Logo CoolBrands WomenWe’re about to meet one of the most successful businesswomen in Singapore: serial entrepreneur Cynthia Chua. We’re sitting in one  of her creations, Common Man Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop where they roast the coffee on the spot. We’ve both got our iPads out and are browsing the internet to learn more about Cynthia’s background, two steaming cups of blackest Robusta roast coffee in front of us.

“Here we go,” says Maarten, “an article on Forbes… Says she’s the founder of the Spa Esprit Group, a beauty and F&B group that made a $US 40 million turnover in 2010.”

“Hang on,” I say, “I just found a piece on TimeOut Singapore: Cynthia won the Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year at the Singapore Experience Awards 2012. The Spa Esprit Group now has 13 brands and 82 outlets in 35 cities around the world.”

“Interesting,” says Maarten, “what kind of brands does she have, does it say?”

I continue reading from the piece: “There’s Strip (a waxing parlour), Browhaus (lash and brow grooming), Mask (unique facials and cult products), Qi Mantra (acupressure massage in a western environment), Beauty Emporium, (a grocery concept and treatment orientated beauty space), the Tippling Club (progressive cocktails and dishes) and Skinny Pizza (fresh pizza on a thin healthy crust)… and that’s just a few of them. She’s launched four new brands in the past two years alone!”

“Wow,” says Maarten. “An unstoppable serial entrepreneur!”
“No kidding,” I say, “And it says Strip and Browhaus have branches across Asia and in London and New York. So she’s conquering the world with these brand concepts.”

At this point Cynthia walks in, dressed in a stylish outfit and with a radiant smile.

Cynthia Chua

“Great to meet you!” says Maarten, “we’ve been reading up on your achievements and based on your profile we had expected you to be in your fifties! How have you managed to build your own business emporium so fast?”

Cynthia laughs as she sits down and orders a peppermint tea. “Well, I started in 1996 with Spa Esprit, a day spa that shunned the traditional ‘zen’ spa concept, and gradually I expanded the business into a into a lifestyle empire, the Spa Esprit Group. I am very passionate about creating brands that are missing in the market, offering the consumers interesting services previously lacking, or refreshing and improving the existing offerings.”

“But it seems that in the process you are revolutionising the beauty industry, in Singapore and beyond!”

“Well I’m not reinventing the wheel or anything. It’s about reinventing and improving on existed concepts. So for example waxing is not an Asian concept. But we imported it, perfected it and then brought it back to the West.”

“Tell us more about your decision to expand on to the international scene. ”

“There is a global shift in economic power,” she says. “Until recently, brands from Europe and the U.S. were in the lead. This is slowly changing. A growing number of ‘next world’ brands have been claiming part of the global market share. The Spa Esprit brands have chosen the same path.”

“Have you seen a difference in the different markets you enter?”

“Different countries are at different phases of the market maturity cycle. For certain markets, it has been as much about educating people about Brazilian waxing and eyebrow grooming as it has been about setting up a business. Being a pioneer means you’ll always have to educate the market, and we educate and communicate with our consumers through quirky and creative campaigns.”

Around The World in 80 Brands - Cynthia Chua, Spa Esprit Group
Around The World in 80 Brands – Cynthia Chua, Spa Esprit Group

“Do you think your brands – not just Strip and Browhaus, but also your café and restaurant concepts – are contributing to changing Singapore’s image?”

“Definitely,” says Cynthia. “I believe it’s very important that we work towards raising the bar on Singapore’s lifestyle offerings to create a global brand while keeping a clear note of our very unique local identity. In the past, Singapore has always been perceived as boring and sterile, but in the last few years this has changed drastically, especially on the F&B scene. We have definitely contributed to that by setting up brands that are able to compete on an international scale.”

“Can you tell us a bit more about your most recently launched brands in the food and beverage sector? We read that you just opened a bakery on Singapore’s trendy Tiong Bahru estate.”

“Of course,” she says, “but let’s first order another coffee!”

Tags: Cynthia Chua, CoolBrands,Cynthia, Chua, Spa Esprit, Spa, Esprit, Singapore, CBNWS, Strip, Browhaus, Skinny Pizza, Mask, Beauty Emporium, CBNWS, #CBNWS, #ATW80B

By Maarten Schäfer