Carla Sage understands that the journey is as important as the destination. As Corporate Director of Spa Training for Six Senses Luxury Hotels Resorts and Spas, she’s continually travelling the world, helping open new locations and ensuring that every service in every spa meets her own impeccable standards. Home is now a beautiful fishing village overlooking the Atlantic, a short journey from Lisbon, Portugal. But there’s still a significant part of her heart in the Vancouver Esthetics School where her career began as a student and instructor.
“Blanche Macdonald’s Esthetics department has a comprehensive program,” Carla explains from her Lisbon office. “It’s an established institution that has a strong ethical standard. They keep up with trends. If you want to be in know about what’s happening in the esthetics industry it’s a great school to attend. The knowledge is coming from instructors who have been in the industry. They know what to say and how to say it. I’m often asked about the people who have made a difference in my career and I always say that Lily Lim from Blanche Macdonald made a huge impact on me. Lily has nurtured a group of people who believe in the foundations that she’s established. They’re like a family. If Lily called me tomorrow and asked me to teach again I’d be packing my bags.”
All global journeys begin somewhere. For Carla, raised on a chicken farm outside Red Deer, Alberta, it was the connection that came with touch, followed by a slice of misfortune, that began to gently push her towards a career in esthetics.
Studying at Blanche was amazing... I knew this was going to be my career for the rest of my life so I needed to commit to being the best I could be.
“Massage therapy was always interesting to me. I did my Bachelor of Arts at university in Winnipeg and then came back to BC and went to West Coast College of Massage Therapy. At the end of my schooling, I had a really bad car accident and was paralyzed on my left side. My surgeon told me it would be difficult for me for at least a year to think of massage therapy as a career. I knew I had to stay in this industry. I couldn’t wait that long to be a part of the wellness industry in some way.”
“People had always told me that I have wonderful skin. I started investigating what was possible in skincare, even though back in the 1990s the trends in the spa industry weren’t nearly what they are today, as an alternative to massage therapy. I’ve always cared about skin and I thought it would be a good way to stay in the wellness industry.”
Back then Blanche Macdonald had barely begun its evolution into a three-campus, internationally recognized Centre of Career Success in Esthetics, Makeup, Fashion and Hair. But even in the mid-1990s the School’s petite lone downtown Vancouver campus did have one thing every department still possesses: a commitment to excellence.
“I remember going into Blanche Macdonald and meeting Peggy Morrison, Lise Graham and Lily Lim. I took a tour and saw Lise teaching in an esthetics room. I could see that it was about health and wellness and in some ways, I knew I wanted to do this forever. I also saw that it would enable me to teach these techniques and practices to others.
“Studying at Blanche was amazing. Lise is one of the most professional trainers I’ve ever met. I would hire her to work in my team if I could! She had very high standards and expectations. She didn’t compromise on what’s important. I knew this was going to be my career for the rest of my life so I needed to commit to being the best I could be.”
Carla clearly picked up on Lise’s standards during her time as a student at Blanche Macdonald. She was hired by the School as a Junior Instructor on the day she graduated (“I took my education very seriously when I was a student. I knew I could teach it”) and not long after that was recruited by Dermalogica to be their Canadian Director of Education.
I worked in the Bahamas, managing three Sandals resorts. After that I opened the spa in the first Park Hyatt in Beijing, China.
“Dermalogica could tell the quality of what I was doing. The brand was new to Canada so I was establishing their education throughout the country. It was mostly in BC but towards the end of my second year there we branched out more into Ontario. Things really grew quickly. I loved it. I was the only trainer, so I gave all the treatment, business, product knowledge and sales classes.
After three and a half years with Dermalogica, Carla was recruited by Sandals resorts and traded spectacular British Columbia for sunnier climes.
“I worked in the Bahamas, managing three of their resorts. After that I opened the spa in the first Park Hyatt in Beijing, China. I was there for two and a half years. From there I went to Peter Island, which was a very high-end private resort island in the British Virgin Islands, and then to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo as a Spa Director; it’s their most iconic and high-end spa. I went all over the world working and consulting. I consulted in India, New Zealand, and Australia, along with living in the United Arab Emirates and the middle east.
“But I’m not a natural spa director,” she happily admits. “I’m happier in fast-paced openings and training. Seeing the satisfaction and joy therapists feel after they learn something is so rewarding. It shapes their lives. And that’s what it’s about for me, what I can do to shape these young students’ lives.”
So when Carla was offered the position of Director of Training for Six Senses, she jumped at the opportunity. She’s been spreading the joy of touch across the world ever since.
“We have 29 spas and I coordinate all of the training for all of them annually. When I started we didn’t really have a training department so I needed to establish our standards and treatment menus. I created those treatments, which remains an ongoing project. We implement new ideas on a regular basis. I go to our new properties every year and work closely with different product houses. I’m constantly looking at up-and-coming treatment trends. I have four trainers under me that travel the globe and there are three to five new properties opening every year. I help create wellness initiatives in our spas alongside our wellness board. In the last four years, I’ve been invited to work on the development of many of these projects. We develop the concepts from the ground up and sometimes they take a year to see to fruition depending on the details involved. My most recent initiative allowed me, along with the wellness board, to work closely with a neuroscientist to create an anti-aging clinic.
“The whole concept behind this clinic is beauty from within. Aging isn’t just about skincare, although that’s a big part of it. It’s also about intellectual beauty: accepting and loving who you are. Everyone can live to their full potential and be as beautiful and fulfilled as they want to be if they believe in themselves. Physical beauty is only a surface thing. It’s not what drives your wellness in life.”
As Director of Training, Carla was able to reconnect with her love of touch and connection, demonstrating the treatments she designed with the expert therapists on her transnational team. For Carla and guests at Six Senses’ many spas, wellness goes beyond the physical. It’s psychological too.
“One of our philosophies at Six Senses is encouraging guests to connect with themselves, others, and the world around them. We don’t just provide treatments and wellness experiences. We teach that philosophy.”
It’s a philosophy that harkens back to her days at Blanche Macdonald. Life on the Portuguese coast is pretty comfortable, but there’s something about Canada’s best esthetics school that keeps calling to Carla.
“I’ve talked about Blanche so much over my career. Anyone that I work with now would know that I love my roots. I want to do something very hands-on as I head towards retirement. It’s in my blood. It’s what I love most. The job I have right now is high demand and is very intense. I always love to get back to the touch! It would be an honour to work at Blanche Macdonald again.”