ANITA RODDICK: THE RADICAL
BEHIND OUR CHANGEMAKING BUSINESS
The Body Shop’s mission is to build a world where women and girls truly thrive. Where with the quiet confidence of self-love, they find the courage to speak up and are heard loud and clear. For us, it’s impossible to celebrate International Women’s Day without talking about the woman who shaped who we are and how we do business – our founder, Dame Anita Roddick.
Whatever you do, be different - that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can't think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you're different, you will stand out.
Dame Anita Roddick
Anita was different. Exactly the right kind of troublemaker – a hurricane of energy with a big heart. A woman who, famously, ‘never stopped talking’. She certainly didn’t lead ‘like a man’, oh no.
From day one, Dame Anita Roddick organised our entire business around making life better for women worldwide. She campaigned for victims of domestic violence when nobody was listening. She pioneered our global flexible working initiative – The Body Shop at Home. She began our unbreakable trading bonds with marginalised women and carved out our place in the body positivity movement, decades before it was cool.Read about our brand purpose
We believe that people have the power to change society, because Anita’s deep compassion and optimism for humankind is baked into our philosophy. Her cheerful determination runs through us like a stick of Brighton rock.
Not everyone who works at The Body Shop was lucky enough to work with Dame Anita, but André Sand, Jenny Whitehorn and Chris Davis were. We got them together to tell us more about the woman who shaped our activist roots.
THE BEGINNING OF OUR JOURNEY
Jenny Whitehorn joined The Body Shop as a Field Training Manager in 1990. She says, “I was working on the shop floor one day when I saw this curly-haired woman crashing around the shop opening all the cupboards and pulling things out. She was talking very fast and asking loads of questions. I actually thought she was a rogue customer. She came over and interrogated me about everything I was doing.” That was her style. From the most powerful business leaders to the staff on the tills, “she wanted to get to know everyone properly.”
“I saw this curly-haired woman crashing around the shop opening all the cupboards... She was talking very fast and asking loads of questions. I thought she was a rogue customer.”
André, who joined as a Communication Assistant in 1995, remembers her lively meetings: “They were never boring – she could be really funny and mischievous with people… She was an agitator, always up for a debate. She knew that debate keeps things lively and drives progress. She wanted everyone, even at every level, who worked for her to be engaged and to have an opinion... Sometimes she’d turn to you and say ‘what do you think’ and she’d expect you to be honest. She was so curious and full of life.”
“The one thing she really valued above everything was honesty. She hated marketing jargon with a passion.”
Jenny says, “The one thing she really valued above everything was honesty. She hated marketing jargon with a passion. She was seeking truth and pushing boundaries. She didn't like sound bites, so she’d always say ‘what do you mean?’ If someone was parroting marketing speak. She could instinctively tell if people were for real or just trying to impress her.”
ACTIVISM, ANITA’S WAY
Dame Anita Roddick set the tone for a way of doing business that didn’t previously exist. These were fights that weren’t obviously compatible with selling moisturiser, especially not in the eighties and nineties. She said that, in those days, altruism in business was regarded as ‘at best, flaky, at worst, deeply suspect’. From her legendary fight against animal testing to her pioneering work on environmental issues, or fighting the HIV/Aids crisis, The Body Shop always did things differently.
For new employees like André it was a baptism of fire: “The first campaign I was involved in was in 1995 when The Body Shop campaigned on behalf of local people to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific ocean. I was 24 and new to PR. I thought I had started a job where I would sell shampoo. I was very wrong.”
“At one point I was sitting on a coach with indigenous people from New Zealand and Australia, in their full cultural dress ready to hand over our petition to the French President thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is my job’. It was such a brilliant introduction to the whole style of The Body Shop and typical of how things were done. It’s exactly why I’ve stayed for 26 years.”
Chris Davis joined the team 17 years ago and remembers, “Anita had this willingness and ability to look at the world around her, point at issues that affected women, and say nobody is talking about this enough. We need to do something.”
“Anita had this willingness and ability to look at the world around her, point at issues that affected women, and say nobody is talking about this enough. We need to do something.”
In 2004 we ran a domestic violence campaign spanning 50 countries. It was one of the biggest domestic violence campaigns the world had ever seen. Chris says, “I worked closely with Anita planning some of the global stuff. It feels weird now, but nobody was talking about this issue back then. We had to work closely with the Dubai police and run the campaign behind closed curtains in some of our stores in the Middle East, where capital punishment was still commonplace.”Read about Stop Violence in the Home
Anita’s brand of activism could be political but there was an instinctive compassion to everything she did. In 1989, horrific images from Romanian orphanages full of children abandoned at birth started appearing in the media. Jenny says, “She didn’t ask any questions. She rounded up every staff member who was willing to travel. They got straight in a van packed full of stuff and drove for days. Whatever those children needed, they were prepared to provide it.” The Body Shop still supports Children on the Edge through The Body Shop at Home.
In 2007 Anita sold the company to L’Oréal. She was 64 but still played an active role in the business.
Everyone remembers working on the human trafficking campaign that we started in 2009. Jenny says, “Some of the women we met and the stories we heard, I will never forget. It had a huge impact on everyone involved. Even now, whenever I see a young girl on the street corner, I always ask her if she’s ok.”
“Some of the women we met and the stories we heard, I will never forget. It had a huge impact on everyone involved. Even now whenever I see a young girl on the street corner, I always ask her if she’s ok.”
Nobody could have predicted that Anita wasn’t going to see out the rest of the human trafficking campaign. She died very suddenly of an acute brain haemorrhage on September 10th, 2007. Chris says, “It was a nasty shock. One day I was in a room with her working with her on the strategy, the next day she was gone.”
After the awful news hit, the campaign became more important than ever. André says, “Human trafficking was the biggest petition for a human rights campaign ever. We went to the United Nations in Geneva, where Anita had once worked in human rights, and handed over 7 million petitions to the UN Human Rights Council.” Jenny adds, “It was a huge moment, we’d worked so hard.”
THE ACTIVIST IN ALL OF US
When Anita died it was a massive shock to the company. André says, “We weren’t prepared. It was hard to imagine who The Body Shop was without her. But we knew we had to continue the fight. Every staff member, who was touched by the work she did, was determined to carry on the activism she started. Her memorial was quite crazy. We all walked, no, we marched to Southbank in London. We had placards and ponchos with ‘I am an activist’ written on them. Then suddenly we stopped, projected onto the Shell headquarters building was a sign that said: Shell is a villain. I mean, that said a lot about her legacy.”
BIGGER, BRAVER AND BOLDER
In 2017, we were bought by our parent company Natura & Co. They completely understand what The Body Shop is about and our mission. There’s work to do. As the world changes and the demands on it evolve, so must we. Anita said herself, ‘I think the leadership of a company should encourage the next generation not just to follow, but to overtake’. So in her honour, we’re forging ahead.
“It’s about working for something that is bigger than you.”
André says, “The thing that has long outlived Anita and is something I am really pleased is still alive and well in this business, is the pride to be associated with The Body Shop. We work for a company that invests time, money and resources in activism. It’s about working for something that is bigger than you. It’s everywhere, the feeling that people work for a business that stands for something.”
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