NEW YORK — Jane Saunders, the founder of the original The Body Shop in the U.S., died April 26. She was 83 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, said her daughter, Kathy Saunders.
Always an entrepreneur, Saunders opened her first natural products store in Berkeley, Calif., in 1970 in a space previously occupied by an auto repair shop, hence the origin of the name. Threading together emerging trends at the time, including rising interest in natural products and environmental issues, Saunders began by selling lotions and perfumes in recyclable bottles. She emphasized the use of natural ingredients like aloe vera and jojoba oil, which she sourced from an Indian reservation. One of her earliest products was a scented bar soap that sold at three for $1. There were also popular, fun fragrances such as Strawberry Yogurt and China Rain.
The business took off immediately. Within six months, a second store was opened and in two years there were six stores throughout San Francisco, Berkeley and Sausalito. In 1988, the U.K. company with the same name, started by Anita Roddick in 1976, wanted to enter the U.S. and Saunders agreed to sell the trademark.
Today, Saunders’ The Body Shop continues as A.K.A. Saunders Inc. and is run by her daughters, Kathy Saunders and Ann Saunders Gordon. It produces Nectarine, a bulk natural bath and body care line that can be repackaged under private labels, and also markets the branded TerraNova line, a gift-oriented natural beauty collection. Its products are distributed in some 2,000 stores.
Early on, Saunders’ sister-in-law had been a partner in the business. The two split in 1979 and that branch of the family continues to operate several retail stores in the Bay area.
Saunders, who crafted eyeglass cases and crocheted bikinis before going into the beauty business, is “someone who needed to do something, and she wasn’t right for working in a bank or department stores,” said Kathy Saunders. Beyond her business successes, Saunders is mostly remembered by her family, employees and business associates for her kind touch.
In addition to her daughters, Saunders, who was divorced, is survived by three grandchildren and two sons-in-law.
— Laura Klepacki