Awards 1991 World Vision Award for Development Initiative

World Vision Award for Development Initiative

Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick says in her autobiography* that what struck her first in Tahiti was the women's skin, "straight out of a Gauguin painting". Even elderly women had soft, smooth, elastic skin. What did they use on it? They showed her what looked like a lump of lard, but turned out to be cocoa butter.

During the travels which interspersed her first jobs as a schoolteacher and as a women's-rights-seminar organiser for the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, she was fascinated by the way women round the world used natural substances, such as cocoa butter and pineapple, to care for their skin and hair.

So, when her husband Gordon decided to fulfil his ambition of riding a horse through South America, the cocoa butter and the pineapple gave her an idea for making a living for herself and their two daughters while he was away.

In her home town of Littlehampton, where her Italian mother owned a cafe and then the Cubana nightclub, the Roddicks had run a hotel and a hamburger restaurant, which proved both exhausting and time-consuming. A shop, she thought, could be nine-to-five. It could sell natural products without fancy packaging and in small quantities, as opposed to the big bottles at Boots. It would be called The Body Shop, like the garages where dents are banged out of cars.

A bank manager refused her a 4,000 loan when she turned up with the children and wearing jeans. The following week he granted the loan to Gordon, who was wearing a suit and carrying a gobbledegook-filled business plan in a plastic folder.

She tried making her lotions in the kitchen but then turned to a small manufacturer with whom she drew up a list of 25 products using ingredients that were readily available.

She then found a shop in a pedestrian precinct in Brighton-richer and trendier than Littlehampton -and painted it dark green to cover the damp patches. This became The Body Shop 's standard colour. The logo cost 25, and they put the 25 products in urine-sample bottles in the kitchen of their Littlehampton hotel. Without enough bottles, she decided to offer refills in customers' own containers.

Two nearby funeral directors threatened to sue her if she used the Body Shop name. She saw them off by phoning the story anonymously to the Brighton Evening Argus, which gave it a centre-spread and taught her you never need pay for advertising.

On her first day in business, March 27, 1976, she took 130 but some weeks brought only l50 and she had to lug heavy five-gallon containers of lotions into the shop herself. The hot summer of 1976 rescued her and she decided to open another shop in Chichester, for which she got 4,000 from a local garage-owner in exchange for a half-share of the business. His half-share is now worth over 140 million.

Franchising began when Max Bygraves's daughter opened a branch of The Body Shop in Hove and it continued as a cheap way to expand. There are now 200 branches, mainly franchised, in Britain and 500 in 30 countries abroad.

When a sale of shares on the Stock Exchange in 1984 made the Roddicks millionaires, they discussed what they should do next and decided on campaigning. They campaigned with Greenpeace for whales, with Friends of the Earth for the ozone layer, with Amnesty International for human rights. They also backed recycling, attacked the testing of products on animals, and set up a soap factory in the grey,jobless Glasgow suburb of Easterhouse.

Campaigning and a desire to buy natural ingredients from the people who produced them caused Anita Roddick to launch Trade Not Aid. "When l was working in Geneva, I had seen the waste involved in aid programmes. . . . I wanted to be Christobel Columbus going into villages in Mexico or Guatemala or Nepal and seeing what they had to trade.

Her first effort, however, went wrong. She commissioned the International Boys Town Trust in South lndia to make "footsie rollers", a massage device, and went there herself to see the boys making them. A new Boys Town was built with money from The Body Shop, franchise holders and employees. Then she found the rollers were not being made by the boys but in sweatshops for a price far below what The Body Shop was paying.

Undaunted, she went on to projects in Nepal and Brazil. The Body Shop also sponsored a Canadian television series about endangered tribes. With TV crews, Anita Roddick travelled into a remote mountainous area of Nepal and then into the Sahara where she met the Wodaabe people of Niger.

"Fundamentally:." she says,"what we have learned is that the art of giving is not simply doling out money nor dishing out things we assume people want. lt is the ability to work with them. The art of development is helping people find the right tools, and the right approach, to develop themselves.

The Body Shop has just come out top in the 1991 UK Awards for Volunteering. Every employee can have half a day off a month, with pay, to do some voluntary service. Anita Roddick says: "You educate people, especially young people by stirring their passions. So you take every opportunity to grab the imagination of your employees. You get them to feel they are doing something important."

As for money, "l think its value is the spontaneity it gives you. There are too many exciting things to do with it right now to bother about piling it up.

*"Body and Soul" by Anita Roddick