Entrepreneurial inspiration – Anita Roddick and The Body Shop

If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely heard of The Body Shop. You probably know it for its line of innovative and forward-thinking beauty products and its socially-conscious campaigns. While The Body Shop of today may not seem an obvious choice for small business inspiration, what if we told you that founder Anita Roddick started with little more than a great idea and a need to support her family?

Roddick was born in Littlehampton, England, as the third of four children. She grew up working in the café her parents owned, developing a strong work ethic and learning about the inner workings of a business at the same time. This set the stage for her entrepreneurial spark. As for her sense of empathy and goodwill towards others, she credited the discovery of a book about the Holocaust, at the age of 10, with this shift in her thinking.

Roddick was trained as a teacher and studied in a kibbutz in Israel. Afterwards, she took to traveling the world and worked in many different countries. When she returned home to England, she met Gordon, her future husband. Together they explored entrepreneurship, returning to Roddick’s roots by opening a restaurant and then a hotel. Soon enough, they began to feel the pressure of small business ownership.

It was during this time that Roddick had her A-ha! Moment – why couldn’t skincare products be packaged in refillable containers and marketed without making women feel horrible about themselves? And, more importantly for Roddick, how could this make money for her family?

Roddick opened the first Body Shop in 1976 in Brighton with just 15 products and using her hotel as collateral. Ten months later, The Body Shop was so successful that a second location had been opened.

The success of The Body Shop was due largely to Roddick’s own principles and experiences. Her travels around the world taught her about the kinds of products women in pre-industrial communities used to clean and care for their bodies. Her childhood, during World War II, taught her the value of reusing and reducing waste. The Body Shop was green before it was popular to be green – and customers responded. In 1984, The Body Shop went public and continued to spread across England and, soon, around the world.

Believing that “businesses have the power to do good,” Roddick lent The Body Shop’s support to a number of social and environmental issues. The Body Shop was one of the first businesses to prohibit animal testing and promote fair trade. When the company became a subsidiary of the L’Oréal Group, Roddick continued to monitor their work closely, making sure that operations were being run in line with her and her company’s core values.

In 2003, Roddick was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She passed away four years later at the age of 64.

Anita Roddick started The Body Shop with no training or experience, which we obviously don’t recommend. However, her unique vision and passion helped her to create a business that proved commercial success doesn’t have to come at the cost of personal values – something we’re sure many small business owners can aspire and relate to.



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