The London-based founder of Pai creates eco-friendly solutions for hyper-sensitive skin.
Written By MEGAN DEEM
In a new series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to Sarah Brown, the founder of Pai.
If you’re going to name your skincare brand after the Maori word for goodness (the Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand), you’d best be putting that in the jars. That’s the philosophy behind Pai, the all-organic line that Londoner Sarah Brown developed 10 years ago as a response to her own ultra-sensitive complexion concerns. “I suffered a lot with a condition called chronic urticaria,” she says. “It would flare up at any time, day or night, and could leave me covered in uncontrollably itchy hives.”
Brown started keeping a journal, tracking how her skin reacted to a variety of ingredients and eliminating those that triggered an outbreak. Armed with this knowledge, she created Pai to be the irritant-free godsend that sensitive-skinned individuals were clamoring for. Formulated and manufactured in-house, the line has zero parabens, phthalates, alcohol, petrochemicals, detergents (think SLS and SLES), or artificial fragrance.
Instead, Pai products derive their powers from delicious-sounding, organic ingredients such as avocado, orange blossom, geranium, and pomegranate. Actresses like Natalie Portman and Léa Seydoux, known for their radiant visages, regularly stock up on cult favorites such as the Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil (“It has magical powers!” Brown says. “It’s the product people report the most immediate effects with”) and the Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser, a moisturizing wash suitable for any skin type.
And not only is the soothing range vegan and cruelty-free, but it is also packaged in recyclable or biodegradable tubes and bottles whenever possible. “My ambition is to be a responsible business above everything else,” Brown says. “That reaches far beyond the environment to how we pay and treat staff and engage in—and give back to—our local communities. We want to be a force for good in the world.”
What is the atmosphere of your bedroom?
It’s my quiet relaxation space away from the kids. I’ll often retreat to my bedroom quite early in the evening to have some switch-off time before bed. I’ll catch up on some reading or TV on the iPad.
Please describe your bed and your favorite thing about it.
White damask sheets, an upholstered headboard in natural linen, and a Bronte by Moon lambswool throw. Simple, classic, and comfortable.
What time do you wake up?
7 a.m. on the nose.
How many hours of sleep do you require?
Eight is great for me. I wake up recharged and then I’m super-productive all day. Any less than that (I usually get seven or a little less) can be a bit of a struggle, and I find myself less decisive and clear-headed.
Any bedside beauty essentials?
Our Fragonia & Sea Buckthorn Hand Cream. Also our silk lavender eye mask, which we produced a few years ago—it’s completely heavenly. It signals “night-night” to my brain.
Do you drink coffee or tea, eat breakfast?
I make a homemade granola with lots of seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin) and usually have that with a banana and blueberries. I can’t not eat breakfast, as I’m always super-hungry when I wake up. I’m an Earl Grey tea fan—I usually have my first cup when I reach the office. Tea for me is less about a need for caffeine and more just a lovely ritual.
Do you work out in the a.m.?
Almost never. My excuse is that I am forever running around after two frenetic children, so I stay in shape that way.
What is your morning skincare regimen?
I keep it simple because of limited time. I invest much more time in the evening. When you have sensitive skin, less is more. I rinse my face with water and then apply our Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream or Geranium & Thistle Rebalancing Day Cream. I’ve used them for 10 years, and the Geranium & Thistle Day Cream especially provides the perfect level of moisture for my skin while being a great nongreasy base for makeup. In the winter months I slather myself in our Comfrey & Calendula Calming Body Cream after showering. As I get older I find that my skin has a much more crepe-y texture and needs regular conditioning.
What’s your hair situation in the a.m.?
I’m quite low maintenance in the hair stakes. It is deceptively thick, so I can get away with washing it once a week. If I painstakingly blow-dry it, that just about gets me through to the weekend. If I have an event or important meeting I’ll get a quick professional blow-dry. (My lovely hairdresser Tim comes to my home, which saves so much time.) I give it a quick style in the morning, sometimes with straighteners or tongs. If it’s not cooperating, I tie it up.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
BBC News on my phone. The second thing I check is our P&L—sad but true! I like to see how the business is doing, whether our sales are up or down. I’m a numbers person.
What business do you conduct before 10:00 a.m.?
It totally depends—no two days are ever the same. I often have internal team catch-ups in the morning when I’m most fresh and need to make complex decisions in order to move projects forward. Appraisals or other one-to-one staff catch-ups are regularly done off-site over breakfast.
What time do you head to your office?
I’m at my desk at 8:45 a.m.