Skip to content Skip to footer navigation

Women Who Launch: Sarah Brown


Hand-crafted, luxury experiences curated by our team—speak to our concierge to learn more

By Lucy Cocoran on 23rd May 2024

In this edition of The Sybarite's Women Who Launch series we sit down with Sarah Brown, Founder of skincare brand, Pai.

Words such as 'clean' and 'sustainable' are frequently thrown around within the beauty sphere. Amongst the noise, it can be difficult to discern who is legitimate in their claims. Pai is the antidote to this confusion.

Founded in 2007, the brand is not only backed by science and reviews, but by Brown's personal skincare struggles, too. Having developed a skin condition known as Chronic Urticaria in her twenties, Brown developed a keen interest in skincare ingredients. Instead of despairing over the lack of available products, she decided to create her own.

Fast forward eighteen years, and Brown is the proud founder of a clean, vegan, cruelty-free & B Corp product line. Pai is gentle, while still being results-driven. It relies on tried-and-true formulas, while still being innovative. Unsurprisingly, all kinds of skincare enthusiasts now consider this brand a staple in their routine.

Here, Brown discusses the importance of labelling in the skincare world, her journey as a working mum and her advice to budding female entrepreneurs.

What do you each enjoy most about running Pai and why? Has this changed over time?

Helping people get to a better, more confident place with their skin. There is nothing like it when a customer tells you they can now go out of the house without make-up. 

I never forget the impact my skin condition had on my self esteem and how self conscious it made me feel. So fast tracking people to a solution and happy place is everything. That feeling has not changed in over 15 years! 

You’re hailed as an ‘organic skincare pioneer’ - what does this title mean to you and what spurred you to spearhead this movement? 

Well, that’s a lovely accolade!  We’ve been a proudly certified organic brand since day 1.  I took the decision to produce to organic standards initially because I knew it would deliver the best quality formulation.  The remedial properties and purity of organic ingredients are second to

However once I started to understand the broader ethical dimensions of organic certification - from a biodegradability, sustainability and transparency perspective - it became a non negotiable to uphold and champion in our industry.

Pai is B Corp certified and very conscious of labelling, why is this still such a major hurdle in the beauty industry and why are you so passionate about changing it? 

 Just because you say you’re something it doesn’t make it true. This is especially the case in the beauty industry where green washing and clean washing continues to be a massive issue. Shoppers are duped every day.

Ultimately a brand is about customer trust. Our BCorp and other ethical certifications are our kitemarks of authenticity and are about putting money where our mouth is. They provide reassurance that our customers are getting what they are paying for, and that someone external to the company is checking. 

The skincare industry is a competitive one, so what has been your strategy for standing out?

Resisting the temptation to be all things to all people. You will kill and bankrupt yourself trying. Every time you tweak your message to appeal to a different audience, you dilute it, and ultimately fail to be a meaningful brand to anyone. 

We have stayed true to a simple mission - to help people feel good in their skin and to reimagine what sensitive skincare can look and feel like for them. 

What is it about the skincare industry that continues to inspire you?

The people in it. I’ve been lucky enough to sit on the board of CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) since 2015 which is the leading trade body for the UK beauty industry. It’s been such an honour to work alongside, and learn from, such trailblazers.

Is there a particular business skill you are currently trying to master?

Not really - I’ve done every job in the company at one point or another and learned what I’m good (and terrible) at. Knowing when to hand the baton to someone with more expertise is important!  You will never be good at it all so surround yourself with fantastic colleagues. 

A more general development area for me is staying focused on the big bets and getting out of the weeds. It takes a lot of discipline not to dive in every time you see something that needs fixing.

As a working mum, how has it been raising two children while also building a very successful business?

I’m not going to lie - because it’s not helpful to other working Mums to pretend you have it all figured it out (I really don’t). It’s been tough, especially when the business has required me to travel and be away from them. 

What I’ve come to learn is that children just get on with the reality you present them and are very resilient. 

Which means you can let go of the smaller stuff sometimes and not feel awful about it. My husband has built the business with me over many years and hopefully our kids will look back and think what their parents created, from nothing, is pretty cool! 

What does a typical day look like for you?

There isn’t one really - my role is very varied, but most focused on brand and innovation. An average day could range from being on a shoot filming content, reviewing copy, packaging artworks, testing latest new formulas, reviewing emerging ingredients with our Head of R&D. The first email I read in the morning is always our sales from the day before to check how we’re tracking.  

What advice would you give to budding female entrepreneurs?

Go for it!  Because if you don’t have a go, you’ll always wonder about it, and what’s the worst that could happen?

Also don’t copy what’s there or what you deem to be ‘best practice’ in the industry. It’s fatal because it instantly puts you on the back foot: you won’t know when you’re copying other brand’s mistakes and you will lack differentiation in the market.  

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

Turning over our factory to produce a free sanitiser called Acton Spirit (our factory is in Acton) in the first few weeks of the pandemic. 

We formulated it in just 2 weeks, set-up a request line, and donated 25,000 units to anyone in need. My husband and I even got on bikes to hand deliver them to elderly local residents, nurseries, schools, disability groups, any frontline worker.  

Are there any mantras/outlooks which have helped you through challenging times? 

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. And ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ I’ve been close to complete burnout many times and you’re no good to anyone then. You need to stop, draw breath and refuel from time to time. Plus everything is better after a good night’s sleep! 

Moving forward, how would you like Pai to evolve as a brand/what’s next?

I’d like a bottle of our Rosehip Bioregenerate in every bathroom. Everyone deserves one in their life!

Share this Article

You Might Also Like