Pretty Powerful Series: Keren Rego

“Our younger generation are the future and it’s up to us to educate and motivate them to instil change in the world around them,” says Keren Rego, teacher of Point Chevalier School’s fair-trade class. Rego speaks from the heart – her own upbringing fostered her passion for sustainability at a young age. “As I child I was encouraged to take social action in regards to human rights, animal welfare, living sustainably and treating our planet and its people with respect,” Rego explains. It’s these same ethical values that have been with Rego since she was a child that the primary school teacher is dedicated to sharing with her family, friends, students and school community. “It has become a life-long commitment and journey that I’m deeply passionate about,” she says.

During the school year Rego devotes her time to teaching her students the fundamental principles of fair trade, with the goal of helping them to develop an understanding of the positive impact conscious consumers can have on the world. Fair trade bananas are the initial focus for Rego’s class: “They’re loved and eaten by Kiwi kids, so if I can equip my students with some persuasive arguments as to why their families should be buying fair trade bananas they become advocates for supporting all fair trade farmers.”

Rego explains that the same logic can then be applied to learning about a range of fair trade products, including chocolate, soft drinks, coffee, tea and even footballs. “My students want children all over the world to have the opportunity to go to school and have fun. Understanding that when you buy fair trade, children are not allowed to work on the farm or in the factory is a huge win-win for the students.”

Once students step outside of the classroom Rego says they’re eager to share their newfound knowledge and she’s enthusiastic about the influence her students are having on their families. “It’s exciting to see children talking to their families about sustainable issues. I’ve had grandparents come up to me in the playground saying they had never heard of fair trade before, but now they’re learning things from their grandchildren and they love it!”

Making sense of gender-neutral scents

Unlike the vast majority of contemporary fragrances, all of Arquiste’s scents are technically unisex. “It’s outdated to create a fragrance and just say: ‘Let’s sell it to this person,’ and put an image of a beautiful woman in the advertisement and think this will sell to a woman who wants to be like her,” says Carlos Huber, founder of Arquiste. Huber explains that it was his desire to transport people to a moment in time – the cargo of a 16th century Japanese samurai ship sent to negotiate with Spain inspired his most recent creation, Nanban – that resulted in Arquiste fragrances being gender neutral. “I wanted to use the most exquisite ingredients, and these days people don’t want to be told who a fragrance is for; they don’t want to be told: ‘This is not for you,’” Huber says.

Despite today’s widespread separation of his and hers fragrances, deciding on a perfume wasn’t always determined by gender. Historians and anthropologists have traced the division of perfume by gender back to the early 19th century and the rise of the middle class – up until the late 18th century it was common for men and women to wear the same scents. According to cultural historian Constance Classen, as the middle class grew, perfume became seen as an extravagance, and scent grew more entwined with gender. Women were seen as not only frivolous but also sweet and innocent – characteristics that were associated with floral and sweet scents. Citrusy and woody scents, on the other hand, were deemed acceptable for men.

Although the division of scent by gender dates back more than 200 years, Huber says it’s hard to ignore the impact that advertising has had on how we think of fragrance; he believes the golden age of advertising and real life Mad Men are to blame for reinforcing the way we associate certain smells with masculinity or femininity. “Before advertising, fragrances weren’t image-based; they were woody, floral or green. It wasn’t about a visual interpretation of gender,” Huber says. Instead of consumers being swayed by glamorised ideals of femininity and masculinity portrayed in advertising, Huber explains it was simply about scents smelling good. “You had to go to a perfume store and choose because you loved the scent. You weren’t choosing because of an ad.”

Huber believes the current shift in fragrance is simply a reflection of wider change that’s happening regarding the way we think of gender – just look at the runway to see how androgynous fashion has surged in popularity over the past few years. “Things are changing. We’re seeing women who are more ambiguous about their tastes and men who aren’t embarrassed to embrace fashion, the arts and now grooming,” says Huber, furthering his point about gender lines becoming more blurred.

While the shift towards gender fluidity in the beauty industry is impossible to ignore, and more women are favouring notes that are often considered masculine, Huber admits creating a floral scent that men will love isn’t easy. “How do you make a skirt masculine? That’s difficult. How do you make pants feminine? That’s not so difficult. It’s harder for a man to wear floral notes without feeling feminine – it speaks to our insecurities,” Huber says. That’s why Huber tends to push woody, citrusy and green notes. “You have to push it to the masculine side. Even today sweetness and powderiness are scents that people identify as feminine,” he explains.

At the end of the day, however, Huber says you never can guess how people will react to different scents, and he is confident fragrances that are free from gendered labels give people the freedom to express themselves. “Maybe you’re too afraid to experiment with clothing, but you’ll perhaps be less afraid to experiment with fragrance. It’s about the person choosing the fragrance and whether it feels right for them.”