Q&A with Sue Harmsworth, founder and CEO, ESPA International

What was the path that led you into the spa industry?

I’ve had a passion for health since childhood. My grandmother was a herbalist and my mother was in medicine, so it has always been an inherent interest of mine. My career began in fashion and beauty writing, though a deeper interest in spa therapies soon developed when I moved to Toronto and came into contact with the therapy traditions of the Eastern European community. In the 1970s I opened my first salon there – the spa industry back then didn’t exist in the way that we know it today, and it was my early experiences that gave me the vision of combining health and beauty, mind and body, natural and scientific.


What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in the spa industry?

When I created the brand, the word ‘spa’ didn’t exist – we were the first in many ways and continue to challenge ourselves every day to remain at the forefront of this ever evolving industry. I’m privileged enough to work with some of the best architects, designers, practitioners, owners, and therapists in the industry - everything I do is so diverse and I love that no two days are the same. I am also fortunate enough to meet some of the thousands of therapists we train each year, and their loyalty and passion for what we do never ceases to amaze me.


What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment would have to be building ESPA into an award-winning international brand available in over 60 countries, while retaining our quality and ethics for people and products.


What has surprised you most about working in the spa industry?

On the one hand I’m surprised by the industry’s passion for caring, and on the other, the lack of commercial and business understanding.


Where do you think the industry is heading?

I think the industry is currently at a crossroads—it can be a little self-congratulatory, and I believe that it’s time to really listen to our customers in order to deliver what the market really wants and needs, not what we think it does! I believe that we also need people in the industry who have great business brains, but who also understand therapies and modalities at a deeper level.


What’s your favorite skincare ingredient?

Himalayan Fleece Vine, which is featured in our LIFESTAGE range. It contains antioxidant-rich resveratrol renowned for prolonging the vitality of skin cells.


What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career?

I believe that every position I have worked in has influenced my career – from health and beauty journalism, to managing spas and health farms, designing for the cruise liners with 1,100 therapists at sea, and running a Thalassotherapy centre – each of these has contributed to the depth of knowledge and understanding I have today.


If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would you be?

An architect.


How would you sum up your personal philosophy?

Stay happy, healthy and positive - you have a choice and it’s not selfish, but better for all those around you. Always stay curious and try to learn something new every day—I never stop learning.


How do you like to spend your time away from work?

I travel so much that I love just being at home.


What are your three greatest priorities in life?

Family, happiness, peace.


What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Live for the moment and treat everyone as you wish to be treated yourself.