Anita Roddick redefined the way beauty products were marketed and sold to consumers. By paying a strong emphasis on animal-free product testing, recyclable packaging and strong business ethics, Roddick carved a niche for herself in the crowded cosmetics industry. She was widely hailed for supporting a variety of environmental causes and spoke strongly against visible malpractices in the business world which harmed the environment. Roddick’s ethical drive and innovative business acumen propelled The Body Shop to the pole of the beauty industry, earning over $231 million in revenue by the end of 1992.
The foundation is laid
Roddick conceptualized Body Shop during one of her sojourns to Europe with her two daughters. She was struck by the superior hair and skin quality of the natives, enhanced by using only indigenous plants grown locally. Roddick had had a previous business stint as well, and was familiar with aspects of starting a business. Moreover, her family was not doing well financially, and Roddick surmised that selling such lotions could bring in additional income for the family.
Strangely, Roddick’s core principle of using environment and animal-friendly products was not a key focus when the company was in its developing stage. It was born out of necessity more than empathy towards nature, as she wanted to be as frugal as possible (a trait she learned from her mother) while conducting business. The recyclable containers could easily be refilled with lotions from sachets, and would save Roddick the cost of manufacturing bottles in bulk.
Rooted in ethics
Roddick was clear from the start about the kind of company she wanted to create. She was a vocal critic of ethical malpractices rampant in the cosmetics industry, and had a strict zero-tolerance policy towards unethical practices instated from day one.
Roddick was vehement in her demand for sourcing product ingredients from indigenous tribes or village communities. She was determined to remove those middlemen and organizations involved in exploiting these groups, and selling them later to corporations at exorbitant prices.
She established multiple fair trade agreement across the globe, empowering the tribesmen and their right over the products they grew—the beginning of which was the buying of the Brazil nut oil from an Amazonian Indian tribe in 1987. Since then, the list has expanded to include procuring Shea Butter from the Tungteiya Women’s Association in northern Ghana and Argan Oil from the Targanine cooperative in Morocco, among others.
Roddick opened her first Body Shop store in Brighton, UK in 1976. Though the shop was modest by all means, the sales of the handful of products sold surpassed everyone’s expectations. Within six months, Roddick had opened her second store. Body /Shop’s exponential growth continued for nearly two decades—within 15 years there were 700 outlets in over 50 countries. Being voted the 2nd most trusted brand in all of UK in 1999 by the Consumer’s Association also helped.
A champion of global issues
Roddick simply saw The Body Shop as a platform – to engage with the wider audience about causes close to her heart. She was involved in reducing poverty, educating the children of highly marginalized societies & campaigning for the welfare of animals and Mother Nature.
In 1990, Roddick published ‘The Big Issue’—a magazine written by the homeless population of the world. Through the heart-wrenching real life stories of its contributors, she wanted to bring attention to the plight of those without a roof over their head. Not only did the ‘The Big Issue’ lend a voice to the poorest of the poor, it also provided an alternative, fair employment to the vast majority of the homeless people, developing into a social inclusion program.
The same year, Anita also launched ‘Children on the Edge’ foundation after a trip to Romanian orphanages. Roddick would keep pamphlets of the foundation, detailing the activities being undertaken to uplift the marginalized community, and urge shoppers to donate.
Roddick was also a frequent speaker on humanitarian and environmental forums. She also served on the board of leading not-for-profits and international organizations, including Foundation for National Progress, Human Rights Watch, among others. She was honored by numerous organizations, before being knighted in 2006 as Dame of British Empire.
To gain an idea of the kind of brand value and fan following Body Shop had garnered, one just needs to look at its acquisition cost. In 2006, The Body Shop was snapped up for 652 million pounds ($ 1.14 billion) by L’Oreal—a move many deemed controversial owing to L’Oreal’s considerably less stringent anti-animal testing policy. When questioned on this, Roddick was convinced that Body Shop’s acquisition would compel L’Oreal to rethink their testing practices and align with that of Body Shop.
Roddick’s disdain towards personal wealth was well documented. In her final years, she had a ‘joyful time’ donating on average 3 million pounds a year in charity. At the time of her death in 2007, she left little to nothing for her family and friends. Of course, her entire personal wealth, a little over 50 million pounds, had been bequeathed to various charitable organizations as per her will.
Roddick’s impact on the world was wide-ranging; she was involved in numerous global issues and put herself wholeheartedly in each cause she supported. Her legacy as the founder of Body Shop can probably be eclipsed only by her richer legacy as a poor people’s champion – a beautiful person in its truest sense.
Remember the Titans is a weekly ode to the inventors, geniuses, and business pioneers who left the world better than they got it. Check out stories of other Titans here.
Anant Gupta is a Business Intelligence Analyst at KPMG.
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