Anita Roddick – The inspiration behind The Body Shop

Anita Roddick will feature in our first of blog post where we want to highlight inspirational men and women who have made significant contributions to the world of skincare and beauty.

Achiever. Activist. Businesswoman. Wife. Mother. Entrepreneur. Visionary. Just a few of the many, many adjectives one could use to describe the remarkable woman that was Anita Roddick. She died too soon, in 2007 at the age of just 65, but with her legacy in good hands, The Body Shop’s work continues.

anita roddick

The daughter of an Italian immigrant couple, Anita (neé Perelli) had a strong belief that the need to survive was a strong creative motivator. Need = inspiration! So Anita created The Body Shop in March 1976 to pay bills and keep her daughters, whilst her husband Gordon (who she’d married in 1970) was trekking in The Americas.

Anita had experience by then in restaurants and hotels, but this was her first retail venture. Typically, she threw herself into it 100%, relishing the opportunity to buy and sell, using a local herbalist in Brighton to create her unique products.

By the time her husband returned, Anita had two stores in Brighton, but it was Gordon’s idea to ‘self-finance’ the burgeoning business that really saw The Body Shop move on.  Using the company’s first business loan, franchising became the way forward, and by 1984 a whole network of shops had spread across the globe, and the company was able to go public.


Anita Roddick was then realising that big business meant power. And for her that meant the ability or capability to do good. To change things for the better. To reach out to the underdogs, to those in need and really make an impact and change lives. The company was already green, using ethically-sourced products, re-using packaging, paying fair wages for its suppliers and workers, and the Mission Statement was drawn up to reflect that. It read:  ‘To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change,’ – and every store followed this whole-heartedly – using its position to help communicate human rights and environmental issues, alongside selling wonderful products.

One of her most prominent campaigns was on behalf of the Ogoni people in Nigeria, who were seeking justice and reparations against Shell oil, who were ravaging their lands and displacing populations (with the permission of the government). Along with other NGOs (Non Government Organisations), The Body Shop campaigned relentlessly for those in power to release its prisoners (19 people were ultimately set free), and for Shell to review its operating practices.

Famously, Anita was also a great supporter of Greenpeace – joining forces with them in 2001, along with thousands of consumers and other organisations, in an international effort to raise awareness of the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming. She knew there were alternatives like wind and solar to be investigated, and was determined to play her part.

body shop foundation

Community Trade was also another great passion. Initially under the title of ‘Trade – Not Aid’, she trailblazed through the cosmetics industry, developing direct relationships with communities, providing them with what they needed in order to trade on a wider basis. In return, the communities provided The Body shop with natural ingredients and accessories.

It was never a scheme to make people rich, but more in the spirit of enabling them to continue their way of life in an autonomous way. One example is in Tungteiya in Ghana, where Anita and The Body Shop Foundation initially provided nut cracking plants and grinding mills to help workers extract shea butter. At last the women of the Tamale region could earn regular money, pay for their children’s schooling and provide regular medical care. Not to mention build and improve their homes. The area also now enjoys safe piped water and latrines. From the first supplier in India, The Body Shop’s Community Trade programmes now operate across more than 20 countries, allowing thousands of people to trade and live.


As Anita got older, in contrast to so many others, she became more active, more engaged and more radical. There was still so much to do in her eyes, and she loved the famous quote by Dorothy Sayers, “A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force”. True to form, in November 1999, she made her presence known speaking out against the role of the World Trade Organisation.

Known as ‘the Battle of Seattle’, Anita said, “WTO is “blind to the injustice of the pursuit of profits at the expense of people.  By default the WTO is a world government, but it is a blind government. It looks at the measurement of money, but it can’t see anything else………….” “If business stays parochial, without moral energy or codes of behaviour – claiming there are no such things as values – then God help us all.”

Seeing the opportunity to link like-minded people together, Anita then launched her own website in 2001 and an activism portal in 2004.  She used these as tools to move people towards mass-action – a voice to be heard. From appalling working conditions in sweatshops, through to human-rights campaigns, she tackled whatever moved her. She was indeed unstoppable.

Around the time of the company’s 30th Anniversary, L’Oreal made an offer, which was accepted, on The Body Shop. Anita described this as ‘the best anniversary gift gift The Body Shop could have received.”  Anita was convinced that L’Oréal understood The Body Shop’s maverick values, and displayed visionary leadership in wanting to continue the company’s work and values.

“They see how we helped change the language of business, incorporating the action of social change, especially in human rights, animal welfare, the environment and community trade,” said Anita.

Retirement though for Anita Roddick, was never going to be an option for this busy lady. She remained on the Board of Directors, providing consultancy services and dedicating herself to activism.  She also devoted herself to working with the Hepatitis C Trust, to raise awareness of the disease from which she suffered herself. Contracted in 1971 after a contaminated blood transfusion, it was only diagnosed in 2004. In true Anita style, personal experience prompted her to launch a major campaign to alert people to an important issue and ensure change in attitudes and policy.

Dame Anita Roddick passed away on 10th September 2007, with her husband Gordon and two daughters by her side.

The world gave its tributes freely. Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister said,  “She campaigned for green issues for many years before it became fashionable to do so and inspired millions to the cause by bringing sustainable products to a mass market. As one of this country’s most successful businesswomen, she was an inspiration to women throughout the country striving to set up and grow their own companies.”

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace said about Anita Roddick, “she was an amazing inspiration to those around her. She was so ahead of the time when it came to issues of how business could be done in different ways. Anita was a true pioneer.”


2000 – published autobiography “Business as Unusual”

2001  – edited “Take it Personally” – a collection of thought-provoking pieces challenging the myths of globalisation and the power of the WTO.

Anita then formed her own activist communications centre, publishing:

2003: ‘Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activist’s Handbook’

2003:  ‘A Revolution in Kindness’.

2004  – ‘Troubled Water: Saints, Sinners, Truths & Lies about the Global Water Crisis’ 2004 –  ‘Numbers’.
2005  – business as Unusual – edited & amended


Selected Awards

1984 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year

1988 OBE – Order of the British Empire

1988 British Association of Industrial Editors, Communicator of Year

1991 Center for World Development Education’s World Vision Award, USA

1991 The Financial Evening Standard Outstanding Entrepreneur Analysis Award

1992 National Association of Women Business Owners (US) Business Leader of Year

1993 Banksia Foundation’s Australia Environmental Award

1993 Mexican Environmental Achiever Award

1993 National Audubon Society Medal, USA

1994 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics, USA

1994 University of Michigan’s Annual Business Leadership Award, USA

1994 Daily Express/Moet & Chandon Business Award

1995 Women’s Business Development Center’s First Annual Woman Power Award, USA

1996 Women’s Center’s Leadership Award, USA

1996 The Gleitsman Foundation’s Award of Achievement, USA

1996 Institute of Charitable Fundraising Managers (UK), Philanthropist of the Year

1997 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Honouree, Eyes on the



From 1991 Schumacher College for Human Scale Education

From 1994 Association for Creation Spirituality

From 1996 Body and Soul (women & families with HIV and AIDS)

From 1998 EMMA (Ethnic Minority Media Awards)

From 2002 Findhorn Foundation College

From 2002 My Acre of Africa, South Africa

From 2004 The Forgiveness Project

From 2007 The Hepatitis C Trust

From 2007 Emmaus Hampshire

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