REEK Perfume: Damn Rebel Bitches
So... first, tell us what inspired REEK Perfume?
I was sick of the fact that our culture memorialises women so badly and had the idea of making a perfume that would be a tribute to historical women – our foremothers. The idea of scent as a silent rebellion excited me. As an older women myself, I was heartily sick of being sold beauty products that were advertised by young, size 8 mostly white girls, or celebrities (many of which were based around said women trying to attract a man) I was bored of that. Together with my daughter Molly we came up with REEK.
We decided to make our first scent, Damn Rebel Bitches, in memory of the Jacobite women – who were hellraisers. My favourite is Lady Nithsdale who broke her husband out of the Tower of London in 1716 and saved his life.
REEK wouldn’t smell so good without our amazing perfumer, Sarah McCartney who works from her smelly & sustainable workshop of dreams in Acton.
What’s it like working with your daughter, Molly?
It’s certainly not tranquil and it’s different from working in a professional environment because we tell each other exactly what we think without a filter.
When we were figuring out our packaging we almost came to blows. We started a hashtag #packagingisacruelmistress (she really is) and we were waking up in the middle of the night to text each other about wrapping paper and swing tags. But there is also a joyful side – we completely trust each other, we’re always brutally honest and get on brilliantly.
The company is a genuine fusion of our ideas about body image and feminism and the importance of culture and sustainability. It’s a real passion – Molly works hard and I’m proud of that. We’ve met so many brilliant bitches and witches through REEK – it’s an honour, really.
How are you an ethical perfume company?
We are tiny! Our perfumes are short runs of hand-mixed and hand-poured scent, which means there’s no waste. Thanks to our perfumer who runs a tight and sustainable ship at her studio, she thinks of everything from light bulb usage to how to cut machinery from the process.
Corporate perfumers landfill jaw-dropping amounts of perfume, bottles and packaging. Our perfumes are vegan friendly and cruelty-free.
We also work hard on the sustainability and reusability of our packaging – for example we chose wooden boxes for our 50mls for that reason (and that we love the way they look!). Our 7.5ml sizes are refillable so customers should only ever have to buy one (and then can refill from a dressing table 50ml). Quite often, when Edinburgh customers order, we deliver their perfume by hand. Where we can we reuse tissue paper, bubble wrap and postage packaging. We’re not perfect, but we do what we can. Every day is a school day when it comes to becoming more sustainable.
You work with activists to model your perfumes and interview them or invite them to write a blog (I loved writing mine!) what inspired this approach?
We disliked the way most companies treat their models – from the ‘manners’ of the shoot (no refreshment and bodies treated like meat at a market, basically) and we wanted it to be clear that our models are people and that we welcome their voices.
We have a no retouching policy on our imagery and no objectification. Our models pick which images they are happy to shoot on the day and share in the future. I’m a professional writer and one of the great things for me about working on Bitches Unite (the REEK blog) has been being able to share my editorial expertise – some of our models aren’t used to writing so helping to amplify those voices is a privilege.
Tell us about your journey of setting up your company and what you’ve learned along the way?
At the very beginning we tried to appear bigger. We were worried we didn’t seem professional enough. We talked about ‘our team’, which at that stage, was us and occasionally one or two other people sitting around our kitchen table. Customers occasionally turned up at the office (in my flat) and were bemused. They thought we were a huge company and they were expecting a glass office block full of REEK staff.
Then we decided we should be more honest and show people that REEK is just us. The perfume is stored in the garage behind the flat. We pack and post everything ourselves. It feels good to use our real voices. So that’s my best advice – be who you are.
What are your dreams and visions for the future?
We want to keep doing what we’re doing - making perfume and amplifying more women’s voices. We want to memorialize more women too as part of a process of balancing our history. You don’t really know yourself or where you are going unless you understand your history and women’s voices and women’s memories are missing from the mainstream. I’m writing a book about it at the moment called Where are the Women.