Susannah Taylor meets Marcia Kilgore, the woman behind the success stories of Bliss Spa, FitFlop and Soap&Glory to find out just how she does it...
Marcia Kilgore is an entrepreneurial superwoman. Having singlehandedly revolutionised the spa industry with the creation of the Bliss Spa in the nineties (a brand which she reportedly sold for $25 million in 2004), she went on to create her high street cosmetics line Soap & Glory which has just launched a hi-tech skin care line that’s set to rival the most expensive skincare brands; she also invented the FitFlop, the shoe with an in-built gym engineered to carve you better legs and bottom as you walk. Susannah Taylor caught up with Marcia to talk teen acne, shortcuts to business success, and the benefits of extreme exercise…
ST: I have heard that your fascination with beauty was born out of your own problems with your skin?
MK: Even when I was even 10 or 11 I remember having quite oily skin, and there wasn’t much out there apart from Clearasil, antibiotics or very drying products to ‘help.’ I know now that if you dry out your skin too much, your skin makes more oil to compensate which in turn can make it more oily, but I didn’t know this at the time. And so I was a teenager with spots, hiding under a long fringe, with turtle neck sweater over my chin, and it was devastating. I remember not wanting to go out of my bedroom - in fact I remember one day getting up and going straight back to bed again as I couldn’t face anybody.
ST: So how did it all begin?
MK: When I moved to New York I ended up living in the East Village. I had no money and really bad skin because I was stressed from working, and whilst I was a personal trainer I have a good diet. When my exams finished I decided to treat myself to a facial which had taken me three months to save up $50 for. Having walked up town (I couldn’t afford to get a taxi), I walked into the facialists room and she sighed and said ‘What a pity’, and then she brought in another guy and they both stood there tutting saying ‘Gee how horrible’. I left thinking if I ever, ever had a place like that then I would never let people leave feeling bad about themselves. This for me was a watershed moment. I decided that I wanted to make people feel happier about how they looked - not worse - and that even if I could provide that for one minute then that would be profound.
ST: Bliss was revolutionary for its time and you ended up with a huge celebrity following from Oprah to Madonna. What was it like setting it up?
MK: I started with some courses in facial care and rented a very small space. Since I was a personal trainer I started to practise on people that I was training. My sister was a model, so I would also practise on her and her friends, and then their agency started sending me models, and from there I started getting young actresses and stylists coming to me too. When I was 23 I rented a very small studio called Let’s Face It, and that’s when the celebs started to wander in. It got so busy that suddenly people couldn’t get an appointment for 18 months - I remember not seeing the point in answering the phone since we couldn’t book anyone in!
Suddenly a space that was 550 sq metres became available on the 5th floor of the building we were in. It was a huge risk taking it on especially as I wanted it to look perfect. It cost me $370,000 to do it up and I didn’t have that money. I remember asking the contractor when I would have to pay it back but didn’t know that we could. Anyway, we opened and made so much money I paid it off before they asked for it. One day I remember knowing we had made it when I was in a treatment room and one of my staff slipped a note under the door saying me Calvin Klein was waiting for me - I opened the door and he was standing in front of me.
ST: Did you work every hour god sent?
MK: I worked every single hour - sometimes I would be writing job descriptions for my therapists until 4am and then I’d go to sleep on a massage table before my first client at 7am. However I learnt a lot about those massage rooms then, what needed changing, the leaking showers etc!
ST: Do you feel you have a sixth sense for creating the next big thing?
MK: I just create things that I want. People say that I am a great marketeer, but I’m really a cheat - I just create things that I want to buy.
ST: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
MK: You have to sit down and think about where you are trying to go. Every day you have to ask yourself ‘Is what I’m doing getting me there?’ You can be busy all day long doing things that don’t get you to your goal. Every time I do a business I get faster and faster at doing it as I waste less and less time.
Be brutally objective about what you are doing and whether anyone cares about it, because the world is a crowded place. Ask the ‘So what?’ test. You have to be able to answer ‘So what?’ in one sentence… what it’s all about. The further you get from your end goal, the less profitable it will be.
It’s easy to get distracted by more exciting pieces of work, but it’s very effective focussing on the one thing you do well day in and day out. You also have to be realistic about things you can execute well and things you should leave to other people.
ST: And then came Soap & Glory…
MK: After Bliss I took a year off. I was living in the UK, and walking down the street in London one day I thought about the genius of the British high street and also the popularity of the tabloids. I decided then and there that I should roll the tabloids and affordable cosmetics into one - I thought The Land of Soap and Glory would be great! I figured that if you have a great formulator you have a top product with great packaging at a more affordable price.
ST: And FitFlop, another incredibly successful business…
MK: I was a long distance runner and fitness addict, and when Soap & Glory took over my life a fitness regime became unmanageable. I found that the only time I had to exercise was when I took my son to school, and I started wondering if there could be a shoe that would enhance that. We built the technology and had it tested and it worked.
ST: How do you manage your workload?
