Cynthia Chua, Founder of Spa Esprit
She has made Brazilian waxes mandatory for today’s modern women in Singapore…and as if that is not enough, she’s attempting world domination by making men do it too!
It is this knack for staying on top of trends that has seen spa and beauty group Spa Esprit, build a multi-million dollar business that spans 30 salons and outlets. Funnily, Cynthia Chua, the vivacious woman at the helm, wanted to be a soyabean drink-seller when she was a little girl. “I’ve always liked to mix potions and saw that soyabean drink-sellers would mix sugar into soyabean to create this wonderful drink so I wanted to be like them,” says the 36-year-old with a laugh. Good thing for her (and the hirsute), she decided to pursue an apothecary course in London to satisfy her mixology fetish instead.
Graduating from the National University of Singapore with an economics and statistics degree, Cynthia joined a bank and very quickly realized that a corporate 9-to-5 job was not for her. She left after a year and had an idea to open a day spa. Needing funds, the enterprising lady became a real-estate agent, selling homes to high-fliers and made $300,000 within a year.
Spa Esprit was opened in Holland Village 1996. At that time, most day spas were medical or European-style spas that imported most of their treatments, interior design and philosophies wholesale. Spa Esprit was credited with introducing the holistic day spa concept to Singapore and was determined to differentiate itself by offering treatments that were not yet available in Singapore. For instance, Cynthia went to New York City to learn how to perform a massage using hot stones and her spa was the first to introduce this therapeutic massage, which later became one of its signature treatments.
Cynthia says the group has always prided itself on being a pioneer in its field. The group’s introduction of a Herbal Lab retail section is a good example of how it stays ahead of the competition. The Herbal Lab offers off-the-shelf tonics said to relieve common chronic ailments such as fatigue, insomnia, stress and cellulite. On-staff herbalists can also develop customized tonics based on clients’ specific ailments.
Business was brisk and she had to open another outlet a few doors down to accommodate her clients. Then, Cynthia had another brainwave when she was in New York in 2002. “I was talking to American friends who raved about Asian women but said that we should groom ourselves down there. That made me sit up and I felt that I should do something to defend Asian women, so you can say Strip was started altruistically!” she says with relish.
Strip, a waxing salon, famous for its Brazilian waxes, was born and Cynthia faced many challenges. “Waxing ‘down there’ was something very new in Singapore and business was very slow in the first six months.” Thankfully, Cynthia has an undying “I will try until I die” spirit and came up with a quirky, tongue-in-cheek media blitz to educate women and make Brazilian waxing cool. Her persistence, coupled with strong media support, gave Strip the boost it needed and today, she is proud to proclaim that she has waxed “400,000 bushes and counting”.
Cynthia went on to launch another concept salon, Browhaus, focusing solely on brow shaping, in 2004, and introduced waxing for men at Strip. She also entered into other ventures like massage parlor Qi Mantra and Mask, which targets busy executives with its zippy facial treatments and zero-gravity chair tilted at a 45-degree angle to increase circulation.
Today, she has a burgeoning empire of 30 shops and has also expanded to Dubai, London, Malaysia and Jakarta. Her latest project, House, located at Dempsey road, is a $5-million, 35,000 sq feet lifestyle complex that incorporates everything that Cynthia loves – a café, bar, spa, yoga studio as well as creative gallery to showcase up-and-coming artists. “House is all about slowing down. I want a place for people to improve their quality of life and ‘smell the coffee’, so to speak. It is my way of life.”