Over the past decade, Margaret Dabbs has gained a reputation among royals and celebrities alike as the go-to woman for feet. For Dabbs, it all started in the late nineties, when she opened her first foot-focused clinic as a result of spotting a gap in the podiatry market. “It just made sense to me to combine both the health and beauty aspects so that people got feet that not only looked fabulous but felt it too,” she explains. Since then, Dabbs has opened an assortment of clinics from London to Dubai, including The Sole Lounge by Margaret Dabbs at Level Shoe District, which, besides offering her signature medical pedicure, boasts a menu of holistic beauty treatments and luxurious products that include her patented Emu oil-based formulas. Here, Dabbs speaks exclusively to Savoir Flair about building her footcare empire and how she managed to singlehandedly revolutionize the way women care for their feet.
Talk us through your background. What is the backstory of the creation of the Margaret Dabbs brand?
I have always worked in the medical sector, including working as a surgical assistant in the operating theatre. I was therefore always inquisitive and keen to push boundaries in medical care. Once qualified as a podiatrist, I found that I was really gifted in podiatry and foot care. The Margaret Dabbs London brand evolved organically. I never planned for it to launch the way it did; it just made sense to me to combine both the health and beauty aspects so that people got feet that not only looked fabulous but felt fabulous too. People would come to me for a treatment and tell the next person, and then journalists started to write about me and the brand was made! Nobody had ever before crossed the boundaries to bring feet into the beauty arena, and this is something I am continuously credited with.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the beginning of your career?
The biggest challenges invariably involved the speed of the growth of the business and financing this myself. It made life very stressful and, when I was first launching products, it was a big risk. It showed how much I totally believed in what I was doing. I just knew it would work.
Can you talk more about business risks that you’ve taken in your career that have paid off?
I have taken lots of risks that, luckily, have paid off. My first production of products was 22,000 units across five products – that was a risk. Five years ago, I also moved the business out of our medical consulting rooms where I had started to a high-street retail outlet in Marylebone Village in London and introduced beauty into the equation with a nail spa aspect to the clinic for the first time. That was right in the middle of the economic recession, but it was the best move we ever made. It gave us a high-street presence and made us more accessible and visible.
Are there any decisions you made throughout your career that you wish you had made differently?
No, not really. I never dwell on mistakes or errors. I learn from them and then just look forward and move on.
How would you describe your work ethic?
I believe that my work ethic has got me to where I am now. I’m a really hard worker and give my all to everything that I do, and I do it with genuine passion.
What are your other personal hobbies and pastimes besides podiatry?
I am very involved with charity work and have thrown myself into climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. I’ve run a number of marathons, and also climbed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and cycled through Northern India. I try to do one challenge every year. I’m really a fitness fanatic and love the adrenalin rush of pushing my body to complete these challenges while raising money for such fantastic causes, such as the Wellbeing of Women charity.
How do you balance that with building your empire and being a mother?
My two children are amazing; when I announce I am going to climb another mountain, run a marathon, or go to 10 Downing Street, they just raise their eyebrows and smile. It was really tough when they were younger as I used to get up at an unearthly hour in order to try and complete as much work as possible so that I could spend quality time with them. They’ve seen my business grow and the work I have put in. There have been times when they were smaller when they used to have to come along and help pack products or do on-line orders. It’s fun to look back at it.
Your clients include everyone from pop stars to royalty. How did you build your celebrity following?
Our clients have come from word of mouth as we have never advertised, and our list of clientele it is absolutely incredible.
On that note, do you have a dream client?
My dream client is anybody who can benefit from having the experience of a treatment with us. Having said that, Victoria and David Beckham are a great celebrity couple and dream clients of mine.
How did you discover the Australian Emu oil that has become one of the trademark ingredients for your products?
I was researching raw ingredients to mix for use in my clinics, and I came across Emu oil. My decision to create a product range for retail distribution was really born out of the fact that the Emu oil that I had come across was such a “super” ingredient. I mixed it in my clinic first and used it in treatments, and the results were amazing and long lasting. It has amazing qualities, is suitable for all skin types including diabetics, and has major skin- and joint-healing qualities on top of being a fantastic moisturizer and emollient. Each of my products is formulated by me and is a treatment remedy that is luxurious and beautifying, and they really work. They are beautiful to use and they look and smell amazing. They give people the confidence to reveal their feet at any time. It is really liberating to have gorgeous feet to show off.
How does the Sole Lounge by Margaret Dabbs in Level Shoe District differ from your salons in London? How does this lounge particularly cater to a Middle Eastern clientele?
The Sole Lounge is continuing the ethics of the Margaret Dabbs London brand. The treatments are exactly the same as the ones we do in London, and the podiatrists come from our London team. In Dubai, we have separate men and women areas, which we don’t have in London. We have had a Middle Eastern following for a number of years, and the feedback is that they are delighted that we are in Dubai as we are so much more accessible to them. It’s really interesting to see that many of our London clients also see us in Dubai and many Middle Eastern clients now see us in Dubai as well as in London.
What advice would you offer a business-minded woman who is trying to set up a company?
I would just say that if you really truly believe in what you are doing, go for it. I feel that you get out of life what you put in. Be good to people and they will be good to you. Treat people the way you would like to be treated yourself.
What is on the horizon for the Margaret Dabbs brand?
We have a number of projects underway throughout the world. We’re joining with some high-end hotel and spa partners with the use of our amazing foot range in pedicure treatments. Our retail products are also beginning to really take off, and they’re now being retailed in many countries throughout the world.
Photos: Courtesy of Margaret Dabbs