Anita Roddick OBE founded The Body Shop in 1976. With a strong sense of moral outrage, first awakened when reading about the Holocaust aged 10, she believes that businesses have the power to do good. And she also believes that the older you get, the more radical you become!
I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to take sales of Â£300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking. Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science, it’s about trading: buying and selling. It’s about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it. Now 28 years on The Body Shop is a multi local business with 1,980 stores serving over 77 million customers in 50 different markets in 25 different languages and across 12 time zones. And I haven’t a clue how we got here!
I was born in Littlehampton in 1942. As the child of an Italian immigrant couple in an English seaside town, I was a natural outsider, and I was drawn to other outsiders and rebels. James Dean was my schoolgirl idol. I also had
a strong sense of moral outrage, which was awakened when I found a book about the Holocaust at the age of ten. I trained as a teacher but an educational opportunity on a kibbutz in Israel eventually turned into an extended working trip around the world. Soon after I got back to England, my mother introduced me to a young Scotsman named Gordon Roddick. Our bond was instant. Together we opened first a restaurant, and then a hotel in Littlehampton. We married in 1970, me with a baby on my back and another in my belly.
It wasn’t only economic necessity that inspired the birth of The Body Shop. My early travels had given me a wealth of experience. I had spent time in farming and fishing communities with pre-industrial peoples, and been
exposed to body rituals of women from all over the world. Also the frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions. Why waste a container when you can refill it? And why buy more
of something than you can use? We behaved as she did in the Second World War, we reused everything, we refilled everything and we recycled all we could. The foundation of The Body Shop’s environmental activism was born out of ideas like these.
I am aware that success is more than a good idea. It is timing too. The Body Shop arrived just as Europe was going ‘green’. The Body Shop has always been recognisable by its green colour, the only colour that we could find to
cover the damp, mouldy walls of my first shop. I opened a second shop within six months, by which time Gordon was back in England. He came up with the idea for ‘self-financing’ more new stores, which sparked the growth of the franchise network through which The Body Shop spread across the world. The company went public in 1984. Since then, I have been given a whole host of awards, (which are outlined below) some I understand, some I don’t and a
couple I think I deserve.
Businesses have the power to do good. That’s why The Body Shop’s Mission Statement opens with the overriding commitment, ‘To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.’ We use our stores and our products to help communicate human rights and environmental issues.
For me, campaigning and good business is also about putting forward solutions, not just opposing destructive practices or human rights abuses. And one key area where my business and personal interests naturally combine is
through The Body Shop community trade initiatives.
Though I no longer sit on executive committees, I spend most of my time on The Body Shop business. I source new products during travels abroad, work as part of the creative team and spearhead campaigns, such as the current Positive Energy Campaign with Greenpeace. And I constantly question myself: how can I bring values into an industry that is certainly not values-laden? The only way I can do it, is to perhaps bring back an idea for a trading
initiative with an economically impoverished community in Mexico or Africa, or find inspiration for a new company commitment, just as my 1990 trip to Romania spurred the Romanian Relief Drive (now called Children on the Edge)
and a visit to Glasgow led to our partnerships with Soapworks a local factory that produces our soaps. I also hold great hopes for The New Academy of Business, a masters degree course at Bath University, which I helped to
launch in 1997 with the aim of reforming business education for the new century.
The most exciting part of my life is now – I believe the older you get, the more radical you become. There’s a Dorothy Sayers quote I love, “A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force.” In November 1999, I flew to Seattle to speak out against the role of the World Trade Organisation and witnessed the ‘Battle of Seattle’. I’m fascinated by the publishing industry: in 2000 I published my autobiography Business and Unusual and in 2001 I edited Take it Personally, a collection of provoking
thought pieces to challenge the myths of globalisation and the power of the WTO.
The excitement and success of these endeavors has prompted me to start my own communications company, Anita Roddick Publications. I like to say we manufacture “weapons of mass instruction.” We are experimenting with various forms and mediums to celebrate and advance the same things I’ve always cared about: human rights, the environment, and creative dissent. Our first two books were published in 2003: ‘Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual
Activists Handbook’ and ‘A Revolution in Kindness.’
I launched my own website AnitaRoddick.com in 2001 and I am overwhelmed by the potential of the web to link like-minded people and move them to mass-action. We are excited to experiment in other media too ‘ perhaps
subversive billboards, or a television program, or other print projects. As someone once said, we are only limited by our imaginations.
With The Body Shop and Anita Roddick Publications, I will continue fighting for human-rights and against economic initiatives and structures that abuse and ignore them. That’s a tall enough order to keep me busy for the next 30 years.
Interview by Kate Monkhouse Anita Roddick discusses a lifetime of activism and social responsibility, challenging Christians to be proactive about their responsibilities.
There’s no doubting The Body Shop has helped put fair or community trade relationships on the mainstream agenda. And Anita remains dedicated to campaigning for the human rights, often abused and ignored by trade rules that are all about profits, no matter what the human cost.
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