Anita Roddick's Legacy: Changing the Face of an Industry

Campaigner, businesswoman and a force of nature: That's how Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, will be remembered by those who knew her and the millions who only knew of her.

Roddick died this week after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was 64.

Throughout her life, Roddick lent her name and time to numerous causes — she campaigned for debt relief for Third World nations, the rights of indigenous peoples in South America and the preservation of the rain forest, to name but a few.

But she will be remembered most for creating a multimillion-dollar business called The Body Shop. The store helped change the retail industry forever and helped start today's organic movement. She started The Body Shop with a simple principal: Not a single drop of her lotions and soaps is tested on animals.

The rest is history.

When the United Kingdom banned animal testing in 1997, many in the country hailed Roddick's instrumental role in securing the ban. Now, the European Union is set to do the same in 2009, thanks in no small part to her efforts.

In a 2001 interview with ABC News, Roddick said her business philosophy was based on social responsibility and environmental change. "You've got to have a real belief that business ... is more about public good, than private greed."

"I passionately believe that, " she said. "I don't believe that this ever-increasing accumulation of wealth is the answer."

How did the daughter of Italian immigrants, brought up in the English seaside town of Littlehampton, become such a name to reckon with?

The story of The Body Shop begins in Brighton, England, where the 30-something Roddick found herself raising two young daughters in the mid-'70s, while her husband, Scottish poet Gordon Roddick, fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling on horseback from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to New York.

Some women might have thrown a fit at such a turn of events. Roddick, instead, took out an $8,000 bank loan and set up a shop.

Not just any shop, though. Her shop sold natural beauty products only, packed in refillable containers — "because we didn't have enough bottles," she later said — with all the labels written by hand. And of course, nothing was tested on animals.

The novelty factor worked and the shop took off. So much so that Roddick quickly borrowed an additional $6,000 from a friend to open a second store.

No one was as surprised by The Body Shop's success as Roddick herself. On her Web site, she described it as "a series of brilliant accidents."

Writer and broadcaster, Simon Fanshawe was a close personal friend of Roddick's.

Speaking to ABC News, he said, "the thing about Anita was that she saw the potential even in chance happenings. She was always able to exploit the moment, use whatever she had, and make things happen."

And she did make things happen, even if her initial plans were never so grand. To her, selling natural products and minimizing waste was simply the right thing to do.

But, unlike the environmental campaigners she so often worked with, Roddick had a strong nose for business, even as she decried the values and methods used by her competitors in the race to turn a profit.

In an interview with ABC News, Tony Juniper, director of the environmental charity Friends of the Earth, described Roddick as an "extraordinary" woman. "She showed you that you could have a business that embodied green values, be committed to a better world, while turning a profit," he said.

This ability to remain green and also rake in massive returns gave her "a unique credibility," according to Juniper.

Recycling was encouraged and fair-trade was top of the agenda at The Body Shop. It was all part of what Roddick described on her site as a "fight for fairness in the global economy."

  Not only did she insist on sourcing raw materials for her cosmetic products from underdeveloped nations like Ghana and Guatemala, she also made it a point to get the materials from smaller producers, ensuring that they got a fair price for their goods.  

She could excoriate the competition for not being sufficiently ethical, because she had managed the rare trick of being both ethical and profitable.

In that sense, Roddick was probably her own best advertisement for the vision she hoped to propagate throughout the corporate establishment. Her home page firmly stated that "businesses have the power to do good" and her life lived up to that promise.

Rachel Bentley, director of Children on the Edge, a charity started by Roddick in response to the Romanian orphanage crisis of the 1990s, told ABC News that her one-time boss was nothing if not "absolute dynamite."

Her commitment to "social responsibility was ahead of her time," Bentley said. "She didn't set out to make money. She was an activist first."

An activist with remarkable business acumen. By 2000, The Body Shop had made inroads into more than 50 countries, numbering about 2,000 stores in total.

Last year, Roddick sold the company to the French firm L'Oréal for a reported $1.14 billion.

The lucky friend that loaned her $6,000 to open her second store earned a staggering profit of nearly $274 million when the deal went through, three decades later.

But the sale was controversial, not least because L'Oréal is yet to announce a ban on animal testing of its products. Even as her own followers criticized the sale, Roddick said that she hoped her values would permeate L'Oréal and persuade the company's directors to follow her unusual path to success.

"With L'Oréal," Juniper said, "she was trying to change a mainstream company from within." L'Oréal, whose headquarters are based in France, will have to join the rest of the EU and ban animal testing by 2009.

In the meantime, however, other "mainstream" companies in the United Kingdom and the United States are well on their way to adopting The Body Shop's values, because of growing consumer demand for ethically and environmentally friendly products.

From Wal-Mart's plans to sell energy-saving light bulbs to the current vogue for organic and fair-trade food sold in supermarkets, being green and ethically sound has never been so popular.

"But," Juniper pointed out, "unlike other organizations that go green because of pressure from consumers, environmental values were Anita's priority."

It was the beginning of a process now familiar to many shoppers — from grocery stores like Whole Foods to credit cards like the American Express Red card, the fair-trade movement has slowly permeated popular consciousness. And many would point to Roddick as the first lady of that movement.

Fanshawe, who interviewed her on many occasions, told ABC News that, "more than once, in the middle of the interview, I would find myself thinking, how many people have I interviewed who have literally changed the face of retail?" Roddick was one of very few.

But, as she grew older, her priorities shifted. Refusing to "die rich," as she put it, she gave away money to the tune of $6 million per year, investing in various charities.

In February, she announced that she had unknowingly contracted the virus Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion while giving birth to her youngest daughter, Sam, years ago.

Her reaction to the news? "It's a bit of a bummer, but you groan and move on."

"After the hepatitis diagnosis," Bentley said, "we expected her to slow down, but she just kept" going, until her premature death from a brain hemorrhage Monday night.

Friends like Juniper remember an "enormously energetic" woman who "showed you that you should never assume that something can't be done, because it can!"

"What she did," according to Fanshawe, "was to make the idea of very big change seem possible. In that sense, she inspired many people to feel that they too could change the world."

"There is no more powerful institution in society than business," Roddick wrote in her book "Business as Unusual."

And there were few people who transformed the nature of business with as much passion and thoroughness as this one-time schoolteacher from Littlehampton, England.