Shop Talk

THE Q&A: The Body Shop’s Christina Roy on fair trade alcohol and commercial sugar cane farming in Ecuador

Shop Talk is written by OM senior editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Sarah Fischer, OM account executive and fashion maven.  

It’s no secret that The Body Shop is a leader in the emerging market of socially-conscious businesses. From cruelty-free beauty products, to human rights campaigns and environmentally-friendly packaging,  founder Anita Roddick was a groundbreaker in the beauty biz, realizing that people want products that they can feel good about using — products that tell a story and contribute to a better world.

But we were surprised to hear that The Body Shop has a pretty cool program that sends front-line staff to visit fair trade partners. Last month, Christina Roy, shop manager at the The Body Shop in Rideau Centre, got the chance to visit the sugar cane farm in Ecuador that supplies alcohol for most of the company’s fragrances. The trip was part of an award Christina received after her store won an internal Body Shop award. (If you haven’t been to the the Rideau Centre location recently, it’s a ‘pulse’ location of the The Body Shop, which means the layout is designed to encourage customers to try new products and chat with staff.)

Christina Roy hikes in the sugar cane fields of CADO, the farm in Ecuador that supplies The Body Shop with alcohol for its perfumes.

And when it comes to chatting about perfume, Christina says, a lot of customers mention that it doesn’t bother their allergies the way other perfumes do — and that it even picks up different scent notes. Of course, knowing that it comes from a fair trade farm — that it helps to provide a decent income for families — also makes customers feel good.

It sounded like a great feel-good story — and who doesn’t like to look at other peoples’ travel photos? Here, SHOP TALK chats with Christina Roy about the award, her trip, and why fair trade feels so good.

SHOP TALK: Why do you think the Rideau Centre store was rated “best store”?

CHRISTINA ROY: Because we engage with our customers and they trust us as experts to show them how to use the products, and we talk a lot about fair traide and what it means.

ST: What are you especially proud of when it comes to this accolade?
CR: Our community work. Not just in the industry, but with the Ottawa Food Bank and Hartwood House — we devote a lot of time to the community. It’s not just about giving to our customers, but also to the community. That stood out in my mind.

Sugar cane growing on the hillside in Ecuador.

ST: I understand The Body Shop sources ingredients from all over the world. Do you know why you were sent to Ecuador?
CR: I don’t know why, but we have forged long time ties with suppliers, so we’re constantly going to different places.

ST: Tell us about a highlight from your trip.
CR: I loved seeing that our relationship is actually helping to protect the biodiversity. Their land is protected because of our business.

ST: Did you also see sites more commercial sites? That is, those that use pesticides, harvest mechanically, and practice stump burning?
CR:
Yes, in the south of Ecuador, the low lands. The difference between the farms is very dramatic. In Parroquia Moraspungo, where CADO is located, there’s enough room between the cane to swing a machete, and there’s natural plant material growing between. On my last day, we drove down and visited commercial farms – we basically just drove for about two hours through thick sugar cane fields. There was a lot of smoke in the air.

Berta, a CADO worker, with one of the products that relies on the alcohol from CADO sugar cane.

ST: What, if anything, surprised you about the visit?
CR:
I wasn’t expecting the entire community to come out and receive us like family. On my first day we sat down and had this beautiful meal — it was really heart-warming.

ST: What do you see for the future of this area? Is there anything in particular that excites or worries you?
CR:
What excites me is to continue that relationship. A lot of women farmers help feed and educate their families by working on that farm, and by paying them a fair wage they are able to provide a better life for their families.

 

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