I came across the story of Anita Roddick in Roman Krznaric’s How To Find Fulfilling Work, a self-help book I’m reading as reference for my own. I’m ashamed to say I knew very little of her rags to riches story and the creation of The Body Shop, the British cosmetic and skin care company.
Founded in 1976 after failing to turn a profit on a B&B inn and a rock & roll burger bar, the 34 year-old Roddick was financially strapped and incredibly cautious. In the first few years she asked customers to return their bottles to refill out of financial necessity. Roddick confessed this teething stage in her memoir: “Everything was determined by money, or rather a lack of it."
As Krznaric states: “Gradually, however, values started filtering into the business, transforming The Body Shop into a company geared to making a difference as well as face creams, and which earned profits while not intent on maximizing them.”
These values extended to the founding of Soapworks in the late eighties, a Glasgow based soap factory that funneled its profits back into the local community. In 1991, Roddick also conceived The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people that sells more than 300,000 copies a week.
Roddick’s story is reminiscent of Ray Kroc, the man who brought the McDonald brothers fast-food creation to the world. Like Kroc, Roddick came upon a little fragrant shop in Berkeley, California known as The Body Shop (tsk, tsk) and became enchanted with its vision.
Unlike Kroc, who got into bed with the owners, Roddick simply appropriated the name and formula in Brighton with her vision and dogged determination leaving the original creators in the dust (Roddick would eventually pay out the California owners millions in 1987).
An anomalous entrepreneurial spirit, Roddick campaigned tirelessly for “...the rain forest, debt relief for developing countries, indigenous farmers in impoverished nations, whales, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism, to name a few."
While Roddick was one of the first to champion the banning of animal testing, her noble standing came under media scrutiny in the mid nineties when the company went public. In the ensuing years several major publications would accuse the company of greenwashing, of promoting deceptive marketing campaigns.
I remember being captivated by The Body Shop as a child. It was a sensory overload, your eyes and nose overwhelmed by walls of colour and exotic scented products. It was a one-stop-shop for last-minute Christmas gifts, the perfect place to buy a pre-wrapped basket crammed full of bathroom goodies.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding Roddick’s road to riches, her fierce passions and global reach gave a platform to the voiceless, raising global awareness and social engagement in the process. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.