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High Street chain The Body Shop on brink of closure after sales slump – so what went wrong for trailblazing brand? 
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High Street chain The Body Shop on brink of closure after...


FOR those of us with fond memories of White Musk perfume, baskets of bath pearls and satsuma body butter it’s a body blow.

After nearly five decades on the high street, beauty shop chain The Body Shop is calling in administrators, with store closures and job losses likely.

AlamyAfter nearly five decades on the high street, beauty icon The Body Shop is calling in administrators, with shop closures and job losses likely[/caption] Times Newspapers LtdThe Body Shop was founded by the late campaigner Dame Anita Roddick in 1976[/caption] Times Newspapers LtdAnita used natural ingredients, sustainably sourced, and took a stand against testing on animals[/caption]

Cue mass nostalgia about collecting every flavour of fruity Born Lippy lip balm, or shopping for a Dewberry hamper for your mum at Christmas.

It seems unbelievable that a brand that started out in the Seventies as a trailblazer for sustainability and anti-cruelty could fail just when the rest of the world is getting on board with the same ethical values.

Despite the beauty industry booming, The Body Shop, which has more than 200 UK outlets, saw revenues fall by 24.3 per cent in 2022.

Sluggish sales at Christmas have reportedly prompted a plan to appoint experts to significantly restructure the retailer.

So how did a company once so ahead of its time so totally miss the moment?

I’m one of a clearly dwindling number of customers and was in there yesterday buying a refill of pink grape fruit shower gel.

It’s sweet and fruity enough to make me feel like a teenager again and I also get to be a smug thirtysomething due to the reusable bottle and fair-trade organic ingredients.

So 2024.

But the shop isn’t fun or exciting any more.

It doesn’t have the youthful, hippie vibe I remember as a teenager, when my pals and I would linger in the Milton Keynes branch trying every flavour of body butter and swishing Shimmer Waves bronzer.

Nor is it a luxurious “retail sanctuary” like higher-end rivals such as Kiehl’s or Aesop, although its prices are going up.

Instead, you get bland corporate packaging and — apart from the refill station, a recent resurrection from the Nineties — little mention of its proud record of activism.

Which is a shame because The Body Shop has a compelling back story.

Founded by the late campaigner Dame Anita Roddick in 1976, it started life as a single Brighton store so run down that she joked it’s signature dark-green colour came from an effort to hide the mould on the walls.

She used natural ingredients, sustainably sourced, and took a stand against testing on animals.

It was beauty with a purpose and with the focus on feeling good, rather than slimming or anti-ageing.

Shoppers loved it.

But the rot arguably set in when Dame Anita decided to sell the company in 2006 to French beauty giant L’Oreal, for £652million.

When she made the sale, shortly before her death from a brain haemorrhage in 2007, Dame Anita hoped to be a “Trojan horse” who could make L’Oreal more sustainable from within.

But loyal customers saw it as a betrayal of The Body Shop’s values, especially as L’Oreal then still used some ingredients tested on animals.

Mark Constantine, co-founder of The Body Shop’s rival Lush, was a major supplier to it for years under his previous business.

He says that under L’Oreal’s ownership the move of manufacturing to the Philippines allowed for better profit margins, but at a price.

He said: “You can’t cheapen every-thing, remove the values and take more profit without customers noticing and going elsewhere.

“They lost that feeling one got, when buying a Body Shop product, that you were helping to change the world.”

The Body Shop has changed hands twice more since and since last year has been owned by investment group Aurelius.

While it has been seemingly losing focus on its ethical values, every other beauty brand worth its bath salts has started incorporating some kind of “purpose” into its marketing strategy, with varying degrees of sincerity.

The Body Shop had that moral high ground but everyone else has climbed up to the peak now

Neil Saunders

Mark Constantine’s Lush, with its “naked” packaging and organic ingredients, is a prime example.

Dove has its “real beauty” campaign, REN its zero-waste commitment and Dr Hauschaka all-natural ingredients.

My eye make-up remover, from Unilever-owned Garnier, claims to “empower young people within the LGBT+ community”.

Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, says: “The Body Shop had that moral high ground but everyone else has climbed up to the peak now.”

And what about The Body Shop’s other big strength, its appeal to young people?

Long before I was drenching myself in vanilla body spray as a teen I was packing my “Animals in danger” wash bag for sleepovers and arranging my “Save the whale” shaped soaps along the side of the bath.

But today’s tweens have more refined tastes, owing to social media.

With 58 per cent of 11 to 12-year-olds using TikTok daily, and spending nearly an hour watching videos, parents report how kids are falling for high-end beauty products and multi-step skincare regimes.

Expensive brands such as Summer Fridays and Drunk Elephant are top of the wish list.

There’s not much for those kids to get excited about in The Body Shop these days.

It is unlikely it will completely disappear.

Administrators are likely to focus instead on reducing costs, which could mean fewer shops and a bigger online presence.

I hope The Body Shop survives, and not just for nostalgic reasons.

In a crowded market place where many supposedly “ethical” promises to beauty consumers are just skin deep, I’d love to see it go back to its radical roots.

That really would be beautiful.

The Body Sop’s Coconut Body Butter is one of its most popular products The Body ShopThe Born Lippy strawberry lip balm was a fan favourite[/caption] AlamyMany shoppers fondly remember the scent of White Musk perfume in stores[/caption]

Who was Body Shop founder Anita Roddick?

Dame Anita Roddick, born October 23, 1942, was a British businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner.

Throughout her lifetime, Anita was best known as the founder of the Body Shop – a cosmetics company producing and retailing natural beauty products.

Anita opened her first Body Shop in Brighton back in 1976.

The brand first started as a small shop providing quality skincare products in refilled bottles, with the belief that the business could be a force for good.

Following this, the Body Shop went on to become a global retail business serving over 30 million customers worldwide.

As a keen campaigner, Anita was involved in activism for environmental and social issues, such as involvement with Greenpeace and The Big Issue.

In addition to this, in 1990, the late entrepreneur founded Children on the Edge – a charitable organisation which helps disadvantaged children in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

In 2007 Anita, who also worked alongside her husband Gordan, sold the company to L’Oréal, but still played an active role in the business.

French firm L’Oreal paid £625million for the company, providing Anita and her husband Gordon with more than £100million for their 18 per cent share in the business.

In September 2007, Dame Anita Roddick passed away at 64 from a brain haemorrhage after being admitted to St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, West Sussex.

Her husband Gordon, and her two daughters, Sam and Justine, were at her side.

Prior to her passing, Anita had revealed that she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2004.

The late founder’s illness was first discovered during a routine blood test for a life insurance policy.

She had lived with the illness for more than 30 years before it was discovered – by which time she was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

In 2008, a year after her passing, Anita’s will revealed that she had given away all of her £51million to charity and the rest to tax.



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