How Anita Roddick turned principles into profits

Obituary of Dame Anita Roddick, the accidental entrepreneur who brought green consumerism to the public via The Body Shop.

"A leading light of the modern green movement" was Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper's apt description of Dame Anita Roddick, the woman who brought green consumerism to the public. Born in 1942 and raised in Littlehampton, West Sussex, Roddick's parents divorced when she was nine. Her mother married her ex-husband's cousin, Henry. He died a few years later, leaving it to Roddick's mother to reveal that Henry was in fact her biological father. But despite the upheavals, Roddick described her childhood as sublime. It also taught her the dedication she would need to set up her own business. Her parents' work ethic "teetered on the verge of slave labour" she rose regularly at 5am to help make breakfast for local fishermen at the family cafe.

Roddick gave up an early dream of becoming an actress and pursued a career in teaching: "if I couldn't perform on stage, I decided I'd perform in the classroom". But after two years, she gave it up to go travelling. On returning to the UK, she met Gordon Roddick in a nightclub; their bond was "instant". They married soon afterwards but their life could never be described as conventional. Shortly after the birth of their second daughter, Gordon decided that he wanted to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York. Roddick gave him her blessing but before he went, he helped her get a £4,000 loan to open a small shop.

On 27 March 1976, the first branch of The Body Shop opened in Brighton. "A series of brilliant accidents" led to the shop's brand, said Roddick. The distinctive green decor was "the only colour that we could find to cover the damp, mouldy walls". Bottles were recycled simply because they couldn't afford new ones. But Roddick was determined to build a business around her own ethical principles and no animal testing was one of the firm's main founding stones. A ground-breaking move at the time, this eventually led to a shift in the attitude of many high-street retailers as Roddick proved you could combine ethics with profits. And she certainly made money.

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The Body Shop listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1984 with a market value of £8m. By 1990 that had grown to £300m and Roddick's 30% stake made her the fourth-richest woman in the country. At the height of the firm's success, there were more than 2,000 Body Shop stores around the world. But by the late 1990s, the firm's heyday was over, a victim of its own success as high-street stores adopted its values and made copycat products.

Roddick's activism was also blamed by some for the company's downturn as it soured relations between the firm and the City. In 2003, Roddick received a DBE for her work and stepped back from running the firm. In March 2006, the controversial decision was made to sell The Body Shop to L'Oral, known to use animal testing, in a deal that would net the Roddicks £130m. Roddick defended the sale, saying she would be "a Trojan horse", teaching ethical principles to big business. She also planned to give away her £51m. "I don't want to die rich. Money does not mean anything to me." Her death earlier this week, at the age of 64, leaves a gap in the world of eco-consumerism, but her principles live on in her daughter Sam, who opened an ethical sex shop in 2001. Coco de Mer's products are natural, fair trade and of course not tested on animals.

How The Body Shop became a billboard for activism

The success of The Body Shop gave Anita Roddick the finances and a world stage to battle against all she felt was wrong with the world. She once described the shops as "billboards" and filled them with leaflets about causes she supported. In the 1980s, she led the campaign against animal testing, a petition that garnered four million signatures and eventually led to a change in the law. In later years, she also set up fair trade agreements around the world, starting in 1989, when she began buying brazil nut oil from an Amazonian Indian tribe. This developed to the stage where it was almost impossible to buy a Body Shop product that didn't contain community trade ingredients.

But The Body Shop's own ethical stance was just the beginning. It wasn't just animal rights that concerned Roddick. In 1990 she helped set up The Big Issue the magazine sold by the homeless. And in the same year, after visiting Romanian orphanages, she founded Children on the Edge, which helps children affected by conflict, disability and HIV/Aids. The Anita Roddick Foundation was created so that Roddick could give away her wealth and in the last few years of her life she gave away around £3m a year, supporting causes from abolishing the death penalty to fighting global warming. In recent months, one cause in particular that she dedicated herself to was the treatment and early diagnosis of Hepatitis C the disease she herself suffered from. "The great thing about Anita was that she took all her causes incredibly seriously, but never took herself seriously," said Charles Gore, the chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust.