“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito”: So believed Anita Roddick, legendary founder of the Body Shop, who died on this day (September 10), three years ago. Her legacy, however, has become timeless – not just in the shape of a brand that scores top marks for our skincare needs but also for bringing an unthought lexicon like “fair trade” and “disadvantaged children” into the annals of the beauty business. Here are some bits you might not know about this quirky pioneer of ethical consumerism.
- She was born as Anita Lucia Perilli in a bomb shelter in Little Hampton, Sussex, in an Italian immigrant community; her mother, Gilda, ran a café.
- After leaving school, Anita Roddick trained as a teacher. In 1962 she received a scholarship to study in a Kibbutz in Israel, but was expelled after a pranking incident. She then started saving money and travelling across the world, including Tahiti, Australia and South Africa. She even started going to school in South Africa but was expelled there as well after going to a jazz club on black night, violating apartheid laws.
- She married Gordon Roddick in 1970; by this time, they already had one child and were expecting another. The couple opened a restaurant, followed by a hotel.
- She founded the first Body Shop (simply called The Shop) in Brighton, in 1976. It was very basic, offering only 15 products, which contained ingredients that women used in cleansing rituals that she had witnessed during her travels. In 1993 she told Third Way magazine very honestly: “The original Body Shop was a series of brilliant accidents. It had a great smell, it had a funky name… We knew about storytelling then, so all the products had stories. We recycled everything, not because we were environmentally friendly, but because we didn’t have enough bottles. It was a good idea… It wasn’t a sophisticated plan, it just happened like that!”
Roddick was passionate for her campaigning work on environmental issues and worked for the United Nations, for which she traveled extensively and met people from a number of different cultures. She founded Children On The Edge (COTE) in 1990, in response to her visits to Romanian orphanages. Roddick also created the book Take It Personally, encouraging equality and an end to the exploitation of workers and children in underdeveloped countries.
On 17 March 2006, L’Oréal purchased Body Shop for £652 million. This sparked several controversies, because L’Oréal is involved in animal testing and the company is part-owned by Nestlé, which has been in the eye of some storms for its treatment of third world producers. Anita addressed it head-on in an interview with The Guardian, which reported that “she sees herself as a kind of ‘Trojan horse’, who by selling her business to a huge firm will be able to influence the decisions it makes.”
- Sam, her younger daughter, owns and runs the upmarket and ethical sex shop – Coco De Mer.
- In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Roddick a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
In 2004, Roddick was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis due to long-standing hepatitis C, which she had contracted after a blood transfusion. Her reaction? “I have hepatitis C. It’s a bit of a bummer, but you groan and move on.” She promoted the work of the Hepatitis C Trust and campaigned to increase awareness of the disease.
- Roddick died of a major acute brain haemorrhage on 10 September 2007. She left her estate to charities that continue her work till today.