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Nostalgia in a White Musk bottle: The rise & fall of The Body Shop

Missed opportunity for a retro revival
3 mins


March 2024

As part of our ‘Nostalgia’ series, Emma Jennings one of our seniors in the Creative Adaptation team shares her fond memories of The Body Shop and her take on the missed opportunity for a brand revival.

Blast from the past

When I think of shopping in my childhood, few things evoke memories as vividly as The Body Shop, a brand that once held a special place in the hearts of many, and where my love of beauty products first began. Founded by Anita Roddick in 1976, who opened a single shop in Brighton, The Body Shop wasn’t just a beauty retailer or competitor to Boots (no online shopping in those days); it was an experience! It was a true teenage treat.

I remember trips to The Body Shop in the 90s. It was like walking into a sweet shop, all the smells and bright colours; a sensory overload because not only were the products packaged differently, but you could also touch the soaps, test the body butters, and cover yourself in White Musk or Dewberry Body sprays! If you had Christmas money to spend you could even splurge on the ‘proper’ perfume oils and spend hours trying them from their glass tester bottles. Even now the smell of white musk sends me right back to being fourteen again!!

Simple packaging to evoke accessible, natural beauty 

Anita challenged the conventional norms of the retail experience of the time with product display and packaging staying true to the brand ethos. No products were covered in plastic wrappers or untouchable. The products could be touched and tested, with simple green labels applied to the same-sized bottles, making up colourful displays. My green Body Shop jute bag has survived the years, in an era of plastic carriers. 

A real brand purpose 

At a time when environmental consciousness was far from mainstream, The Body Shop was ahead of its time, it opened my eyes to sustainability, recycling, and cruelty-free beauty long before it became trendy. Never before had I saved up empty bottles to get them refilled in a shop! But I did. Anxious to ‘do my bit.’ My friends and I all knew the Body Shop was set up and owned by a woman, with strong principles, who did things her own way. As an impressionable early teen this was inspiring. It sparked my interest in the environmental issues that continues today. It was a champion of sustainability and activism, with some affordable loveliness thrown in. You felt good shopping there.  

Stick to your brand values! 

And yet, despite its loyal following and ethical stance, The Body Shop struggled in the following years. Ownership changed when Anita and her husband Gordon sold the business to L’Oreal in 2006 and resulted in backlash from loyal shoppers who saw this as a sell-out and conflict with the original ethos. Perhaps we all simply grew up and moved on. I guess I stopped going there when alternative beauty brands became available too.  

Staying relevant in brand and packaging 

With over 700 workers losing their jobs and over 75 stores closing in the UK, it makes me so sad.

Reflecting on The Body Shop’s legacy and it’s hard not to wonder what could have been. 90’s Nostalgia is at an all-time high. There’s a growing demand for sustainable alternatives and the current beauty trend for the new younger generation, is to go back to basics, with simple but vibrant packaging design, from brands such as Bubble and Byoma. If The Body Shop had stayed more relevant and relatable to the evolving new consumer, things may have been very different. 

One thing is for sure, to stand the test of time, brands need to continually evolve and reversion themselves to stay relevant, not forgetting what made them unique and memorable in the first place. 

If you’d like to inject some authentic nostalgia into your brand to appeal to a wider audience, get in touch.  We have a wealth of experience and some great heritage brands under our belt.

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