A Brief History of: The Body Shop

This brief history of The Body Shop is the first of a series of brand histories, where I’ll be giving you a brief overview of a brand, looking at their foundations, their ethics and where they are today.

The first Body Shop store was opened in Brighton in 1976, by founder Anita Roddick, with just 25 products. The quirky store was positioned between two funeral parlours, and customers loved their products made from natural and ethically sourced ingredients. At that time, cosmetics not tested on animals were hard to come by, and the brand quickly grew to become a high street favourite.

In 1986, the Body Shop launched “Save the Whales,” alongside Greenpeace, its first of many national and international campaigns. In 1988, Roddick was given an OBE and in 1990, the Body Shop Foundation was launched. The brand went from strength-to-strength and Roddick continued to advocate for many charities and causes, from child poverty to unrealistic beauty standards.

In 1996, their Against Animal Testing campaign, which had received over 4 million signatures, was delivered to the European Commission, and this is widely credited as the driver for the UK-wide ban on animal testing for cosmetics.

However, in the early 00s, competitors such as Boots and Lush started to encroach on the Body Shop’s space. In 2006, Roddick controversially sold the Body Shop for £652 million to cosmetics giant L’Oréal, which continues to test new ingredients on animals where it is required to do so by law.

Fans of the brand saw this as a hugely hypocritical move, although Roddick defended her decision by arguing The Body Shop would become a “Trojan horse” to advocate for ethical business from the inside. Sadly, she passed away in 2007 so we will never know whether she would have been able to achieve this influence.

Roddick chose not to disclose that she had been diagnosed with Hepatsis C in 2004 – a result of a blood transfusion during the birth of her daughter many years earlier – and it is likely that this played a role in her decision to sell the brand to L’Oreal.

In addition to criticisms about “selling out,” The Body Shop’s history and offering are perhaps rooted in colonialism. Roddick was a well-travelled women, and the origin of the Body Shop’s most iconic products can surely be traced back to the knowledge and skills of indigenous women. To quote Cultural Studies Professor Tara Brabazon’s take:

“The exoticism can add interest to the banal acts of beautifying, but it is a process of economic, social and intellectual appropriation.”

Despite being under the L’Oreal umbrella, The Body Shop claims to maintain its ethical business values, and remains committed to Community Trade programmes, 100% vegetarian ingredients and its own products will never be tested on animals.

In 2017, L’Oreal agreed a $1billion deal with Brazilian cosmetics brand, Natura, which was the first publicly owned company to get B Corp certification.

“Natura and the Body Shop have always walked in parallel, and today their paths meet,” said Guilherme Leal, chair of Natura’s board. “The complementarity of our international footprints, the sustainable use of biodiversity in our products, a belief in ethics in management and fair relations with communities and a high degree of innovation constitute the pillars of the journey on which we are now embarking.”

Are you a Body Shop fan? Or was the L’Oreal sell out a step too far?