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The Body Shop is set to shut nearly half of its 198 stores in the UK and reduce the size of its head office, leading to hundreds of job losses.

Closures will begin immediately on Tuesday, according to the firm that is overseeing the restructuring of the retailer.

The Body Shop employs around 2,200 people in the UK, including 750 staff at its head office.

The cuts would “help re-energise” the brand, the administrators said.

The stores immediately affected include four in London, where rents and other overheads are highest. Others closing on Tuesday are in Nuneaton, Ashford and Bristol.

The chain’s remaining shops and the website will trade as normal as the restructuring proceeds.

The UK arm of The Body Shop was put into administration last week, a couple of months after it was bought up by Aurelius, a German private equity firm.

FRP Advisory, the administrator for The Body Shop, said on Tuesday: “A reduced store footprint, will coincide with a renewed focus on the brand’s products, online sales channels and wholesale strategies.”

Staff headcount at the head office in London will be reduced by approximately 40%, FRP said, as part of a “more nimble, financially viable model” following the earlier sale of loss-making businesses in mainland Europe and parts of Asia.

Aurelius bought The Body Shop for £207m at the end of last year from Brazilian beauty giant Natura.

But the private equity firm said the chain’s performance over the festive period was “worse than [their] worst-case assumptions”, prompting the move to call in administrators.

It is the first major retail failure this year in the UK.

Aurelius is The Body Shop’s main secured creditor – meaning it is first in line to receive payments from the company as it is restructured. As a result, Aurelius is also considered to be in pole position to take back control of the retailer.

The Body Shop was founded by the pioneering British businesswoman and activist Dame Anita Roddick and her husband in 1976, and quickly established itself as a ground breaking ethical, sustainable brand – rejecting animal testing on cosmetics, and promoting environmentally-friendly products and ethical sourcing practices.

However, since then it has faced increasing competition, in particular from High Street rival Lush which was co-founded by Mark Constantine who used to be a supplier to The Body Shop.

In 2006, Dame Anita and her husband sold The Body Shop to French beauty giant L’Oreal, which some of its original customer base viewed as a sell-out.

Later its adoption of aggressive sales tactics, including ferocious discounting, put people off paying full prices for its products.

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