What’s your background?
I grew up in Madagascar, surrounded by nature and medicinal plants. Later I trained as a vet in Belgium, and completed a Masters in Environment and Wildlife Management. I’ve always been passionate about conservation and was offered an opportunity to join a government agricultural project in Namibia. From there I did a PhD in the nutritional ecology of the black rhino.
What brought you to the world of skincare?
Once I’d achieved my dream of working in conservation I realised I needed another career path that would allow me to continue working in South Africa. So I decided to use my passion for ethnobotany and create my own luxury skincare brand. I saw an opportunity for an ethical, fair trade product using African ingredients that would fit well with the needs of Western wellness markets.
My previous experiences have really helped develop the business. I have a science background so know how the skin works; I have a development background that allows me to understand the supply chain and the challenges of working with indigenous plants. I also respect the livelihoods of the farmers.
What’s the ethos behind Terres D’Afrique?
Africa talks to the imagination, to the spirit, to all the senses, and this is what we aim to encapsulate in all Terres d’Afrique products and experiences. All our botanical ingredients are uniquely African – many being ancient tribal remedies – that are combined into potent formulations underpinned by science.
As a company, we abide by the African humanist philosophy of Ubuntu – ‘I am because you are’ – made famous by the likes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
It’s about balance and ensuring a healthy ecosystem – one that creates value for the community as a whole.
When did you first start working with global spas?
We had originally planned to focus on the luxury African safari market but five years ago the market at that time was not as receptive to our passion for sustainability. We did our first overseas exhibition in Dubai in 2013 and had an overwhelming response, perhaps because our African botanical brand was so unique. We secured our first international deal – with Four Seasons Mauritius – and expanded rapidly from there.
What services do you offer spas and resorts?
We’ve evolved from developing African wellness products and treatments into a company that can create and deliver a full spa concept. We research deeply into the history, climate, culture and food of an area to create bespoke concepts.
For our recent collaboration with Four Seasons Desroches in the Seychelles we created the holistic concept called the Circle of Connection spa.
The spa offers are highly experiential. For example, taking inspiration from the colours of the islands through the cycle of the day, one treatment uses flowers in the bath, different crystals and visual meditations and sound therapy to take guests on a journey linked to elements of the sea, the beach, the forest, and night sky. It’s multi-sensorial.
You talk about the seven dimensions of wellness – how do these apply to a spa project?
These dimensions are the physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, occupational and social. The first three are relatively easy to address in the spa.
For intellectual activities we can create learning opportunities such as an educational spa garden. For environmental, it’s about creating opportunities for guests to interact with nature.
For the social element, which can be lacking in many spas, we create concepts such as opening and closing ceremonies, where guests have the opportunity to come together and get to know each other through group activities.
The occupational is the only element we can’t address in the spa but we can teach people ways to cope with the stress of an unsuitable job.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have many exciting projects in the pipeline – including launching the new menu at Four Seasons Serengeti, Luxury Collection in Aqaba and other exclusive properties in Africa such as Delaire Graff Lodge and Spa in South Africa and Miavana in Madagascar. We’re working on future collaborations with Four Seasons Marrakech, Kempinski in Ghana, Kenya and Jordan and Park Hyatt in Zanzibar.
What are your plans for the next few years?
After a period of rapid growth, we spent a year restructuring the business and now we’re ready for further expansion. We’re developing new luxury amenities that will be mood-based (relaxation, detox, energy etc) and relaunching our collection of award-winning African teas. We’re setting up trading in Morocco as a new market and will look to enter the EU by 2020.
What excites you about the current direction of the spa market?
I’m happy to see luxury five-star hotel brands now embracing wellness concepts. Some brands have been quite conservative in their spa menus but this is changing. Customers are also having the option to eat healthier food.
I’d love to see more brands incorporating the idea of a digital detox. People think they’re disconnecting when they go to a spa but mostly they’re not. A retreat where guests can only use the internet for an hour a day would be highly beneficial.
I’d also like to see more spas embracing holistic modalities like vibrational therapy.
So less focus on beauty, and more focus on wellness.