Big Interview: Natalie Brewster, Global Creative Operations Director, The Body Shop

Before the Covid-19 crisis struck the UK, The Body Shop's global creative operations director Natalie Brewster spoke to Retail Gazette about how she went from working at McDonald's to building a career at one of the biggest retailers on the high street.

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Natalie Brewster The Body Shop profile interview Natura & Co
Natalie Brewster joined The Body Shop in 2018.

“Anita Roddick started an incredible brand ahead of its time 44 years ago. The amazing thing is the heritage that we’ve got and all of the things that we stand for now, and all of the things that we’ve redefined through our rejuvenation couldn’t be any more relevant.”

As part of her role as global creative operations director at The Body Shop, Natalie Brewster oversees campaigns, whereby she and her team define the “verbal and visual stance” of each one of them.

“The great thing is that we’re able to communicate on quite serious issues in a very compelling and brilliant way,” she told Retail Gazette.

Upon her appointment at ethical beauty and wellbeing retailer in 2018, Brewster was faced with various campaigns, with the most prominent being Forever Against Animal Testing.

Although the campaign, which focuses on “working towards a worldwide ban on animal tested cosmetics”, first launched in 1989 by Roddick herself, Brewster helped it reach its goal of eight million signatures. This meant the petition for a worldwide ban was taken to the UN.

“We’re an activist brand at the heart of it,” she reflected.

“We’re an activist brand at the heart of it”

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, The Body Shop has continued to demonstrate its philanthropic values. While Covid-19 has affected businesses, particularly non-essential retailers due to government-mandated lockdowns, Brewster said The Body Shop has seen “great content and agility” within its ecommerce and direct-to-consumer channels.

“Like all retailers, we’ve had to work very fast and flexibly to respond to the impacts of Covid-19 and the majority of our business globally is being conducted digitally for now,” she said.

The Body Shop also launched an online campaign titled Time to Care, focusing on wellbeing for customers and colleagues, which Brewster said has been “very well-received”.

“We came together to work out how we could best support the communities around us at this very difficult time, and a quote from Anita Roddick sprang to mind: ‘I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community. I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in’,” Brewster said.

“That was our guiding principle.”

The retailer has since donated over 255,000 much-needed products to frontline medical staff.

In addition to Time to Care, The Body Shop came together with Brazilian parent company Natura & Co to address the rise in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. The Isolated Not Alone campaign was launched to urge governments to provide additional funding for organisations such as Women’s Aid.

During seemingly simpler times before Covid-19, The Body Shop launched a new concept store on London’s Bond Street. This saw the retailer transform its already-existing store by featuring an activism zone and refill stations.

Natalie Brewster The Body Shop Natura & Co
The Body Shop’s concept store opened in September 2019 in central London.

Brewster said there was “a really great reaction” to the concept store and The Body Shop has since launched a “rapid rollout plan”, and expressed pride in the retailer’s “huge piece of work on brand rejuvenation”.

Brewster added that out of all her work streams, the Bond Street concept store campaign was by far “the toughest one”.

“Our store estates are really important to us,” she reflected.

“We’ve currently got 3000 stores globally across 72 markets. When you’ve got an estate that big, and you’re trying to create something unique, you’ve got to do it right.

“Thankfully, we had an amazing team to help bring our purpose to life.

“We did traditional research by going into stores and talking to customers about what they want. I went to the Bond Street concept store a couple of months ago, and I hadn’t actually been this year because I think I was so heavily involved in it.

“I almost took a bit of a step back when I went into it, there’s a kind of buzz, it’s a completely different environment.

“We wanted to get our values across to customers and provide a real collective experience.

“We have already rolled the concept out in Hong Kong and Canada. Soon we’ll have these stores around the world.”

“We aren’t just a beauty retailer, we’ve got ethics behind that, our activism is our foundational pillar”

Natura & Co acquired The Body Shop for £880 million from L‘Oreal in 2017 – a year before Brewster joined. Natura reported an uptick in The Body Shop’s profits and sales in its third quarter, which it attributed to a strong performance in the UK, its home core market.

The Body Shop saw its EBITDA surge 18.7 per cent during the quarter to 62.6 million reals (£11.6 million), bolstered by a 1.1 per cent uptick in net revenue to 935.7 million reals (£173.9 million).

Brewster attributed the successful sales period to The Body Shop’s new collections, such as its Hemp Body Care Range and vegan beauty products.

“We’ve been creative and we’ve kept up with trends, hemp is huge right now in the beauty world – it’s everywhere,” she told Retail Gazette.

“We aren’t just a beauty retailer, we’ve got ethics behind that, our activism is our foundational pillar. It’s one of the reasons Anita started the brand, to fund her activism and selling beauty products is a way to do that.”

Brewster said she was passionate about the beauty industry, but her past career experiences do not range in beauty. In fact, she worked in management roles at clothing retailers Gap and Jack Wills.

She joined Gap in 2006 as the European creative services manager before moving on to senior manager global brand partnerships and media in 2011. At Jack Wills, Brewster spent three years there from 2014 to 2017, starting off as creative services director before being promoted to global content director.

“Retail is retail. I learnt a lot from my previous experiences such as being really agile and turning things around really quickly,” she said.

Natalie Brewster The Body Shop Natura & Co
Natalie Brewster attributed The Body Shop’s successful sales period to new collections.

“The Body Shop is not a traditional beauty retailer, it’s a lifestyle brand. What I’m doing now is a combination of everything that I’ve done in the past.”

Now faced with the challenge of a pandemic, Brewster said it was really important to think about what role The Body Shop can play – in business and in society.

“Retailers need to reconsider all communications – both internally and externally – and make sure we really listen to our audiences and respond honestly at this time,” she explained.

“We want to protect our people and our business as much as possible and come back stronger than ever when the pandemic is over.

“Like that famous World War II poster says ‘what did you do in the war, daddy?’ – we want everyone who works for us to be proud of our effort during this crisis and know that we are doing all we can as a resourceful and effective triple-bottom-line business.”

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