Why Brand Activism Wins | Interview with Jessie Macneil-Brown

Jessie is the Head of Global Activism at the Body Shop International. With more than 20 years of campaigning experience at a local, national and global level, she wants to expand Body Shop’s family and introduce the brand’s social activism to Georgia. Her main determination is to put activism at the heart of its brand strategy and be a more impactful feminist for all the women out there. That’s why she and her team decided to visit Georgia themselves, share their thoughts and tell us more about the future plans of Body Shop.

Your story started in Brighton, England in 1976 and after so many years it’s still going strong. What is the body shop’s secret to a successful business?

Well, to think about the secret of our successful business – it is being true to ourselves. We offer people high-quality products with really good backstories, to create an emotional connection with our product and customers. People join your business because they believe in what we are trying to achieve. Even back in 1976, we were the first ethical, sustainable, activist brand, we were pioneering in the ways people have not seen in this business before. This was not the case in the cosmetic industry because back then, no other cosmetic company questioned their ways of animal testing. Therefore, we were the first company to have the “leaping bunnies” certificate, which means that we are a cruelty-free brand, which doesn’t allow any product testing on animals. We maintain that certification from day one. It all happened, thanks to the sheer determination of our founder, Anita who thought, that business could be a force for good and refused to test our cosmetics on animals. Her values and belief were so strong, that she could always find ways to bring up the problem and show it to people in a positive way. She was really clever at getting the media’s attention and commercializing the main problems in a way, no one would ever think could work. That’s why we have never shocked or scared our customers with some graphic content. We would always have people dressed as bunny rabbits out there, expressing our ideas in a positive way, by depicting a massive problem and offering solutions by signing a petition. It all worked. It is extremely important to be positive and loyal to our values.

For people who don’t know, can you explain what sets this brand apart from other beauty brands? Why are your products different?

Our products are different because we only use natural ingredients. Even when Anita first launched the company, she was using 24 natural ingredients and that’s something we kept using. Anita travelled extensively and when in Ghana, she met all these beautiful women with wonderful skin and all they were using was shea butter. Therefore, she acquired that technology and we continued to derive our product from traditional ways of body care from all around the world. That’s why our team keeps travelling and collecting this kind of data from around the world. So, you get the local ingredients and techniques to take care of your skin while connecting with all the other women and their culture from other countries. That’s why our products are unique, they’re high quality, share values and do an amazing job with your skin.

Besides the fact that you care about your products and what they are made of, you care about the environment they come from. Why is it important for cosmetic brands to run a business in a more environmentally sustainable way?

I think, not only a cosmetic, but every company should be working in more sustainable ways. When our company entered the market, we tried to be eco-friendlier by introducing the refillable bottle to our customers and used less packaging, in terms of shortening the number of wastes. We try to make every product in a way, that will have a good impact on the environment. I think the need to be more attentive about these details comes from our customers, who have a very personal connection with the products they are putting on their skin. That’s why this pressure helps us make products more sustainable. That was actually one of the cases I’ve brought up in the United Nations. I’m really happy that this trend is spreading fast and now, even the fashion industry is becoming more cruelty-free. That’s why, it’s vital, to speak up and always embrace the brands who do a great job and try to have their own contribution in preserving nature.

For 40 years, The Body Shop has worked tirelessly to promote and defend human rights. What is it exactly that you do and how do you use your global presence to fight for human rights?

We are trying to maintain that sort of activism in every field possible. For example, we are trying to empower women economically by giving them access to an international market. We cleared the plastic landfills and helped women in marginalized communities to track back their identity cards, so they could have better life chances and bigger wages in India. We now have some upcoming Christmas plans, to bring a female Santa Claus, instead of male one and invite all the women with some inspirational stories to share their experience. We also work with women in Indonesia and Brazil, two locations where women’s rights are in the worst conditions in terms of getting a job. We have some really big upcoming projects about this, which will launch in February. So, as a feminist brand, we are really looking forward to doing more in terms of letting women all around the world have access to education and job opportunities. We are fighting for gender equality. It is our number one priority for women to feel more empowered.

The Body Shop is a natural and ethical beauty brand, with over 3000 stores in over 70 markets worldwide. Georgia will be the new addition in this list. What are your expectations for the future of the Body Shop in Georgia?

We chose Franchise Georgia because there are vivid market opportunities and a fantastic cultural fit. We bring together experts of the Body Shop and Georgia – and that is a perfect marriage. We had a lot of people visiting our new store and saying: “Thank god, you are finally in Georgia”.

Bodyshop has lots of activist hubs where people share the same values and try to keep others sustainable as well. How is the brand going to apply the same strategy in Georgian stores?

We already have lots of activist hubs throughout the world and we are trying to train our teams, so every member is aware of their responsibility and value. By bringing the brand to Georgia we are trying to apply the same narrative and first of all, tell people what activism is so, they understand that there is no certain way of activism or protest. We all have our own ways to do so, and what I think is that Georgia, has great activism. I come from the UK and I think our government needs activism to work better because activism helps people to solve problems. We have already talked to our local team in Georgia and they have some great plans about social activism in general, which is why I think it will work perfectly here. A year ago we launched a project in India, we were resourcing the plastic from Indian oceans and tried to show our costumers the actual crisis we have towards plastic pollution. So, I think we will have some sort of projects like this in Georgia and actually show people how Body Shop works.

What is the main challenge in your job as a woman?

My biggest challenge as a woman is to maintain balance, between work and family and keep reminding myself that I only have 24 hours a day. I have to put less pressure on myself. Because, particularly we, women want to do everything for the people we care about and contribute a lot to our jobs too. That’s what I keep reminding myself, to stop putting too much pressure on myself. You can only do what you can do.

Have you been a victim of gender stereotypes throughout your career?

I was born in Australia, so… Yes. I grew up in the countryside, and there are a lot of gender stereotypes in my country. For example, where I come from women are expected to take care of their families and raise their children. In Australia, we don’t have a lot of women in leadership positions, women are threatened and most of them lack the motivation to stand up for themselves. What I think is that we should definitely teach the younger generation how to be more equal and act in a non-offensive way. While working in the Body Shop, I’ve never stumbled upon this kind of gender stereotype problem, because our company is a big family where I feel fully supported. But in general, there are a lot of problems in the UK about equality, because there aren’t many women in politics and the government is not prioritizing our problems. That’s why I’ve joined the equality group outside my work to help women and young girls feel more supported, so they are heard and properly perceived.

The body shop was founded by a woman – Anita Roddick, who made a strong impact on women’s lives worldwide. You follow her path and empower women of the world. What do you think, why do we still need to fight for equal opportunities for women and men? When will the final change come?

So, if we look at the world economic forum data and calculation, it will take more than 200 years. I know you have the first female taxi-driver in Georgia and these little steps impact the great path of equal opportunities. Since we arrived in Georgia, we want to celebrate this unique opportunity and remind everyone of all the amazing things women have already done.

What comes next? What is the Body Shop’s plans for the future?

Global campaigns, working on natural ingredients, as we are 100% vegetarian brand and we want to maintain the status; Body Shop’s future is focused on women’s empowerment and sustainability.


Author: Rusudan Bragvadze

Co-authors: Anna Kurdadze, Ana Mskhaladze