ESPA founder Susan Harmsworth MBE retraces the story of spa and beauty brand, from face creams to global success
ESPA is one of those brands that has been around for as long as I can remember. Founded by Susan Harmsworth MBE in 1993, ESPA not only sells beauty and skincare products (everything from scalp masks to bath oils, salt scrubs to tinted moisturisers) but also has a spa brand too. “Today we’re in around 600 spas spanning 60 countries,” Harmsworth tells me.
“I’ve had a passion for health since childhood,” she continues. Her grandmother was a herbalist and her mother worked in medicine – which are two main cornerstones of ESPA, so the products include natural extracts.
Harmsworth began her career in health and beauty journalism, which is where her interest in spa therapies stems from. She headed to Toronto and opened a day spa before moving to France to manage a thalassotherapy spa (using seawater). She returned to the UK in the early ’80s and managed a wellness resort. Then, in 1988, with 20 years of experience under her belt, Harmsworth opened her own spa company. Five years later, ESPA was born.
“I had a vision of combining health and beauty, mind and body, natural and scientific. It sounds so straightforward now, but back then it was quite revolutionary,” she recalls. The business’s approach is holistic; “it’s all about helping you look and feel your best, for you to have naturally beautiful skin and a renewed sense of inner calm.”
This can be achieved, says the brand, through a strict skincare regime using ESPAs products, and by heeding the advice of the company’s staff, who happily share information on what works best for them. Where I think ESPA especially stands out, though, is in its spas.
I recently visited its flagship location, ESPA Life at the Corinthia, near Embankment, to experience the Mindful Menu – one of the newest innovations of the business. Harmsworth says she was inspired to launch the treatment menu after seeing so many people arriving at spas with so much stress and tension, and knowing that a quick-fix massage wouldn’t do the trick.
The six mindfulness therapies comprise: mindful massage, mindful facial, mindful breathing and meditation, mindful sleep, and two mindful fitness sessions. I tried the mindful massage which works on focussing the mind and body so that you can concentrate on being in the present. After starting with guided breathing and visualisation techniques, the masseuse started a deeply therapeutic massage, working on one side of my body at a time, right to left. The session finished with a scalp massage using warm, rose-quartz crystals.
ESPA has come so far on its health and beauty journey – and I know it’s got a lot more up its sleeve. As for Harmsworth? She’s the most energetic and inspiring septuagenarian I’ve ever met – she looks decades younger than her age and tells me she acts about half of it.
If there was ever a walking advert for ESPA, she’s it.