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beauty: feature

Farewell Anita RoddickFarewell Anita Roddick

Dame Anita Roddick DBE passed away at age 64 on September 10, 2007. Lucire looks back at her life and accomplishments

 

DAME ANITA RODDICK, the founder of the Body Shop, died of a brain hæmorrhage yesterday, aged 64.

Knighted in 2003, Dame Anita was best known for commercializing an ethical approach to beauty products’ manufacture, a move that partly paved the way for the acceptance of the green movement and social responsibility in the fashion and beauty industries today.

Dame Anita revealed in February 2007 that she had contracted hepatitis C from infected blood given to her during the birth of her daughter, Sam, in 1971. This had led to liver damage. She was unaware she had hepatitis C till she went in for ‘a routine blood test for a health insurance policy a few years ago,’ she once wrote.

‘Many people have spoken of my “bravery” in going public with my illness—pish. It shouldn’t take bravery to live life openly despite illness, although our developed world, with its deep fear and denial of mortality, often demands it.’

Anita Roddick was born Anita Lucia Perelli in Littlehampton, England, in 1942, to Italian Jewish immigrants. She described her early ‘moral outrage’ as having come after reading a book on the Holocaust. She trained as a teacher and taught English and history for a short period. She went on a kibbutz in Israel which turned into an extended around-the-world trip in the 1960s that included a period at the International Labour Organization’s Women’s Rights’ Department based at the UN in Genève.

She met her husband, Gordon Roddick, through her mother and they were married in 1970. Her initial businesses with Roddick were a restaurant, later a hotel, in Littlehampton.

Anita Roddick had begun her stores in 1976 in Brighton, England. Using ingredients sometimes sourced from developing countries, she clearly stressed their ethical properties. As she described on her website, ‘I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to take sales of £300 a week.’

In the 1980s, Anita Roddick pioneered the use of a biodegradable plastic bag for Body Shop products. The Ogoni campaign against Shell in Nigeria in 1993 probably got its greatest push through the Body Shop, which helped bring it awareness, even though its spokesman, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was later executed with eight other Ogoni in 1995. The Body Shop’s ongoing campaign was key in releasing 19 Ogoni held in Nigeria. In 1997, the company raised concerns about climate change with its Help Take the Heat off campaign. In 2001, Roddick, the Body Shop and Greenpeace campaigned against ExxonMobil and highlighted the issues of global warming caused by fossil fuels. In 2004, Dame Anita launched www.TakeItPersonally.org, a portal for activism.

In 2006, the Body Shop group was acquired by L’Oréal, which vowed to keep the company operations separate. Dame Anita and her husband had stepped down as co-chairmen in 2002 but she continued to advise the company.

The Body Shop has 2,045 stores serving over 77 million customers.

In later life, Dame Anita campaigned for social causes around the world, including Amnesty International. Her last blog post, dated September 6, 2007, concerned Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, two of the Angola Three jailed at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Dame Anita has tended to be a step ahead of her time. She has spoken and written about the beauty business being fear-based and male-dominated, and personally disapproved of its approach.

When writing about her medical condition, ‘Like hep C, which until recently we just don’t seem to want to acknowledge, depression and other forms of mental illness seem to be things we believe go away if we just don’t talk about them. In truth, these illnesses and others like tuberculosis and AIDS demand public acknowledgement and education if we stand a chance at preventing, treating, and potentially curing them. And meanwhile, their sufferers wouldn’t have to be modern-day lepers—isolated, ashamed, and less likely to seek help.’

She is survived by her husband and two daughters, Justine and Sam. •

 

Extra: editorial by Jack Yan on Dame Anita Roddick’s leadership

 

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‘Like hep C, which until recently we just don’t seem to want to acknowledge, depression and other forms of mental illness seem to be things we believe go away if we just don’t talk about them. In truth, these illnesses and others like tuberculosis and Aids demand public acknowledgement and education if we stand a chance at preventing, treating, and potentially curing them. And meanwhile, their sufferers wouldn’t have to be modern-day lepers—isolated, ashamed, and less likely to seek help’

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