MK: Last year I was drowning in emails, and I made the decision to get a PA who is spectacular at managing them. She will feed me the emails, prioritising them. We could all sit down and do emails all day long, but how we used to work is that we would sit down and do an actual job.
ST: How much do you sleep?
MK: Six or seven hours a night. I wish I didn’t have to sleep as much to be honest. I was hoping as I got older i wouldn’t have to sleep as much but it doesn't appear to be happening.
ST: What is your routine in the mornings?
MK: I have to get the kids brushed, flossed, out of the door and to school, then I try to do some form of extreme exercise like hot yoga or a run. I like to be a bit tired - I work best when I’m like this, I’m not so distracted.
ST: How do you relax?
MK: I go to hot yoga, or go out on my mountain bike - there’s nothing like it. I don’t look at relaxing as doing nothing. Relaxing is not a goal of mine. I can relax in my mind knowing that I have filled up my life with interesting things like going to museums. I’m least relaxed if I feel I’ve missed an opportunity. Staying busy relaxes me, not slowing down.
On home life...
ST: You strike me as very healthy - are you?
MK: Working out makes me feel empowered - when you work out you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I try to do some kind of exercise most days but it’s hard with the kids at times.
Food-wise I’m very aware of nutrition but not obsessive - I know we should all eat less carbs, less white stuff, less red meat and I try my best. I don’t deprive myself of red wine .
I also think your brain needs a break from work at times - this is why I like doing hot yoga - I can’t think about anything else during a class, I am literally just trying to survive!
ST: Do you have any tips on coping with the mother / work juggle?
MK: I have what I call the death bed test. If you are worrying about something, ask yourself whether on your deathbed you would regret this decision. For example, if you have an important work meeting to go to or a sports day, ask yourself, if you were on your deathbed, whether you would have really regretted not doing it. It will throw into relief what’s important to you.
On her beauty regime:
ST: What is your desert island product?
MK: My new Soap & Glory Make Yourself Useful Super Serum as it exfoliates, hydrates and oxygenates the skin. I would also have to have a sunscreen since it would be a desert island so I would choose Soap & Glory’s Feel Good Factor Translucent BB Cream SPF 25 , £12. It’s amazing and not heavy on the skin.
ST: What’s in your make-up bag on a daily basis?
MK: Make Yourself Useful CC Superfluid - it’s not available in the UK until spring but is worth the wait - it evens, brightens and gives a dewy not greasy finish. I also use Marvelips , £8. I also am a big fan of our Super Colour Fabulipstick , £9.
As for eyes I live by my lash extensions - mascara is time consuming for me and I run and sweat a lot when I’m exercising so it’s the best thing.
ST: What’s your beauty regime in the mornings?
MK: I use Clean On Me , £6 and three times a week I’ll use Scrubatomic for a good facial exfoliation. For my hair I use Kerastase Chroma Thermique , £15.12. Once out I slather on the Righteous Butter Body Lotion , and use a couple of pumps of Make Yourself Youthful Super Serum , £20, onto my face, wrap my hair in a microfibre towel so it’s almost dry by the time I’ve done my eyebrows.
My make-up takes five minutes flat: I use a little Kick Ass Concealer , £10 between my brows, on the sides of my nose and chin, a bit of Cheekmate , £8 on the tops of cheeks, Thick and Fast Super Volume mascara (top lashes only), £10, and One Heck of a Blot Powder , £12.
ST: What’s your night time regime?
MK: Every night I use Peaches & Clean Milk, then I load up a lovely thick layer of Beauty Sleep Accelerator Night & Flight Moisture Miracle , £13, to ensure I get the best chance of recovery.
I spritz my pillow with This Works Deep Pillow Spray, £16.
ST: What beauty / skin care tip do you swear by?
MK: Enjoy every moment, a really happy person gives off a very beautiful vibe. Stand up straight (it never hurts!), and finally, the older you are the further you should step away from really heavy foundation.
ST: Who’s on your iPhone favourites beauty list?
MK: 1. I swear by a Garren hair cut - I have been known to fly to NY under the auspices of business to get a chop from him.
2. I have my eyebrows tattoed by the genius Sophie Thorpe.
3. I will visit Josh Wood for colour whenever he can fit me in.
4. Bikram yoga, wherever whenever.
I do my own facials obviously!
ST: Which product in your new Soap & Glory range should be in everyone’s skincare arsenal?
MK: Soap & Glory Make Yourself Youthful Super Serum , £20, might just be my proudest work. It’s a wrinkle-battling, line-fighting peptide serum with an oxygen booster built in. A Swiss chemist friend of mine worked with us to develop it, and she gave it an extra kick with this oxygenating boosting ingredient that happens to be organic. When you use it, your skin looks fresher and more radiant almost overnight. (I now use it on my face, my neck, my elbows, and the backs of my hands.) I’ve tried everything out there, and the closest thing to it from an active perspective retails for £150. Make Yourself Youthful retails at £16.00, so it’s the biggest bang for your beauty buck out there!