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Nobody (shop) can believe it

16 February, 2024

This week, the Body Shop collapsed into administration, a move likely to put 2,200 jobs at risk, and leave a lotion-shaped, sweet-smelling hole in the lives of many loyal customers. After being passed between retailers since 2006 and landing in the lap of private equity firm Aurelius, after less than three months it has been put into administration. But is this – as some have claimed – proof that purpose doesn’t deliver profit?

Founded by Anita Roddick in 1976, the Body Shop began as a small shop in Brighton, which championed natural ingredients like cocoa butter. For many years, customers were drawn in by the cloying scent that wafted from their stores, by the products which used ethically sourced natural ingredients, and by Roddick herself, who, as a businesswoman in a male dominated world, became a new model for women – one who showed that you could be a vanilla-scented feminist, and that it didn’t need to come at nature’s cost. The Body Shop was a trailblazer for ethical consumerism, long before other beauty brands started to play catch up.

But then they did. After the Body Shop was bought by L’Oreal in 2006, and rivals like Lush and Rituals entered the scene, it began to lose its monopoly on ethical consumerism, and its products began to lose their pull. Cheaper (and sustainable) product ranges, and a greater choice of higher quality brands flooded the scene, and while the Body Shop did evolve its products and continued to champion its ethical values, it was passed from L’Oreal to Natura to Aurelius, with no one seemingly able to make it commercially viable.

So it comes as no great surprise that over the years the Body Shop has been pushed out. And while its demise will leave a generation of body-butter-less women mourning what once was, its collapse should be seen as the culmination of a series of commercial errors, and the challenges that any retailer faces in an era of rising costs and falling high street footfall. The Body Shop brought purpose onto the scene, and it will leave behind a legacy of business as a force for good.

By Rosie Serlin

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