In this short interview, Sandra Zwollo from the wonderful Harem Escape talks about what inspires her, what she loves about Africa and what motivated her to start this wonderful little retreat.
Company Name: Harem
Founders: Sandra Zwollo
Location/Industry: Marrakech, Morocco, Hospitality/Retreat
Startup year: 2010
Country of origin: Holland
1. What inspires you?
Creativity, spontaneity, humor, well-being, beauty, intelligence, complicity, art.
2. What is the best moment of your day?
Sitting on my balcony looking at the blue sky with a cup of tea and my breakfast.
3. Your lifestyle in 5 words?
Adventurous, divers, interesting, stimulating, creative.
4. Which book, magazine, newspaper do you read regularly?
I mainly read books about nutrition, well-being and psychology at the moment, and am writing a book for Harem clients.
5. What do you love about your city?
The colors, the people, the palm trees, the diversity, the chaos
6. What are your favorite places in Africa?
I loved Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Dakar, Mali, Ghana, and a place called Bobo Dioullasso in Burkina Fasso. Very happy memories of all of them.
7. What are the best spots in your city?
Overlooking the city from the rooftop of the Renaissance Hotel, and the Cafe de France at the main square.
8. Your life philosophy?
Take risks, give back, share, laugh, surround myself with interesting people and stay humble
9. Who is your hero?
10. What triggered you to start your business?
I was sitting at a poolside in Marrakech one day looking at all the tourists and noticed that all the men were napping or reading and all the women were running after the kids to make sure they were entertained and safe. I thought, hmmmm even on their vacation women don’t have a vacation, so I took a piece of paper and wrote in one hour the whole concept of what later became Harem: Women only, lots of pampering, great healthy food, the complicity and sharing with other women, lot’s of massages and beauty treatments, no decision making, no responsibilities, no pressure to do anything, just a healthy dose of introspection and trying to follow their own rhythms as much as possible to fully fill up their batteries and set off again with healthy and new goals to live a more fulfilled and better life.
11. What were the major hurdles that you faced starting up?
I am renting a stunning private estate for my Harem retreats, but sometimes the family who owns it is there and I don’t have it all year round, which can be a problem for certain peak periods of the year. Also, I need at least 6 women for a retreat to take place, and it’s not always easy to fill up when I start off with one or two. My goal is to find other stunning properties and create Harem retreats all over the world, every time donating eighty percent to local charity.
12. What makes your product and service unique?
The fact that it offers Spa treatments but not only with the outside pampering, yoga and meditation, we also focus on the inside. We ask questions like what do we women really want from life instead of just floating along, how can we become more driven by our true desires instead of always putting everybody else first, how to become more self-confident and live in the present, etc.
13. What is a typical day for you?
I get up whenever I wake up, make myself breakfast, sit on my balcony for twenty minutes, and then spring into action: emails, phone calls, appointments, writing, etc. this goes on all day long, with intermittent breaks for food and socializing. I basically make my own schedule, unless I’m in a Harem retreat and then it’s 15 hours a day of checking, organizing, double checking and managing staff and clients. Totally absorbing but incredibly rewarding. I never have the feeling I am working, I do what I love to do, and can live off that. And the best thing is, I’ve created it all by myself and it makes me very proud and also pushes me to help other women do the same. I’ve taken risks, but it’s been worth it.
14. How do you bring your ideas to life?
I read, I think, I listen, I observe, but mostly I trust my gut feeling and my instincts. They rarely fail me. And then I talk it over with my husband who is much more into business, being American and goal driven, and when he gives me the green light, I go for it.
15. If you were to start again what would you do differently?
Nothing, I would do it exactly the same way.
16. One word to define your company?
17. Finish this sentence:
I love Africa because the African people have not lost their humanity and they are warm, welcoming and still smile from the heart.