The Women in Wellness Awards: Industry Icon Winner

Graphic by Kara Magliaro

The fifth and final category we're announcing of our Women in Wellness Awards is the Industry Icon Award. This award honors a long-time spa leader, at the spa or manufacturer level, who saw the potential of our industry and has influenced its growth and success.

WINNER: Sue Harmsworth, chairman and founder, ESPA International

Recognized as one of the world’s leading spa experts, Sue Harmsworth has devoted her life to spa and wellness since the age of 21. Her early career began in covering health and beauty as a journalist before she opened her first business, a salon in Toronto. She later opened a thalassotherapy resort in France and a health farm in the UK. Her approach was a holistic one, having therapists and medical professionals work side by side, focused on prevention as well as healing and helping people to deal with the stresses of everyday life. She eventually took this knowledge and visionary approach about what the industry should be offering and used it to create ESPA in 1993. Working with experts in natural science and incorporating traditional holistic therapies, she developed ESPA’s innovative product range, which is powered by plant actives, marine actives, and essential oils. Now one of the industry’s leading skincare brands, ESPA also specializes in the innovative design, development, and management of five-star spas in more than 60 countries. It’s no wonder Harmsworth was honored with a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2010 from the Queen in recognition of her service to the spa and beauty industry. Throughout her career, she has served as a pioneer in the industry and a global leader. From being a co-chair and board member at the Global Wellness Summit to being honored with the CEW Achiever Award, the ISPA Visionary Award, and more, her innovative, inspirational, and forward-thinking contributions have helped transform the industry. “My passion and ambition for the spa, wellbeing, and wellness industry has inspired me from the beginning and continues to do so as I celebrate my 45th year in the industry,” says Harmsworth. “It’s a privilege to be acknowledged as influencing the shape and success of such a powerful industry that I’m thrilled to be a part of.”


FINALIST: Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO, Global Wellness Institute

Responsible for spreading the message of health and wellbeing throughout the world, Susie Ellis is chairman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute, a non-profit educational foundation with a mission to incite collaborative action across every sector of the global wellness industry. In addition, she cofounded the Global Wellness Summit, an annual invite-only conference for spa and wellness leaders. If that wasn’t enough, she also heads up the annual Global Wellness Tourism Congress, which unites ministers of tourism, health and economic development, CEOs of private companies, and leaders from the tourism industry to map the future of wellness tourism. She also formerly served as the president of Spafinder Wellness, a leading media, marketing, and gifting company for the wellness and spa industry. Her influence on the industry is indisputable. “Susie has been at the forefront of the wellness industry for decades,” says Angela Cortwright, principal of Spa Gregorie’s Day Spas and Salons. “From her management role at Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta to re-envisioning SpaFinder to founding the Global Wellness Institute, she has shown vision and passion for the wellness industry. She has represented the cause around the world and brought thought leaders together to further the cause.”


FINALIST: Kerstin Florian, founder and CEO, Kerstin Florian International

Born and raised in Sweden, Kerstin Florian always been inspired by nature, its energy, and its intrinsic connection to wellness. Unable to find a skincare line that encompassed the natural ingredients, botanical elements, and results she wanted, she began experimenting herself with ingredients like almond, honey, and mint. After coming to the U.S., she opened the Surf and Sand Resort (Laguna Beach, CA) in the late 1970s. Going beyond spa treatments, she also advocated overall wellbeing with lifestyle programs that focused on balance, mindfulness, and wellness. In 1978, Florian launched her own company featuring a skincare and bodycare collection guided by the philosophy of Outer Beauty, Inner Health. “Kerstin is the epitome of wellbeing, business acumen, and total class,” says Lynn Curry, president and co-owner of Resources for Leisure. “I came into the spa industry from a career in destination marketing and hotel sales having never had a facial or a manicure and grew to love and succeed in this wonderful business of wellbeing because of leaders like Kerstin.” Today, she is recognized as an industry pioneer and icon.


FINALIST: Geraldine Howard, chairman and cofounder, Aromatherapy Associates

Although she passed away last year after a long battle with cancer, Geraldine Howard is remembered in the industry for her many contributions. She began her career in 1974 after receiving her beauty therapist City and Guild diplomas from the London College of Fashion and Beauty with an aromatherapy qualification in the Marguerite Maury technique. She was trained by Micheline Arcier, a pioneer in the industry. Having learned directly from one of the earliest practitioners, Howard was given a deep understanding of the traditional principles of aromatherapy. With that knowledge, she cofounded the award-winning Aromatherapy Associates in 1985, bringing her skin and expertise to the world’s leading hotel and spa destinations. “Even during times of her own health challenges, she blended an oil called Inner Strength, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for innovative new cancer research,” says Kimberlee Geng, a leading trainer of Aromatherapy Associates. “This is a testament to Geraldine that even in the midst of her own personal struggles, she found a way to help other people.” Today, Howard’s legacy lives on with the brand earning widespread acclaim for its results-driven treatments and expertly blended products.


FINALIST: Jane Iredale, founder and president, Iredale Mineral Cosmetics

It was a career in the entertainment industry that first led Jane Iredale to create her eponymous makeup line. Witnessing the harsh effects makeup had on the skin of actors and models inspired Iredale to create a makeup line that would nurture the skin, not irritate it. She launched the first-ever mineral foundation, Amazing Base, in 1994. It was a game changer in the cosmetics industry. “As a result of her vision, there is a mainstream understanding that what we feed our bodies, use as skincare, and apply as makeup has a synergistic effect on skin health,” says Tricia Behmardi, director of education for Jane Iredale. “Because of Jane’s commitment to clean, healthy beauty, consumers have adopted the idea that they can expect more from their makeup, including skincare benefits, and shouldn’t settle for less.” Today, Iredale runs her independently owned business from Great Barrington, MA, where the company’s gold LEED-certified campus comes complete with an on-site farmer’s market and organic gardens, which are just two of the examples of her commitment to enhancing quality of life for individuals, the industry, and the world.


Congratulations to all of our finalists and our Industry Icon of 2017, Sue Harmsworth. American Spa’s Women in Wellness leadership conference will take place on March 6, 2018 in New York City. This powerful day-long experience will address some of the most pressing issues facing women leaders and leaders-to-be with compelling keynote speakers and breakout sessions. Register online today.

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