Name : Body Shop
The Place: Oh, everywhere. But around 250 units in the UK and several thousand more globally.
The Story: Is there anyone in the UK who has not, at some point, set foot in the beloved beauty institution that is Body Shop?
Ummm: Well, the answer is no. Everyone has been to Body Shop even if that is only because it has been around for such a long time. Some whipper snapper competitors have come and gone, others have stayed the course but Body Shop is the grande dame of them all and is still showing the rest of the sector how to do ethical new tricks with its newly revamped store in Oxford Street.
Remind me how old it is? Founded way, way back in 1976 when women were still burning their underwear by Saint Anita Roddick of Littlehampton.
Just want to check that she hasn’t actually been canonized? No. She has not. But she should have been for pretty much inventing ethical consumerism. Anyone since who claims not be treading in her footsteps is plain lying.
Alright, calm down: The first store was in funky old Brighton even then a hotbed of alternativeness.
Is that actually a word? It is now. Roddick began the business with the very firm commitment to be against animal testing – something that the Body Shop is probably still best known for today. Along with some of its hero products like shea butter and tea tree oil. Her belief that business had a moral purpose was frankly way ahead of its time, in fact so ahead…
What now? It’s just that you can’t keep angry for ever can you? Eventually it tones down, you get middle-aged, by now everyone hates animal testing and before you know it someone else has taken that innovatively revolutionary mantle off you from under your nose.
Are you saying that is what happened here? I think I am. There were what we will could call the wilderness years. The business was doing fine commercially but everyone else sort of caught up and then Body Shop got super comfortable and even a teeny bit mumsy. The young activist consumers were now in their fifties and the youngsters were in Lush.
Yeah, plus it was full of dayglo strawberry bath gel: And then, of course, there was L’Oreal.
Uh oh: Indeed. L’Oreal bought the business in 2006 for £652 million and despite all Roddick’s protestations that she was going to use the deal as a Trojan Horse way to get into the corporation and subvert it from within, somehow Body Shop’s lustre still continued to wear away and then Roddick died far too young just a year later.
And what did L’Oreal do with its new acquisition? Not a lot. It was a classic case of buy the brand and then body surf off the reflected glory for a bit before jettisoning it. Without Roddick’s pioneering fire, it was now a half ethical brand in the consumers’ mind appealing neither to mass market beauty lovers or the activist base.
This is getting seriously depressing people, this is supposed to be a positive column – where’s the upside? It’s coming. In 2017 Brazilian cosmetic company Natura (sound the trumpets, polish the halos and rejoice) bought Body Shop for £880 million. And a whole new chapter of innovation began.
Praise be: Let me introduce the rejuvenated store refit newly opened in central London and soon to be rolled out across eight of its major trading cities round the world. It’s external and internal fittings are all green and range from eco-friendly and recyclable zinc cladding to reclaimed wood. All worktops are produced from materials destined for landfill, steel on chairs is reclaimed, storage crates all upcycled, trestle tables made of reclaimed wooden planks!
Wowzer: One super important element from this pilot store will also be incorporated into the UK’s entire store estate from next Autumn.
Ooh, which bit is that? The refill station.
Sound the packaging klaxon! Absolutely. This is the deal: you buy a reusable 250ml metal container and you fill it with any of the range of shower gels and creams on offer at the time – these will change seasonally so you can try something different each time.
Depending on how often you wash: Well, yes. So the first time you use it you pay £6 (£4 for container and £2 for product). When you bring it back you fill it up for £4 which is a £1 saving on the buying of the same product in a plastic bottle.
Yes, about all the plastic bottles in the shop….You can of course also bring back plastic packaging and recycle it in the TerraCycle bin.
What else is new? Body Shop has also got a toehold on the personalisation train with a gifting station in the store. This means customers can wrap (in recyclable paper) their purchase and customize with ribbon, stickers and stamps – you can also personalise your reusable container. But they also know that to get the Greta Generation in store you have to give them a voice.
Greta Generation – did you just make that up? Kind of. Either way there is an activism corner where people with something to say, either to the world or to the company, can make pledges, complaints and suggestions or engage with the aims of Body Shop. In fact the whole store is referred to as an activism workshop, which really elevates that time you popped in just to buy a pot of mango lip balm.
Taking it to a whole new level: So it’s a bit of something for everyone really. But it does feel like the beginning of a rejuvenation for Body Shop. And to cap it all – in a world where greenwashing is literally awash – in September the company has just been awarded its B Corp Certification.
It’s what now? Only given out to those firms which are fully committed to, and meet, the highest verifiable standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
Anita Roddick would be proud: I think she would.