We are continuing our series of speaking to Old Brightonians who have set up their own businesses since leaving the College. Ami Savani (Wi. 2000-05) owns A Mermaid's Secret, a massage and beauty therapy business in Hove. Ami tells us how she went from studying physiology to setting up A Mermaid's Secret, and the teachers who made all the difference to her going after her dreams.
What has been the path to opening up A Mermaid’s Secret?
From a young age, I was always drawn to holistic therapy and dreamed of opening up my own place. But when making decisions, I felt certain pressures and expectations to pursue an academic route. I went to university to study physiology at UCL. I still wanted to be a massage therapist, so after graduation, I sought out the world of further education. I restudied to become a Beauty Therapist, Complementary & Holistic Therapist, and Nail Technician. After failing to find a job that didn’t think I was overqualified; most interviewers were surprised I was a beauty therapist with a degree, so I decided to launch A Mermaid’s Secret in 2012.
What have been the challenges in working for yourself?
I knew it would be hard work, as I grew up seeing my parents work in our family business, but the hardest thing for me was to fight the pressure of the normal career paths. It’s quite normal for someone with my educational background, to start with a graduate-level job and work your way up the hierarchy; so, to go against that, felt like a big risk. The other challenging thing was to navigate self-employment, tax returns, insurance, etc. It’s a steep learning curve and can feel daunting at first but was definitely worth it!
As a woman in business, have you encountered any gendered-related roadblocks in your career?
In short, I haven’t encountered any roadblocks, but as a woman in the health beauty, and holistic field there are a lot of pros and cons. As a woman working alone, I have experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment, but I have never allowed it to hinder the progress of A Mermaid’s Secret, and I have certainly never allowed it to become a roadblock. I have always dealt with the issue and moved on and then later been able to use it as a source of amusement when discussing similar situations with other therapists.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from setting up your own business?
For me, growing up as a shy and timid girl, setting up the business 10 years ago allowed me to flourish, and build confidence in myself and my abilities. Like anything new, it pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me self-develop in ways I didn’t think were possible. With this newfound confidence, I took my self-development journey further with some time out of the business, with a one-way plane ticket abroad for 3 months, which is something I wanted to do but never thought I would, which ironically led me to be stuck abroad during the global pandemic. It was a worry to leave the business for so long but what I learned and experienced allowed me to elevate business and personal life to new levels.
What do you think has been the biggest factor in your success?
There are so many major factors to name, from the support of my parents to go after something I love rather than something that will only be a financial benefit as well as morals and values instilled into me as a child by living with my grandparents. In terms of business, when I first launched A Mermaid’s Secret, I was on a mission to provide top-quality treatments, financially accessible to those who need it most. Even to this day, I have strictly stuck to that mission, which has been the reason for its success and its growth.
What advice would you give someone wanting to “go at it alone”?
Be 100% sure you have a deep-rooted passion for whatever you pursue. There have been numerous times when I have thought about packing in the business and following the normal "9-5" rat race, but the one thing that has stopped me is that I absolutely love massaging, love working with my clients, and meeting new clients. Most importantly, I love seeing the progress of each and every client from their very first treatments. Some clients have been with me since I opened in 2012, who now only come to me to maintain their good health. Some come to me having struggled for years, but after a few treatments are happy and pain-free; knowing that I’ve made a difference is so rewarding.
How did BC help get you to where you are today?
Undoubtedly Brighton College has played a part. There were a handful of teachers at Brighton College that made a huge difference to who I’ve become as a person. Dr. Seldon as headmaster was always honest and open about the fact that he didn’t mind what grades were achieved but it was more important than the effort we put into every piece of work was 100%. That stuck with me and made me realise that it didn’t matter how long it took to make my business a success, as long as I put my maximum effort. Mrs. Tomlin my housemistress (Williams House) was paramount in the pastoral care given at Brighton College, and Miss Alison Groves and Mr. Martin Lewis were huge academic supports and so encouraging.