FROM its campaign to ban animal testing to its fight for fair trade, the Body Shop has always played by its own rules.

Aside from setting the agenda through its natural cosmetic products, it fought wider wars on whaling alongside Greenpeace and stood up for human rights with Amnesty International.

Its founder and muse, Littlehampton-born Anita Roddick, was never afraid to challenge perceived wisdom, according to one woman who knew her.

Jenny Whitehorn was working in a store of The Body Shop when she met Anita.

It was January 1991 and the 26-year-old was on the shop floor as part of her induction into the crusading company.

Miss Whitehorn, who previously worked in the NHS and was a Body Shop customer, said: "I wasn't totally celebrity dumbstruck but I was a bit like, 'It's her.'

"I knew she was really energetic and had an opinion and was very passionate and that was exactly how she came across.

"When you are the founder or owner of something you want to keep your ear to the ground; she would talk to everybody, finding out the vibe.

"She was the figurehead and was interested in social change and activism."

In the past Anita's husband Gordon Roddick admitted in an interview that The Body Shop started "with no idea of what the rules were".

The couple were defying the norm before The Body Shop; The Argus reported in 1972 how the pair rescued a pregnant teenager evicted from her home and set up the Littlehampton branch of Shelter.

It was this get-up-and-go attitude that saw Anita receive a damehood in 2003, four years before her death at the age of 64.

Miss Whitehorn said: "She gave me the feeling that if you wanted something to happen you could make it happen. She would always bring energy and passion. That was the inspiration for me."

Now 51, Miss Whitehorn lives in Arundel, only a short drive from the Littlehampton headquarters of The Body Shop - which started as one shop in Brighton in March 1976 and has now grown to an organisation of more than 2,500 stores around the world.

Simon Coble, managing director of The Body Shop UK, who grew up in Portslade, said: “The Body Shop is a true Brighton success story and a unique brand that evokes wonderful memories spanning 40 years from past to present and across all ages."

On its growth, Miss Whitehorn, herself a marketing and corporate responsibility director, said: "It was a whirlwind and every day was different.

"Everyone's opinions were valued and people could speak their mind.

"It was really the thoughts and inspirations of a relatively small group of people.

"To get the job was probably the best day of my life, and changed the course of it."

The Body Shop's campaigns were not limited to the environment. In 1997, it led a self-esteem campaign to counteract the expectation of women to look like supermodels and more recently highlighted the vulnerability of women through sex trafficking at a time when the practice was not making big headlines.

Miss Whitehorn said: "Ban animal testing was always the bedrock and foundation of the business.

"Stop Sex Trafficking was something Anita initiated but didn't get to see it through to fruition.

"She said it was under the radar but would become a social issue. She was right, she was ahead of it.

"Her legacy of what she built is still the driving force of The Body Shop. We are building on many of the things she started. That heritage and vision lives on."

Dame died in September 2007 aged 64, of a brain haemorrhage. The then-prime minister Gordon Brown paid tribute, calling her "one of the country's true pioneers" and an inspiration to businesswomen.

He said: "She campaigned for green issues for many years before it became fashionable to do so and inspired millions to the cause."

One of Dame Anita's last acts before her death was to arrange the sale of The Body Shop to cosmetics giant L'Oreal for a fee that topped £652 million.

The move was criticised by some campaigners who thought The Body Shop was selling out but Miss Whitehorn feels differently.

She said: "Securing a good future for the business was important to Anita.

"I think it was actually leaked by the press a bit early - I certainly didn't have an idea.

"You are always surprised when something like that happens. I remember being excited about it but wanting to find out more about L'Oreal very quickly.

"Sometimes you have to join forces in order to change organisations.

"Being able to influence or be part of a very large company was the way to go forward and we are still influencing them now.

"You will always have your critics but being part of L'Oreal has enriched our business and helped them."

Miss Whitehorn, having travelled and worked closely with Dame Anita, commented on her interest in the wider world.

She said: "She had a real thirst for information and fun. That's what she was driven by.

"She would invite opinions. She was a very smart and savvy person and did not want people to agree with her. She was a real challenger, always asking what's new? What's happening? How can we change? How can we evolve?"

Ahead of the latest company commitment called Enrich Not Exploit, Miss Whitehorn added: "Campaigns have always been a very important part of our history and influenced the way we think.

"When someone dies you can't imagine what they would think or comment on but Anita's vision is still going on."