Life & Culture

The Body Shop is an ethical brand built on chutzpah

With its sustainability philososphy, it set industry standards. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappear


All you need is love: the Body Shop's products are aimed at self-care - for all

It’s a tough existence for beauty brands at the moment – with the digital world evolving at breakneck speed, customers tastes and preferences are ever-changing and brand loyalty is a thing of the past. Even big household names aren’t safe. Take The Body Shop and its bestsellers including its Peppermint Foot Cream and Mango Body Scrub, both of which have been firm favourites since my early teens. I recently received said products together with a cryptically worded press release that started: “As you can imagine, we’ve been in reflection mode here at The Body Shop” and which went on to describe these products as embodying “the spirit of hope and nostalgia”. As someone who bought my first beauty products aged 11 in The Body Shop (clear mascara and mandarin lip gloss), it’s probably one of the saddest press mailers I’ve ever received and a reminder that few things last for ever.

Back in February, The Body Shop collapsed into administration in the UK less than three months after it was taken over by a private equity company, resulting in a closure of 82 stores. It has been expected to survive in some form, but with far fewer shops. UK retailer Next has expressed interest in a rescue bid.

I know it’s important to move with the times, but it would be a real shame if The Body Shop was to vanish. It was the first to shout about sustainability long before it became a marketing buzzword, used fairly traded natural ingredients and opposed animal testing – all of which have now become industry standard.

And that’s all thanks to its founder, the late Anita Roddick. Born in 1942 in Littlehampton, West Sussex to Italian-Jewish parents, Roddick’s journey from humble upbringing to global business icon is a testament to her pioneering spirit and unrelenting chutzpah.

Up until the 1970s, the beauty industry was focused on the face and hair – with caring for the body being seen an afterthought. Roddick’s approach was refreshingly radical – focusing on the joy of using and applying beauty products as a therapeutic act of self-care. She celebrated diversity and authenticity, famously eschewing airbrushed models in favour of real people with real skin. Her message was clear: beauty should be inclusive and accessible to all, and it should about enhancing rather than hiding “flaws”. This inclusive approach resonated with millions and built a loyal customer base that valued integrity over illusion.

Things started heading south for the brand when it was sold to corporate conglomerate L’Oreal in 2006, which seemed at odds with the company’s and Roddick’s values. (Roddick passed away the following year.) It was eventually sold on, but never recovered from this damage to its reputation and has since been accused simultaneously of being too trend-led, and too stuck in its ways.

However, The Body Shop’s influence still lives on. Its tone –caring, fun, and conscientious – has become a benchmark for what beauty should be. I hope it finds its way back.

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