The making of Mamatoto: Virago, The Body Shop and feminist business strategy

Jolly, Margaretta (2021) The making of Mamatoto: Virago, The Body Shop and feminist business strategy. Women: a cultural review, 32 (3-4). pp. 318-340. ISSN 0957-4042

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Abstract

This article explores a collaboration between Virago Press and the Body Shop (TBS) to shine a light on feminist and women’s business, what they have shared historically and how they could work together in late twentieth-century Britain. It uses as a lens the 1991 sale of a Body Shop book, Mamatoto: A Celebration of Birth, to Virago Press. The processes and outcome raise thorny questions: how can political commitments lead to business innovation? How can business support political aims? What kinds of deals can be done between divergent ‘activist’ businesses, and what kind of identification between feminist entrepreneurs supports such deals? Mamatoto, sold alongside a range of mother and baby toiletries of the same name, was important to Virago commercially at a time of economic precarity and expressed TBS’s growing interest in combining marketing with social justice campaigns. Yet the book’s representation of women in developing countries points to neo-colonial elements in the white, middle-class ‘mama market’ of the 1990s, a market which TBS especially cultivated but which contradicted the principles of the women’s movements Virago aimed to serve. The Mamatoto deal thus arguably involved political compromise, even if it was good business. Yet, the partnership also reflects the strategy and strengths of both Virago (established 1974) and TBS (1976) as enduring and iconic women-centred businesses. TBS simultaneously pioneered fair-trade initiatives and a ground-breaking practice of ‘social’ audit, while Virago was developing more inclusive, multi-cultural and transnational approaches to its work, including in a contemporaneous production of a cookbook with the development charity Oxfam. Understanding their struggles to align value chains and combine purpose and profit remains positive and instructive for would-be feminist entrepreneurs today.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Feminist publishing, Virago, The Body Shop, Oxfam, publishing, ethics, fair trade, strategy, value, partnership
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2021 07:35
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2022 12:32
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/101223

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
The business of women's words: Purpose and profit in feminist publishingG2179LEVERHULME TRUSTRPG-2017-218