A screengrab from Matthew Tukaki's Sephora video

Here’s a thought: let’s not blame millennials for Sephora’s ‘waste dumping’

Sephora store employees may have swept some confetti down Auckland city’s drains on Saturday, and people got angry… at an entire generation. 

On Saturday, French cosmetics giant Sephora opened its first New Zealand store on Auckland’s Queen Street. Excited makeup enthusiasts queued overnight for the honour of being the first through the doors to get their hands on Fenty Beauty foundation and Dyson Supersonic hairdryers and other cult products I don’t know about because I am too old and lazy to care.

Sephora celebrated the opening by firing paper confetti from a cannon, as you do. If I was in that queue I’d probably rather they gave everyone a coffee and a doughnut, but maybe some people bloody love confetti, so who am I to judge. 

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Soon the headlines appeared: “Council investigating after Sephora staff seen dumping waste down drains at NZ store opening”. “Auckland mayor Phil Goff demands answers from cosmetics company Sephora over ‘unacceptable waste’ dumping”.

My first reaction, naturally, was outrage. After all, I’m The Spinoff’s resident insufferable sustainability/waste-reduction nag (Josie Adams is trying to take my crown but come on, as if.) 

The offending confetti (Photo from the Sephora NZ Facebook page)

But then I watched the outraged video from Matthew Tukaki, executive director of the New Zealand Māori Council, the whistle-blower who revealed that confetti was being swept down drains by Sephora staff, along with, he says, paper fragrance testers. 

In the video, which he posted to his Facebook page at 10.20am on Saturday and was subsequently picked up by various media outlets, Tukaki was angry. He was absolutely spitting mad. But something about his outrage made me a feel a little uncomfortable. Sure, he was pissed at Sephora, but it seemed like what Tukaki really took issue with was young people. Silly little things who only care about makeup.

To the fitting soundtrack of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ absolute banger ‘Heads Will Roll’, Tukaki rages about laundry baskets and cosmetic residues and crap going into our harbours, but much of his vitriol is reserved for millennials. Ah yes, millennials, that vast group of the young and not-so-young, our ages ranging from around 23 to around 38. Tukaki himself is 44, according to Wikipedia, so not really that far beyond a millennial himself, but you can tell he’s not here to split hairs. 

Photos of confetti allegedly being swept down drains from Matthew Tukaki’s Facebook page

“Meanwhile, lined up all around, as far as you can go, are these same millennials,” he says in the video, pronouncing the word with a sneer. “These same young people that thought it was a good idea to get out and protest climate change, now here they are lined up, allowing this sort of crap to happen in our harbour.

“So you want to believe in climate change, you little millennials lined up around the corner, then start holding this organisation to account for the crap they’re putting down.”

Little millennials. Wow. Who hurt you, Matthew? Let me hazard a guess – was it a millennial?

Never mind the fact that the climate change protests to which Tukaki refers were led by school students – they’re Generation Z, not millennials at all. I’d hazard a guess that many of those lining up for Sephora came from that cohort of youngies too: us millennials are far too cynical and jaded to queue for shit. 

In the Facebook comments under the video, alongside hot takes such as “let’s hope that the new concealer and waterproof mascara is pollution prof [sic] if you ever find a stream to dip in”, and “the same young shits people are encouraging to enter local body elections… too young, dumb, flighty enough to jump on any fad… and don’t forget the selfie”, a few people did point out that perhaps finger-pointing an entire generation wasn’t the best way to go about this. Tukaki wasn’t having a bar of it, however: 

Facebook wasn’t the end of it, either, with Tukaki doubling down in media interviews after the story was picked up. According to Stuff, when he asked a staff member what was going on, he was told the paper was soluble.

“This girl couldn’t even spell ‘soluble’, that’s how bad it was,” he’s quoted as saying.

I’m sorry, but, um, what? I have three points to make here: 1) Pretty rich coming from a man who spells Sephora wrong in the title of his video and doesn’t exactly display a masterful command of the English language in the above comment; 2) How do you know she couldn’t spell soluble if she told you this verbally; and 3) Who gives a shit if someone who works in a makeup store can’t spell soluble?

It’s worth pointing out here that Tukaki and his supporters’ criticism is as gendered as it is ageist. Those queuing up for Sephora were primarily women. Young women. “This girl”. “Little millennials”. “Young, dumb and flighty”. Such patronising comments I genuinely winced as I typed them. 

TFW you see a millennial

He seemed to be drawing a long bow with some of his comments, too, telling RNZ: “They had black plastic tubs that you can get from The Warehouse and they had white straw brooms – they are the marketing and brand colours of Sephora – so somebody has thought about making sure that whatever they were using matched their own branding.”

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Whoa, they went to the incredible lengths of sourcing tubs and brooms from The Warehouse, of all places, and even managed to get them in black and white. This must have been weeks, months, even years in the planning. Clearly a massive conspiracy. Absolute galaxy brain take there. 

Seriously though, it’s easy to target young women who like makeup, to blame them for the fact the world is fucked. Much easier than picketing Fonterra for polluting our waterways, or successive governments for not taking action, or, you know, perhaps thinking a little critically about why young women wear makeup, and what role capitalism and the patriarchy play in that. 

And it’s sure as hell easier, eh Matthew, than taking a good, hard look in the mirror and questioning the role of Gen-Xers like you who haven’t done a hell of a lot more than the baby boomers to get us out of this mess we’re in. 

But look, Tukaki, in his own way, means well. He seems like a good guy, one who has done a lot of work in suicide prevention and is not scared to take on those fuckwits at Hobson’s Pledge, and I would normally 100% tautoko his calling out of Sephora. But mate, young women have enough shit to deal with, like, you know, the gender pay gap, rape culture and the fact they’ve got a pretty high chance of being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. It’s about as black and white as those tubs and brooms to me: direct the blame elsewhere.


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