September 12, 2007
Anita Roddick, Body Shop Founder, Dies at 64
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON, Sept. 11 — Dame Anita Roddick, the crusading entrepreneur who used The Body Shop chain of cosmetics stores she founded to promote causes like ending animal testing and supporting the environment, died at St. Richard’s Hospital in Chichester, England, on Monday evening, her family said. She was 64.
Ms. Roddick, who had been admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit after complaining of head pains, died of a brain hemorrhage, her family said.
A woman of fierce passions, boundless energy, unconventional idealism and sometimes diva-like temperament, Ms. Roddick was one of Britain’s most visible business executives, and not just because of the ubiquitous and instantly recognizable Body Shop franchises across the country. Working on behalf of numerous causes — the rain forest, debt relief for developing countries, indigenous farmers in impoverished nations, whales, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism, to name a few — Ms. Roddick believed that businesses could be run ethically, with what she called “moral leadership,” and still turn a profit.
At times, her anti-establishment philosophy seemed to clash with her stature as a successful businesswoman. She joined the crowd of environmentalists, antiglobalists and anarchists in the front lines of the protest at the World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle in 1999, for instance, and she was perhaps more beloved by those whose causes she supported than by her more conventional business peers.
“Anita did more than run a successful ethical business: she was a pioneer of the whole concept of ethical and green consumerism,” Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, wrote in The Evening Standard on Tuesday. “There are quite a few business people today who claim green credentials, but none came anywhere near Anita in terms of commitment and credibility.”
In a statement, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, called Ms. Roddick a “true pioneer.”
“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,” Mr. Brown said.
Anita Lucia Perilli was born in Littlehampton, England, in 1942, the daughter of Italian immigrants who ran a cafe and who put their four children to work there after school and on weekends, installing in their daughter a fierce work ethic that persisted through her life. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and her mother married her husband’s cousin Henry, who died of tuberculosis several years later. It was only when Anita turned 18 that her mother told her that Henry was, in fact, her father — that she had been the product of a passionate extramarital affair.
Ms. Roddick said later that she had always felt closer to Henry than to the man she had thought was her father, and that the news made her feel “as if an enormous weight of guilt had been lifted from my shoulders.”
After her application to drama school was turned down, Ms. Roddick worked for a time as a secondary school teacher and then quit to travel to Tahiti, Australia and South Africa, among other places, where she absorbed customs and ideas she would later apply to The Body Shop.
“When you’ve lived for six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent, or if you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care,” she once said.
She married Gordon Roddick, a Scottish poet, in 1970, when she was pregnant with their second daughter. When her husband later announced that he wanted to fulfill his dream of traveling on horseback from Buenos Aires to New York (and that, by the way, it might take a couple of years). Ms. Roddick took out a modest loan and in 1976 opened The Body Shop, her first, in Brighton.
The shop sold just a handful of creams and hair-care products; its walls were painted green, to cover the damp spots. But it proved an unexpected success and the business began to grow, helped, too, by Mr. Roddick, when he came back from his trip. “He’s the doer, I’m the dreamer,” she once said. Within 15 years, The Body Shop stores had blanketed Britain and moved beyond, eventually numbering more than 2,000 in about 50 countries.
Ms. Roddick rejected conventional marketing and was so recognizable, with her wild hair, wild public pronouncements and unbusinesslike demeanor and clothes, that she was probably her own best advertising. She used her stores to spread her philosophy and promote myriad causes and urged franchise owners and customers to join in. In 1990, she helped establish The Big Issue magazine, produced and sold by homeless people. She also set up Children on the Edge, a charity for children in Europe and Asia, and said she planned to give away most of her fortune.
More recently, she had been campaigning to raise awareness of hepatitis C, which she contracted from a blood transfusion while giving birth to her younger daughter.
But Ms. Roddick was, at the same time, a sharp businesswoman. The Body Shop was floated successfully on the stock exchange in the mid-1990s, and the company was sold to the French cosmetics giant L’Oréal for about $1.14 billion last year. Although the Roddicks had stepped down from managing the company in 2002, they remained on as nonexecutive directors and reportedly made about $237 million from their 18 percent stake.
The decision drew criticism from environmentalists who said that, among other things, L’Oréal had yet to ban animal testing.
But Ms. Roddick said she hoped The Body Shop would spur L’Oréal to behave more ethically in areas like community trade, which she called “the best poverty eradicator in the world.”
In 2003, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. She is survived by her husband and their two daughters, Samantha and Justine.
Among the great contradictions in a woman whose life was full of them was her tendency to scoff at the kinds of products her company sold.
“How can you ennoble the spirit when you are selling something as inconsequential as face cream?” Ms. Roddick once said. She criticized cosmetics companies whose products promised youth and beauty, saying it was “totally ridiculous” to sell face creams that are “more expensive than gold.”
“I have never felt that that beauty products are the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” she once said. “Nothing The Body Shop sells pretends to do anything other than it says. Moisturizers moisturize, fresheners freshen and cleansers cleanse. End of story.”