On Monday, September 10, surrounded by her family, Dame Anita Roddick, OBE-a seemingly unstoppable force of nature-passed away after 64 amazing, hell-raising, consciousness-blazing years.
If you buy “fair trade” anything, purchase a product not tested on animals, refill a product container, or use a product in a recycled container or package, then you, in some way, have Anita Roddick to thank. Long before any of these ideas was fashionable, before there was such a thing as “green consumerism,” Anita was looking for a way to change the business world to benefit humans (she didn’t like the word “consumer”) and the planet.
She is best known as the founder of The Body Shop (TBS), the international cosmetics chain she started in 1976. In just 30 years, it had mushroomed from a single shop in Brighton, England to a franchise of 2,000 stores in 53 countries. She used The Body Shop’s windows, recycled bags, and employees as campaign fronts for causes most other businesses would run from-rainforest depletion, testing of cosmetics on animals, HIV/AIDS, sustainable hemp farming, women’s rights, aboriginal causes : the list goes on.
For 35 years, Anita was completely devoted to her husband Gordon-a soft-spoken Scotsman who quietly worked behind the scenes to build The Body Shop into one of the world’s best-known and respected brands. She was also an inspiring mother to daughters Sam and Justine, and a friend to so many people who reached out for guidance or simply words of advice. I will never forget the jokes Gordon cracked ribbing the crazy accents Anita did when imitating her 90-year-old mother, who also recently passed away. The Roddicks are an amazing family, and Anita was always in the midst of the fun!
I met Anita at an adult ed class I was attending. Not even knowing me, she invited me to her Montecito home and worked with me on a hemp product I was developing. Later, when I was managing band tours, she FedExed my resume to Sting’s Tuscan villa. She received a fax back from Sting stating that he had all of his tour personnel in place, but would love to get together soon and “catch up. Love, Sting.” Needless to say, that is one of the more interesting rejection letters that I’ve ever received!
We both thought it funny that a somewhat underemployed, bicycle-riding, surfing, entrepreneurial activist could be friends with an international rights advocate and business tycoon who was one of the richest and most famous women in England. Spirit and passion were Anita’s common ground with humanity-not the money, wealth, and power that others sought. To die rich was “obscene” to her, and she spent a good deal of time giving away her wealth to charities and foundations.
She spoke several times in Santa Barbara. I frequently drove and helped lug boxes of the inspirational tomes that attendees eagerly waited to have signed-my favorite being Business as Unusual. She loved reaching out to students, especially the global studies majors in Rich Appelbaum’s classes at UCSB. Rich recalls, “The first time I invited Anita to address a large (300-student) introductory class on the global economy, she called me a half hour before the class to tell me that she was sending ‘Charlie’ over to my office. I assumed she was referring to one of her many assistants, helpers, or just plain hangers-on. Moments later, Charles Kernaghan, head of the National Labor Committee, walked into my office. Charles, a true hero of the anti-sweatshop movement, was among my pantheon of personal heroes. Apparently, Anita had flown Charles out from New York City just to radicalize my students. He-with Anita playing anything but a supporting role-succeeded.”
Anita received awards and accolades from all over the world, from Queen Elizabeth II appointing her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, to being named “Chief Wiper-Away of Ogoni Tears” by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People in Nigeria. She and Gordon had taken up the cause of the Ogoni, whose human rights were being trampled and whose leaders were being killed by a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell Oil-all in the name of “business as usual.” Ogoni villages full of children named “Anita” and “Gordon” are testament to the Ogonis’ love of this dynamic duo.
As I get older and hairs, colors, and creases start to appear in new places, I always remember her advice: “Celebrate your wrinkles!” In lieu of flowers or charitable contributions, I think Anita would rather have us just turn to the ones we love and hug them (hard!) and tell them how much they mean to us. If only I had that chance once again with my friend.