra help”.

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Revill is hoping that, as well as bathroom essentials (razors, soap, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, face wash, face wipes, deodorants, toothbrush and toothpaste), people will also donate beauty products — a travel-sized soap swiped from a hotel stay, a ‘gift with purchase’ eyeshadow that doesn’t suit you.

“The point is to acknowledge that, like us, other people are multi-faceted and have many needs, and it’s nice to acknowledge those things and give people a bit of a treat, too.”

She also hopes that this kind of giving will become routine for those who can afford it. “No one loves that feeling when you, say, bought a fast-fashion dress and wore it twice and then threw it out. You feel really guilty about that kind of thing. But if you buy something and maybe it's not for you, but you know what to do with it and where to take it, and you get together a packet of stuff? That's fantastic.

“By being more mindful about what we do with these sorts of products, we can help others feel better about themselves and we can help ourselves feel better about ourselves.”

  • This is part of a special Viva and Dilmah editorial series celebrating inspirational women excelling in their fields. To see more, go to Viva.co.nz/Dilmah
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