When Jess is looking at new brands to stock at Shen, it's not just the products she looks at. Sure, they have to be fabulous and live up to her sky-high standards, but equally important are the people behind the brand and what drove them to create it. We want products that we're not only going to rave about, but a company we want to run out and tell all our friends about how awesome it is. A prime example of that driving purpose is Pai and founder Sarah Brown.
One of the leaders in the organic beauty movement, Pai was serving up safe, clean, sensitive skin-friendly products long before it was fashionable. Jess saw their potential way back in the day, believing in the brand and Sarah enough that she launched Pai in the US and carried it as one of Shen's inaugural brands.
Today marks a new chapter for the brand, as Pai unveils a fresh new look. Don't panic—all your old faves are still here, just in newer, extra-chic packaging and with new names. To help celebrate, we thought we'd have Sarah kick off our newest series, Behind The Brand. In this monthly feature, we'll be talking with our fave brand founders about the origin story of their brand, how products are formulated, and what's in store for the future. Keep reading to learn all about how this Shen favorite brand came to be.
What inspired you to create Pai?
In my mid-twenties I developed a condition called chronic urticaria (extreme hives). Overnight my skin went into a meltdown and became hyper-reactive. I lived with the condition for several years, pretty miserably until I reached a point where I just thought 'no more.'
After keeping many product and food diaries, I started to learn what my triggers were and how to better manage my skin. I felt there must be so many people in the same boat that needed help navigating their skin and cosmetic ingredients lists. I quit my job, retrained, and began to create my own products from a converted garage in West London. The rest is history.
What was the first product you created?
I had very blemish-prone, combination skin that was hyper-sensitive. All the natural creams that were marketed for sensitive skin were targeted at chronically dry, eczema-like skin—they were too heavy for me and broke me out.
So, my first product was a fairly selfish creation, the perfect moisturizer for me. And so The Pioneer was born. It's a lightweight formula that still has hydration longevity to it. It tackles sensitivity while helping prevent and reduce blemishes. it also doubles as a primer and is mattifying—makeup artists love it. Thirteen years later and I still use it every day.
What is the Pai philosophy?
Pai is for anyone who wants to treat their skin, no matter how sensitive, with the best natural ingredients, without compromise. We believe well-grown, carefully extracted organic ingredients make great products. Gone are the days when natural means low or no performance. Many of the emerging natural actives actually have min-blowing science and efficacy data behind them and are often better tolerated by sensitive skin.
We've been certified natural and organic by the Soil Association and COSMOS since the company started all those years ago. We're also Vegan Society, Cruelty Free International, and London Living Wage accredited.
What is your bestselling product?
We sell a Rosehip Bioregenerate Universal Face Oil every three minutes. It's one of those game-changer products thanks to its regenerative properties, which come from its high concentration of cartenoids and omega fatty acids. it will tackle everything from persistent blemishes and scarring to sun damage and even fine lines. It's skin nutrition in a bottle and an absolute bathroom cabinet staple.
What's your personal favorite?
I love our Middlemist Seven Cleanser. It's the product I recommend the most, especially to customers whose skin is imbalanced. Getting your cleansing right is the first step to happy, healthy skin. This creamy cleanser is a gentle powerhouse — it's completely detergent-free, so it shifts makeup and dirt without stripping the skin. It also smells divine, so it's a lovely spa experience to bookend your day.
What makes Pai unique?
Pai has always conceived, formulated, and manufactured its own products in house. It's highly unusual and a monumental (read: expensive) commitment to the cause. It's always been very important to me to have a close connection to the product I was selling.
We have our own 12,000 sq. foot, custom-built production facility in London that houses every department and my office sits a floor above th lab. We have total ownership over the end-to-end product creation process, which gives us complete quality control and unique visibility over our supply chain.
What's one surprising thing people might not know about Pai?
We don't talk much about our celebrity fans, but we have so many. From Hollywood actors like Natalie Portman to the world's top makeup artists like Katie Jane Hughes.
What do you want people to think of when they think of Pai?
Pai means different things to different people. For many, we're a safe space, providing products they trust when their skin is acting up. Others love us for our luxurious, quality organic formulations and sustainable packaging.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of the brand?
When I told family and friends I was quitting my job to start a skin-care company they thought I'd lost the plot. I had very little seed money (£15k of personal savings), had never run a business before, nor was I a cosmetic chemist. The odds were stacked against me.
When I was starting out there were daily hurdles to overcome; from access to finance and managing cash flow, to getting my creams the right consistency and stability. It's been an adventure.
How did you know you had made it?
When a lovely store manager named Mark, who was such a champion of Pai in the early days, called me to literally say, 'Sarah, you've made it. People are starting to steal your testers in store.'
That and the time I got a call from Natalie Portman's agents requesting stock to get her ready for the awards season back in 2011 for Black Swan. When they told me she was Pai's biggest fan I nearly fell off my chair.
What is your proudest moment as a brand founder?
Going to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and receive out 'Queen's Award for Enterprise.' It felt like a defining moment in our history, after years of slog and being skint!
Tell us about the rebrand —what inspired it and why did you choose the new look?
As a business, we've come a long way since 2007 — our brand needed to reflect that evolution and do it justice. I'm really happy with the new logo, packaging, and product names. It has been a huge labor of love, painstakingly reviewing and improving our packaging sustainability and capturing the essence of who we are and the things that matter to us.
What can we expect from Pai in the coming months?
We're putting the finishing touches on a few really exciting and innovative new products, launching in early 2021. Watch this space — my lips are sealed!