Oh Say It Isn't So
from Maggie in London
Welcoming doors wide open, sweet fragrances wafting in the air, deep comforting green, the nature goddess within calls to us like the Sirens.
'Look out! The rocks!'
'Oh not to worry. We can use them for our peppermint foot pumices.'
We should have listened more closely. The shipwreck was always a possibility.
Anita Roddick preached and we amen-ed and hallelujah-ed in response. Dame Anita was the beacon of truth in a sea of liars and avaricious manipulators: the beauty industry.
We all felt so ethical, so good, so pure, so green entering the world of the beauty-righteous, sampling indigenous-inspired non-lethal lipsticks, smearing on chemical-free creams from biodegradable bottles in our desperate desire to be decent inhabitants of a disappearing planet.
"You can organise your workplace as an expression of the way you conduct your life, treating all people as equals - employees, customers, business associates - and adhering strictly to the truth." Well, not so strictly, Dame Anita. Her Quaker inspired credo was so seductive. We wanted to believe and we did and we shouldn't have.
We cherished that homely picture in our collective mind's eye of Anita clothed in a gingham pinney, wild-haired, whipping up delicious soaps and potions in her small Brighton kitchen in 1976 while her erstwhile husband travelled the planet in search of himself. Regardless of how much we all revered her ' propping her up as the icon, the model, the symbol of social consciousness in a greed-fuelled, capitalistic world'pedestals can prove to be rather precarious. Oops.
'Blood-sucking dinosaurs, fucking robber
barons.' Dame Anita ranted, referring to the investment
bankers who floated her stock and made her rich, rich,
rich and to the animal-testing behemoth L'Oreal whom she
sold her seemingly beloved company to for '625m
(ironically a fraction of its worth 15 years ago).
Dame Anita's self-promotion as 'the real thing' was the real thing.
Brilliant at self-marketing, a genius really.
Nevertheless as with all evangelists, be they religious or recyclists, the truth often proves to be elusive and at best irrelevant. Her 'story' always clung to her like a wet T-shirt. Oh. Sorry. That's her daughter's business isn't it.
In 1970, her first ghost-written self-promoting autobiography, Body and Soul, claimed that the Body Shop name was inspired by car repair shops while travelling throughout the US. Jojoba, seaweed, tea tree, aloe, camomile cleansing, moisturising, revitalizing creams from ancient Amazonian, Brazilian, Hawaiian, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Peruvian, Sri Lankan, Ghanaian family secrets'repaired dents and replaced headlights'I get it.
In fact, the source was a bit more sinister than grease and axles: she simply appropriated ' pinched, nicked the complete concept. In San Francisco two happy hippie sisters by way of marriage, Short and Sanders, were blissful creating bio-degradable shampoos, deliciously smelling glycerine soaps, healthy vegetable based lotions in their tiny Berkley shop for their loyal and enthusiastic following. They also offered a discount refill policy. The tiny shop was housed in a car repair garage. Oh no. Say it isn't so. It was the original Body Shop. Do I hear gasping?
Inspired and motivated, the then plain Anita left the popular shop with arms full of their lovely soaps, lotions, creams, cosmetics and all of the brochures.
Their colour scheme was green. Now we know that the 'green was the only colour we had in the garage, ha, ha,' account is quite the colourless fabrication. 'We created our refill policy because we couldn't afford more bottles.' Wrong. 'I copied their products and brochure with only the very slightest of changes'. Oops. She didn't actually announce that did she.
To add insult to injury, S and S agreed to a gagging order when they were offered $3.5m in 1987 to change their chain of small shops to Body Time. Trusting customers accused them of stealing the queen of green's idea. Insulted, they were not happy untested-on-bunnies.
Adding more insult to more injury, all those creams we were smearing on our innocent and as yet unlined faces were not what the label read after all. Yes. Outrage is fitting here. Tossing our Spa Wisdom Monoi Miracle Massage Oil in the rubbish is appropriate. We should have questioned out loud why Dame Anita looked older than her years. Why her skin resembled un-ironed fabric after spending all those months in jungles swathed in secret skin treatments.
Mark Constantine filled her 'chemical-free' products with synthetic fragrances, dyes and low-cost artificial ingredients which Anita preferred. 'Roddick never could care less about the ingredients. It never even entered her consciousness.' She apparently didn't give a monkey's about animal testing, social consciousness, being green. 'She and I used to have arguments over whether 'not tested on animals' should be on the bloody bottle. She couldn't see the point. It was just a few vegetarians and ex-hippies.' I'm sliding into the abyss here. (It was Constantine who later created the pure and very successful soap shops ' Lush.)
Fair trade products composed a tiny portion of her inventory, indigenous projects were dropped, globe-covering franchises operated in the red, poor Body Shop labourers were denied any pecuniary increases for their mind-numbing work. And those delightful, romantic, image-rich stories of native knowledge were beyond apocryphal. They were all lies. Secrets and lies. I'm growing increasingly weak.
Promises to na've poverty-entrenched villagers who made her products ' tractors, trucks, a library never materialised. Promises of extensive charity giving amounted to not a pence, a fiver, a jar of Lemongrass Deodorising Foot Soak Lotion. This was amended only after the press revelations eleven years into the business. Cynicism is justified. As is a loss of optimism, idealism, all hope for the future. Gobsmacked is suitable. We were taken in.
In 1986 it was time for Dame Anita to throw herself into campaigning with relish ' or vengeance. The natural market was being driven by Marks & Spencer and Revlon. Time for Anita to jump on the green train before it left the station.
By the early 2000s, the Body Shop was, according to Dame Anita: "A multi-local business with 1,980 stores serving over 77 million customers in fifty different markets in twenty-five different languages and across twelve time zones. I haven't a clue how we got there!" But we do.
'Make no mistake about it 'I'm doing this for me.' Ouch. The last line in her first autobiography. We were warned. We could have saved ourselves a small fortune at Christmas on those little purple baskets of blue, green and pink polar bear soaps alone. A shame we didn't get to the end of the book.
About the Author:
Maggie is from Manhattan, where she was a painter, then designer of clothing, objects, textiles, interiors while writing for various publications and her own webzine. She is permanently based in London, the city of irony, where she writes regularly to her gal pal Lulu in New York.
You can read her amusing tales about London's daily life, people, current events, politics, fashion and culture at her website www.lettersfromlondon.com.