One on One With Lydia Sarfati, Founder and CEO, Repêchage
We’ve always been a true professional skincare company—we sell to salons, spas and doctors. Also, our professional treatments are different in that every step is a single dose application. So whether there are a dozen or a hundred estheticians performing the same facial, each will follow the same protocol and the results will be the same. This avoids client confusion, and it helps spa owners with inventory and cost control.
What’s the biggest mistake you see skincare clients making?
Over-exfoliation—the overuse of microderm, chemical peels and then, on top of it, microneedling. That is a true disaster in my opinion. Another mistake is individuals not understanding their skin type or not having their complexion properly analyzed. It’s the fault of both the client and the esthetician—sometimes the client will argue with the esthetician!
How do you motivate others?
By example. I don’t sit and lecture people how to be—I’m a doer. My father taught me this. My parents have always been my greatest motivation. They were Holocaust survivors who lost everything and rebuilt their lives, only to lose it all again under the Polish government. But we were always happy, whether we had one piece of orange or an entire fruit plate to split between the three of us.
What’s your earliest memory?
Visiting my grandfather in Russia. We were told he’d been killed in the war, but my mother eventually found him. It was wintertime, and he picked us up from the station in a horse-drawn carriage. We all cuddled up and rode through the snow to his home, where his wife made us tea in a samovar. It’s a magical, beautiful memory that I cherish.
Tell us about the company’s future plans.
I want to live until I’m 120, I have so many things to do! We’re launching in Russia in April, and I want to open in other countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Product-wise, we recently launched our FUSION Collection and in May we’re expanding our Vita Cura brand. It’s currently my secret lab product—it’ll be a big reveal!
Which cause do you support?
The Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which aims to educate and motivate young classical music lovers and performers. It provides instruments, lessons and teachers to urban schools that don’t have music programs. People may say that music is frivolous, but I disagree. It engages the same part of the brain as math. So if you excel at one you will likely excel at the other—and at life.
How do you relax?
By reading, walking and listening to opera. I love going for three-mile walks in Central Park, which is right by my apartment. I get all my ideas and thoughts that way—it’s like a morning revival. When I travel I go to the gym but I hate it, so if I’m with a companion I try to find a local park instead. If I’m in a place I know or feel comfortable in I’ll walk, even in winter.
Who or what inspires you?
My parents and my grandkids. I took my grandson to see the Blue Man Group. He sat through the entire show, laughing, clapping and smiling. To see the wonder in his eyes was a true inspiration. I’m also inspired by the fact that I’m able to give women an opportunity to work and earn a living, and never have to depend on someone else for their well being, whether spiritual or monetary. I train them in places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Africa and Asia, teaching them to be independent. When I leave I know that I’ve made a difference in their lives… that leaves me with a warm, heartfelt feeling.Tell us your biggest fear.
It has always been to not be able to support my family. It has been inside me forever—I’ve always thought, ‘Oh my God, what will happen?’ Even now, with two daughters and two grandkids, that fear is still with me!
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
There are so many things I enjoy, whether I’m working in the lab with my team of chemists, developing a new product or working with my marketing team. Each part of what I do is exciting to me, even if it’s challenging or difficult. If I didn’t love it I wouldn’t be able to do it.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since you’ve been in this industry?
In 1970 there was no such thing as an esthetician’s license. Instead, there was a cosmetology license that covered all facets of beauty culture, including facials, manicures, pedicures, hair removal, makeup—everything. The biggest change is the birth of the more specialized license, so you don’t have to go to cosmetology school if you don’t want to do facials or nails. In terms of technology, I predicted back in the 1970s that in future the most important thing would be high tech and high touch, and we’re seeing that now. In the spa or salon you need to create an atmosphere of wellness. If a client is coming in for a shampoo it has to be more than that, and include a head massage and towel rub. A manicure needs to be an antiaging hand treatment, with massage and acupressure. All of that is really driving the service industry to look at improving what it’s doing, because competition is huge. What brings clients to the spa or salon when they could buy the products and do it themselves? The answer is the incorporation of extremely high-sensory experiences and results-driven treatments performed by highly qualified people. Another thing that has changed: Everyone today is a beauty ‘expert’. Just look at all the bloggers. Everyone has an opinion, everyone is an influencer. I think, ‘What have you done in your life that qualifies you to be an influencer?’
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d be less demanding of perfection. If someone has messed something up, just be honest and say, ‘Here’s the situation and here’s how we’re going to resolve it.’ Everyone, including me, makes mistakes, you just have to be able to provide a solution. That’s a necessary part of business and life. People ask me how I raised my two daughters, have a home and business and still find time for a husband, and I tell them it’s because I’m organized. ‘Proper planning prevents poor performance,’ I always say! Sometimes it would be nice to be more of a treehugger and let everything go. But that feeling doesn’t last long: Being organized is part of my nature, and it’s difficult to turn it off.
Who would you most like to meet?
Margaret Thatcher. I don’t think she got proper credit for some of the things she did.
What’s your home town?
Legnica, Poland. The city’s president granted me an honorary ambassadorship in 2014. He wrote me a beautiful letter.
If you weren’t in this business, what would you be doing?
I’d be a history teacher. I love ancient history, modern history… Leave me in a room to read and I’m a happy camper!
What’s your personal mantra?
‘It can be done!’