A foxy lady - Peek inside the home of beauty entrepreneur Susan Fox
Beauty entrepreneur Susan Fox has endured a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, but, like her mother before her, she has picked herself up and started all over again. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
These days, no matter what happens to a person in life, it's always described as their journey, and, as a character in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas says, "There ain't no journey that don't change you some".
Susan Fox, owner of Eden Beauty Group and mother of Isabelle and James, would agree with that. She's experienced tremendous joy, there has been sadness too, but she's currently in a great place.
One could add that there are few journeys without some form of transport, and Susan would have to concur; trains and planes have played a huge part in this successful businesswoman's life. She met Steve, her husband, on a train when they were still teenagers, and she spent eight years working on planes as part of the Aer Lingus cabin crew.
However, Susan's first major journey in life was a short one. It was a move from Crumlin to Greystones, Co Wicklow. "When I was young, we lived in Dublin, but my mam was from Wicklow, and when I was 14, she brought myself and my sister Ruth to live with my granny in Greystones," Susan says, adding, her voice full of love and admiration, "my mother is the most amazing woman, and a marvellous mother and grandmother. She was a single parent - she was only 25 when my dad left - but she started her own soft-furnishings business and was very successful. She made all the curtains in Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, and for the Royal College of Surgeons."
Susan loved Greystones, and her extended family - her mother has eight siblings - but she hated school and couldn't bear the thought of college. However, she did have a solution. "I loved art and I decided to do beauty therapy," she says. "I qualified in 1987. There was a bad recession, but the day I finished my course, I got a job in John Adams in Rathmines, run by John and Adrienne Adams. They were wonderful to me, and I'm still close to them."
It was while training as a beauty therapist that Susan met Steve. "One day, I got on the train and it was full. There was a gang of lads, and a half-seat to spare next to them, so I squeezed in, and they started chatting to me. The next day I got on the train and they shouted, 'Susan, Susan, we've kept you a seat'," Susan says with a laugh, adding that after that, they kept a seat for her every day. "I really liked one of them, Steve, who was doing engineering in Kevin Street. After about six months on the train every day, it was my birthday, and they were all asking what was I planning. Eventually, one of the lads said, 'Oh, for God's sake, Steve, if you don't ask her out, I will'. So he brought me out for my 18th birthday, borrowed his daddy's car, and that was it; we've been together ever since." They married in 1995.
Susan continued with John Adams for three years and loved it. Then, one Tuesday, an ad in the previous Sunday's paper caught her eye; Aer Lingus was hiring, and preliminary interviews were being held that very day, so off she went.
After a group interview and several more individual interviews, Susan got the job, and she adored it. "I'd never been to Paris, I'd never stayed in a nice hotel and, suddenly, I was doing it all. A highlight was bringing the Irish World Cup team to Italia '90; the whole squad signed a jersey for me. I worked with the nicest bunch of people and I learned loads," the bubbly brunette notes.
Unfortunately, one day, when she had been eight years in the job, she had an accident at the airport. "It was a flukey thing; I fell getting off a flight, and whatever way I fell, I prolapsed a load of discs in my back very badly and I ended up having two surgeries on my spine within 11 months," Susan explains, adding that the back surgery didn't work. "I was left with a wrecked back and chronic pain. Eventually I had to leave Aer Lingus; it was too hard."
It was a tough time, because the couple had just moved to their new house on top of a hill in Wicklow, and they didn't know another soul in the estate. Steve travelled abroad for work and Susan, who was 27 at the time, wasn't physically able to drive.
"I couldn't walk, I couldn't work. I had the surgeries, I had the physio, I went to specialists . . . eventually, I realised I'd have to cure myself. I was like an old woman with two sticks," she says. "I couldn't sit with the pain. But I started really slowly, and by setting myself goals, and by doing Pilates, I eventually got walking again after three years."
During that time, she came to the conclusion she was unemployable, and that if she were ever to work again, she would have to be self-employed. She noticed there was a dearth of city-centre-style beauty salons and decided that was what Wicklow needed. She opened in 2001, with one beauty therapist part-time; within two years she needed to extend the salon and had eight therapists. Susan began to notice that all the salons had the same products, so she sourced new ranges abroad. She specialises in skincare and has a lot of clients with rosacea and acne, so she found a cosmeceutical/dermatological range called AFA in America and an ethical skincare range, Casmara, in Spain. They have been very successful for her, and she was asked by the owners of both to distribute them in Ireland.
Things continued to go brilliantly and then, to Susan's great joy, she got pregnant in 2002. Because of her back problems, she had a caesarean under anaesthetic. "I remember coming round in recovery and they said to me, 'You have a perfect little baby girl'. I was chuffed, because I always wanted a little girl," Susan recalls. "Three hours later, Steve came in and he was very upset; he said he was told she was a little bit floppy. I said first that it was the general anaesthetic - I'd been told the baby might be sleepy after it - but eventually we were told our baby has Down syndrome. I'm not going to say I wasn't upset, I was, but you know what, I love her to bits. Isabelle is the kindest, sweetest, gentlest girl; everyone who meets her, adores her." Two years later, they completed their adored family with James, now 10.
After Isabelle was born, Steve decided to give up his IT job which involved so much travel, as he was worried about missing her milestones; he joined Susan in the business and looked after the distribution of the ranges and other products. The business became a big success, and they were able to extend the house, making it a really cosy family home, full of light and with great views of the garden, which is one-third of an acre. However, when the recession hit, they realised the business wouldn't sustain both of them, and Steve now has a great job with Salesforce.com.
Fortunately the beauty business has picked up again, and Susan is thrilled to be celebrating 15 years of Eden Beauty Group this summer; she's particularly delighted that they've managed to keep the same great staff and loyal customers over those years.
And throughout it all, she maintained her love of travel; she and Steve have brought Isabelle and James all over the world. It's all part of the journey.
Eden Beauty Group, 1 Main St, Wicklow Town, tel: (0404) 61295, see edenbeautygroup.com