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The fairer sex
Sam Roddick, daughter of The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, is not just an heiress to the fair-trade dynasty, she is its successor in every sense of the word. She tells Cass Chapman how her chain of erotic boutiques has changed the way society perceives sex shops, and put the spotlight on sexual, social and political issues across the world.


I first met Sam Roddick one blustery February afternoon in Manhattan. We were swallowed by overly-large sofa seats in the tea room of the Soho Grand Hotel and joined by none other than REM’s lead singer Michael Stipe. He was expressing his outrage at the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, and telling me about the time he was spending in Louisiana trying to help with the clear up.

He was mild and gentle and very soft-spoken as celebrities of his calibre often are, and though he was delightful to chat with, passionate and iconic in all he has done, it was Sam Roddick who instantly grabbed my attention.

Daughter of The Body Shop founders Anita and Gordon Roddick who pioneered the concept of fair trade in 1976 with the beauty giant’s first store opening, Sam inevitably inherited a huge amount of her parents’ compassionate activism.

‘My great-grandmother was a massive socialist, and my grandma and my parents have all been significant. It’s in my blood so there's no escape. I’m not sure it’s a choice; I feel like it’s much more innate than that.’

Her father went on to found the ground-breaking Big Issue and, more recently, was the recipient of The Observer’s Ethical Lifetime Achievement Award.


Her mother sadly died of a brain haemorrhage back in 2007, though there is no doubt of the everlasting impact that she and Gordon Roddick had on Sam’s unstoppable personality.

Sense and sensuality
Back at the Soho Grand and I’m met with a tour de force. Sam and I instantly start chatting about women’s oppression, the plight of those who have been brutally raped in the Congo, issues surrounding sexuality and her truly unique erotic emporium Coco de Mer. Founded back in 2001, Sam now has stores in London, Los Angeles and New York. Sumptuous and tantalising in décor, the array of products on sale will surely please any curious mind and serve to liberate many customers the world over. And, they are all ethical products.

From homeware to designer sex toys, lingerie to jewellery, Coco de Mer is every bit about liberating men and women, empowering those wanting to expand their sexual repertoire and open themselves to new, adventurous plains.

It is important to be clear that Coco de Mer is absolutely not about female exploitation and Sam is in no way working against the feminist platform.

‘Let’s talk about sexual violence but let’s keep it within its parameters and not mix it in when talking about consensual sex,’ she explains. ‘I went to Oxfam recently and was doing a key speech. The young, white, feminist community were the ones telling me I couldn’t have a sex shop and call myself a feminist. I kept on saying, I can use a chair or a wooden spoon or a pair of trousers as an implement of sexual violence. It’s not whether or not it’s a whip or a cuff that creates the violence. It’s our understanding of what is permissible and non-permissible.’


Her customer base wants to expand its sexual catalogue. 'Coco de Mer is where people come to really confront themselves,’ says Sam. ‘They have to come to the table and be more honest about their desires or their curiosity so we often get people in almost for a short therapy session, in which they reveal really intimate parts of who they are. It’s a really great springboard for a kind and loving type of interaction.'

Sam recently began a monthly column for British Marie Claire, which has been met with great applause and, though she has had ‘lots of offers of sex doctor stuff for telly and lots of presenting opportunities,’ she isn’t particularly keen.

‘I’m interested in transforming not how one person thinks but how we think as a society. I’m not into entertainment. I’ve no interest in being famous on that level. I’m not doing it because I don’t need it. What I want is to do something that is worthwhile, which can affect people in a positive way.’

Instead of gaining far-flung fame as a guru of all things sex, Sam seems to want to reach further into the underbelly of society and ‘really transform the way, socially, we relate to sex. I want to take it out of a place of shame and into a place where we can have an intelligent conversation that is kinder, using a dialogue of intimacy, love, and vulnerability.’

Though one may wonder how handcuffs and spanking paddles relate to such intimacy, using such toys in a consensual setting can be extremely enlightening and very satisfying.

‘The only way to really achieve all that was to open up a shop and create a platform where I could visually and atmospherically create the aspiration.

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