updated 3 Jul 2014, 08:55
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Urban, The Straits Times
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Spa queen's natural evolution
by Gladys Chung

While she has devoted most of her time to launching food and beverage businesses, such as Tiong Bahru Bakery and Bochinche, in the past few years, Ms Cynthia Chua is now turning her attention back to beauty.

The founder and managing director of the Spa Esprit Group, who introduced Brazilian waxing and Intense Pulsed Light hair-removal treatments to the mainstream market here in 2002, is diving into product development.

By the end of this year, she plans to roll out 10 products under her various brands.

They include a mascara and eyeliner which will be stocked at brow-grooming chain Browhaus; moisturising, brightening and nourishing feminine washes to complement the Intense Pulsed Light hair-removal and waxing services at Strip; as well as a sunscreen by skincare brand Skin Care Options (SCO), which will be sold at most of the Spa Esprit Group salons. These products are being developed in the United States, France, Japan and South Korea.

Aside from Strip and Browhaus, she also owns spa chain Spa Esprit; cult beauty brand stockist Beauty Emporium; Qi Mantra, which offers traditional massages with a twist; and men's grooming salon We Need A Hero.

SCO is a New York-based skincare brand which Ms Chua bought for about $500,000 in 2012, as she liked its "progressive infusions like mushroom, topical Botox and molasses".

She is counting on her new in-house products - she has spent about $2 million to develop this year's launches - to set herself apart from the competition.

"While we keep rebooting our services to make them relevant and innovative - like the IPL Ace treatments which brighten and tighten skin while removing hair with Intense Pulsed Light - we're thinking out of the box and developing products to complement the services," says the 43-year-old, who road-tests all the formulas and takes about nine months to develop each one. She travels five times a year to work on her brands and get inspiration.

The entrepreneur also hopes to reach a wider audience with her new products as she plans to stock them at third-party retailers. She declined to reveal more details.

Plans are also underway to grow and consolidate her beauty brands internationally.

There are 38 beauty outlets under the Spa Esprit Group in Singapore and another 38 overseas.

The money spinners are the Strip and Browhaus outlets, which raked in a total of $47 million last year for its local and overseas businesses.

There are Strip and Browhaus outlets in Malaysia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Jakarta and Manila, as well as in London and New York.

In the next two years, Ms Chua plans to open another 30 to 40 Strip and Browhaus chains here and internationally.

She will be venturing into new territories, such as Australia and Russia, while expanding the brands' presence in London and Shanghai.

On home ground, she will open a Strip/Browhaus outlet in One Raffles Place this month.

Later this year, quickie facials will be introduced at We Need A Hero, which opened last year at Tiong Bahru.

She is also working on offering hydration and anti-ageing boosting treatments with the IPL semi-permanent hair-removal sessions.

Ms Chua's plans to go into product development and to grow her brands globally are a natural evolution for the beauty pioneer.

Together with a few partners, she entered the industry with a Spa Esprit spa outlet at Holland Village in 1996.

She took over the entire business four years later.

In 2002, she opened Strip, Singapore's first waxing-only speciality store. Over the years, she has introduced innovative and fun concepts, such as brow grooming for women and men, as well as couple waxing sessions, along with daring tongue-in-cheek advertisements.

In 2007, she entered the F&B business with her spa/bar/restaurant concept House at Dempsey Hill.

The Spa Esprit Group now counts that, as well as Skinny Pizza, Tippling Club, 40 Hands, Tiong Bahru Bakery, Bochinche and Open Door Policy, under its umbrella. The group's current total turnover stands at about $80 million.

She reveals that she has been approached by larger players looking to franchise her beauty brands.

For example, upscale British department store Selfridges, as well as retail groups from Dubai and China, were keen on franchising The Beauty Emporium, which she launched in 2009.

She declined the offers because she wanted "to take more time to perfect it".

Similarly, while she has had investment offers from a few parties, she says she is deliberating.

"It has to be synergetic and the direction of the alliance has to be in the way I want the company to grow."

According to the Business Times, L Capital Asia, the investment arm of French luxury group Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has approached the Spa Esprit Group.

In the meantime, the entrepreneur has her eye on another new project: perfumes. Nothing is confirmed yet, although she is in contact with a few noses and has made plans to take up a perfume course in Grasse.

She recently made a trip there to find out more about the raw materials.

No doubt, Ms Chua will put her unique spin on perfumery.

"I like to do things that have not been done before. For me, it is always about interpreting things which excite me, reproducing them in my own way, making them relevant and bringing them to other people."

This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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