Follow us

The Interview in partnership with CEW: Sarah Brown, Founder of Pai Skincare

Sophie Smith
24 May 2024

In this exclusive monthly interview series in partnership with CEW, we'll feature one of CEW UK's executive board members, to gain insights into their careers and views on what being a business leader in today's beauty industry means to them.  

Founded by Sarah Brown in 2007, Pai Skincare is known for its results-driven approach to beauty, creating products for anyone who wants to treat their skin with the best natural ingredients. Like many businesses, the brand was born out of Brown’s need to fix a personal problem and today stocks a range of organic, vegan and cruelty-free products, from its best-selling Rosehip Cleansing Oil to its Hyaluronic Acid & Sea Kelp Glow Drop.

In this interview with, Brown speaks about the importance of the British beauty industry, the skills you need to be a leader today, how she positions Pai Skincare for continued success, and more.

Have you always had an interest in the beauty industry? Why does it appeal to you and why did you want to work within it?

In truth, the beauty industry found me! It all started with a bad skin rash, which was then diagnosed as the condition chronic urticaria. It was so physically and mentally challenging to manage and had me scouring the pharmacy aisles for a solution. My experiences as a frustrated consumer led to the creation of Pai Skincare. I felt unsupported, mis-sold to, and knew there was a better way.

Sarah Brown, Founder of Pai Skincare

Sarah Brown, Founder of Pai Skincare

CEW UK promotes the British beauty industry, why is this important? What do you think sets the British beauty industry apart from other markets worldwide?

The British beauty industry contributes a massive amount to the UK economy, is one of our greatest exports, and continues to grow at a clip. It employs over half a million people too - that’s a lot of livelihoods taken care of. Given its size, we need bodies like CEW to promote the industry wider to ensure it stays a relevant and exciting place for young people to enter the job market and carve out careers.

Why did you join CEW UK? Do you have any highlight moments from being part of this?

I joined CEW as a complete newcomer to the beauty industry. I previously worked in wine!

I went from feeling like a complete outsider to feeling welcomed, supported, and championed. It’s the most extraordinary network to tap into, full of inspiring leaders who are always willing to give you their time and help you forge connections.

There are so many highlights to speak of – including my Achiever Award in 2015, five short weeks after giving birth. Also being invited on to the CEW board, and then later its executive board, representing the voice of beauty entrepreneurs and SMEs. The latter make up a huge part of the industry, but it is tough to be seen and scale amidst the competition. It’s such a pleasure to support early-stage beauty brands on their journeys. They get to learn from ALL of our many mistakes!

What do you think are the biggest opportunities and challenges in the beauty sector today?

There are opportunities everywhere - the trick is to not have your head turned by all of them and instead focus on one or two. There is constant innovation in packaging and emerging ingredients, especially in the natural space. At Pai, we see huge opportunity in pushing the boundaries of organic and sensitive skin formulation to create paradigm-shifting products that deliver results and never feel like a compromise. However, opportunity and challenge are often two sides of the same coin… 

The innovation opportunity is driving an industry obsession with newness – that is neither good for our consumer, who is already overwhelmed and drowning in online misinformation, nor good for our planet.  It’s also not always as good for business, as a growth lever, as we expect – especially when you weigh up the investment in time and marketing required to properly land a new product in an already crowded market.

What’s the solution? I would love to see more brands focus on EPD (Existing Product Development) instead, which means not adding more SKUs, reusing existing packaging, and evolving formulas so they perform even better. We’ve done this very successfully and our EPD efforts have often far outperformed NPD from an ROI perspective.

Sarah Brown, Founder of Pai Skincare

Sarah Brown, Founder of Pai Skincare

What key skills do you need to have as a leader today, in general and in beauty?

You need to be a brilliant communicator – to staff, to retail partners and ultimately to your consumer. Situational management, tailoring your message to your audience, can be an overlooked skill. I’m a big believer in always providing context to key decisions and projects, it helps bring people on the journey with you. The other important leadership trait is to maintain a consumer-oriented (read: obsessive) mindset. We are social creatures and human connection forms lasting relationships and builds trust. Trust builds loyalty, which in turn drives advocacy. When your customers advocate for you, that is the most powerful marketing that money can’t buy.  My singular message here is to get out there and listen to what your consumers have to tell you! Don’t assume you know what they want.

Why is it important that people pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their careers?

I would argue not everyone wants to rise to the top or start their own enterprise. The right path can, and should, look different for everyone. The pressure to "achieve” should come only from within not because of what you feel others expect of you. Every career move I have pursued in earnest has come from the heart.

How can people be encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their careers?

It’s up to you - don’t wait for it to be served up on a plate. You need to seek out the opportunities and push yourself forward for them. No manager is telepathic, and everyone is busy! Also, if you want to fast track your career, then be the one person in the room prepared to work harder than everyone else to get what you want. That has always been my quiet superpower; any success I’ve had hasn’t come from luck or talent, but from sheer grafting and a refusal to give up.

When launching Pai, did you have a clear vision of what you wanted the brand to be? If so, what was this and how do you continue to champion this today?

Yes, I wanted to reimagine what sensitive skincare could look like and feel like for people like me. Beautifully packaged products, brimming with high performing natural ingredients that work and never irritate.  We’ve never deviated from this mission.

Pai Skincare

Pai Skincare

How do you position Pai for continued success?

Our brand strategy and message hasn’t changed, but we are getting much better at telling the brand storytelling to a clearly defined target customer. Meanwhile, our market/wholesale distribution strategy has shifted but continues the theme of focus. It’s all about getting traction in a few key markets, developing deeper partnerships with a few anchor accounts in each, and then building out from there. That focus extends into our DTC channel also and our overall product strategy. Fewer, bigger, better is the name of the game now!


To read last month's interview featuring Sallie Berkerey, Managing Director of CEW UK here.


In proud partnership with

Free NewsletterVISIT