As an independent Brighton business, we felt we needed to celebrate a Brighton business person who not only made good but did good. Today, The Body Shop is a major international brand instantly recognisable all over the world but it began with a single shop here in Brighton, not far from us here in the North Laine and grew into something extraordinary thanks to the tireless efforts of one woman who we admire very much, Anita Roddick. From the very humblest of beginnings, Anita built up a business that was so ahead of its time, it’s astonishing that it did so well. Here is a bit about this amazing woman and what she achieved in her, very sadly, fairly short life.
A Little Mouldy Shop in the North Laine
Coming from a theatrical background but failing to get into stage school, Anita trained as an English teacher then travelled the world. Eventually coming home, she married Gordon Roddick in 1970 in Reno, Nevada, USA then opened a small B&B in Littlehampton. While Gordon had taken two years away to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York, Anita took on a loan of £4,000 and opened a little shop in the North Laine. The premises was so derelict that she joked The Body Shop’s branding was green to cover the mould in the shop.
A Totally Different Approach to Cosmetics
This was 1976. We are fairly used to being sold products on their ethics nowadays but it was practically unheard of back then. Cosmetics were marketed to women as things they should use to make themselves beautiful. Anita was having none of that though. Her little shop sold products that were a pleasure to use. As we all know, The Body Shop products are famous for their wonderful smells and they were some of the first to be sold as an experience rather than something utilitarian. They were also marketed as being free from animal testing, free from artificial chemicals and purchased from independent growers and producers long before FairTrade was a thing.
After selling 50% of the business to a local garage owner, Anita bought her second shop and then Gordon came back from his travels (with a very sore behind, one would imagine) and had the bright idea of franchising the business out. People, mostly women, opened The Body Shop shops all over the place selling beautifully smelling cosmetics with a side order of environmental awareness and activism to help developing nations thrown in. In 1984, the business went public. This, to Anita in retrospect, was a mistake.
Business Issues and Good Works
The business flourished even in the hyper uncaring ‘money is everything’ atmosphere of the 1980s but Anita struggled with the pressures the City put on her to focus on nothing but growth and profit. It also forced the business to grow too fast for her liking and she soon felt as if she’d lost control. By the 90s, Anita was the fourth richest woman in Britain and using a great deal of her influence, time and money to promote ethical consumption, human rights issues and pacifist causes. She worked with, among others, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International and the Big Issue. Sadly, her success as the head of a company with branches in 55 countries made her seem like a hypocrite to those who were opposing globalist capitalism and she begin to step away from the company.
A Betrayal or an Opportunity?
Anita had stood down as chief executive but created headlines and a great deal of outrage in 2006 when she sold The Body Shop to L’Oreal for £625million, pocketing £118million herself from the deal. While many people saw this as selling out and a total betrayal of what they thought she believed in, it is understandable in the context of what the company had become since going public and her, then recent, diagnosis of Hepatitis C. It certainly allowed her to give a great deal of that money to good causes and help establish The Roddick Foundation which supports all kinds of enterprises. These include the Brighton Dome and Festival to help promote new artists and performers, the Blue Marine Foundation to help protect marine life and Christian Aid to provide humanitarian aid to those most in need. The Roddick Foundation is still going today and still doing good work. Very sadly, only a year or so after the sale of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick passed away from a brain haemorrhage.
However you feel about the controversial sale of The Body Shop to L’Oreal, no one can deny that Anita Roddick was not only a remarkable woman, but a pioneer in the world of ethical consumption and businesses focused around doing good in the world as well as selling nice products. She changed the way people saw cosmetics and showed the world a better way.