Sandra Calafato’s success story encompasses over 45-years in the beauty industry. Malta has been her home for the last 40, and she is “immensely grateful to have worked here, and for the opportunities that came my way”.

Sandra Calafato began her journey in the beauty industry at just 17 years old. “I have always been passionate about beauty, and gained Distinction as an Aesthetician when I graduated in 1977,” she recalls, explaining how her passion for it led to an unexpected offer from the Head of College at the time – the chance to assist in evening classes alongside attending her own – an opportunity which she credits with providing invaluable experience and knowledge.

“Even though this meant enduring long days due to an added three-hour commute from London to Surrey, where I lived, I seized the opportunity without hesitation,” she says.

Following graduation, Sandra secured a role with spa industry leader Steiner International. “Remarkably, at just 18 years old, I was entrusted with overseeing the Beauty Salon at Trust House Forte in Sardinia,” she recalls, and, despite her parents being disheartened with the only means of communication being letter writing at the time, Sandra describes the experience as “truly incredible, and I matured significantly during my year there.”

Her career would take her to London next, at The Sanctuary in Covent Garden, where she rubbed shoulders with numerous celebrities before meeting a Maltese man she would go on to marry, and relocating to Malta. Here, she assumed the role of Manager at the Hair and Beauty Salon at the Jerma Palace Hotel, and ventured into teaching at a CIBTAC-accredited school.

“Teaching has always been a great passion of mine and I still keep in touch with many of my students who went on to open their own salons over the years,” Sandra reveals.

Then, in 2005, “everything I had been pursuing aligned,” she smiles.

Having opened her own salon and clinic, she had been feeling that something was lacking and, while Sandra had always diligently educated herself with the latest beauty treatments and products, she admits that results often proved transient and unsatisfying. “My goal was to become the best skin therapist I could be, yet genuine, effective, result-driven products were seemingly elusive. Most skincare products available offer fancy claims backed by million-dollar marketing budgets but do very little to improve the health of the skin or to maintain real results,” she explains.

Enter Environ Skincare, which, Sandra says, “transformed my career.”

“I was introduced to Environ by a tourist who was over in Malta – also an aesthetician. She told me that I simply had to investigate it, and I did. It turned out to be everything I had dreamt of,” Sandra says, explaining how it was founded by Prof Des Fernandes, who is rated as one of the top five plastic surgeons in the world and who set out to find a solution to prevent skin cancer after losing two young patients to melanoma.

“He founded Environ Skincare in 1990 and, with the help of his sister, built the company into a global empire, with over 140 products available in more than 70 countries,” she continues, adding that her choice to represent Environ was a no-brainer. Apart from being pharmaceutically formulated, it is unique in that it cannot be purchased by the consumer from a shop or online – it is only available through trained Environ Skin Specialists who consult with clients and prescribe the best skincare regime and in-salon treatment according to their skin type and condition.

Her belief in the brand led Sandra to attend training in South Africa. And, after passing a rigorous set of exams, she became Environ’s distributor for Malta – an achievement she continues to be proud of 19 years later.

“I can say with gratitude that representing Environ in Malta has given me purpose, as it has made a difference in so many lives,” she attests, highlighting another step that’s been a milestone in her journey: collaborating with her daughter, in “a partnership that has undeniably fortified our enterprise over the last eight years.”

After years of operating as a sole trader, Sandra founded her company, Key To Younger. Not only is the company the exclusive distributor of Environ in Malta, but it has also recently added the nutraceutical brand Hush & Hush to its product lineup. Delving into this, Sandra explains, “Hush & Hush is a luxury nutraceutical established by another plastic surgeon – it is not affiliated with Environ. They provide supplements to tackle a variety of skin concerns, feeding the skin from within. With Environ, you’re feeding the skin topically, whereas with Hush & Hush you’re feeding it from within, so they complement each other very well.”

Her unwavering mission, amidst an industry awash with unfounded assurances and exaggerated claims, remains steadfast: “to operate with integrity and transparency in a multi-billion-euro industry,” says Sandra, whose leadership ethos has remained true to her values throughout, focusing on the importance of education, customer service and integrity.

“I value the importance of training, which we run all year, and which is necessary for our Environ stockists to attend yearly. My greatest joy is seeing the stockists that I partner with succeed – and of course, seeing the difference that the products themselves make to people’s skin. Without exaggerating, this can be life-changing,” Sandra smiles.

The challenge, meanwhile, remains educating people against damaging claims and false promises made by certain brands. “It’s tough to explain to people that there is no such thing as a miracle in a jar. It takes about three months to start seeing a significant difference in your skin, so I need to explain this to customers and stockists, and separate fact from fiction. And I must do it in such a way that they understand the science behind it.”

Discussing the ways in which the beauty industry has developed over the years, Sandra believes that consumers are becoming more interested in science and the active ingredients behind products. “They are educating themselves before they buy,” she says, which bodes well for Sandra and Key To Younger.

The industry has also proven itself to be resilient in the wake of the pandemic and economic crisis, she notes, and it continues to grow, though there will always be ‘fad’ products and treatments that come and go. However, she is steadfast in the knowledge that brands like Environ will always be around and continue to lead the way with science-based products, because they give clients real results.

Looking to the future, Sandra looks forward to seeing how advancements in AI will impact the industry and be implemented, and hopes to see more awareness of appropriate packaging for beauty products, as well as more regulation on claims that brands can make.

As for the opportunities ahead, the CEO foresees big things in the nutraceuticals arena, and believes that there is a big market out there for them, whether in supplement, drink or food form. “What we need to focus on now is educating the consumer and enriching the understanding of all our valued customers,” she maintains.

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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