Authentic brands: Pai Skincare

Sarah Brown, founder of Pai Skincare, discusses the significance of authenticity for the sensitive skin experts and their customers.

Pai is one of the leading skincare brands for sensitive skin. How did the brand’s journey begin? Was it a success from the start?

Pai was born out of a personal problem. Living with an erratic skin condition, chronic urticaria, was so challenging and it took me many years before I took control of it. That long, drawn-out process taught me there is no magic pill or lotion. You have to look inwards. I felt passionate that others needed to be helped out of their skin rut and onto this road of self-discovery and recovery.

Success was slow to materialise. The brand was conceived from a draughty garage in Ealing Broadway with £15k of my life savings. The business in those early years was built brick by brick, customer by customer. It was three years before the bank was persuaded to lend us £25k. We now employ 45 people and continue to manufacture – now from a custom built factory in West London. We’ve come a long way from that garage and Argos hand whisk!

The word ‘Pai’ means “goodness” in Maori. How much significance does the word have for your brand and your customers?

It is of fundamental significance. It’s why I selected the name, and it’s also partly influenced by my Kiwi Mum. It’s a daily reminder to be a good business in every aspect that entails. From how we pay our staff – we are London Living Wage certified – to how we source our ingredients and packaging.

With so many brands claiming to be saviours for sensitive or irritated skin, how does Pai’s offering differ from others?

Sensitive skin has become more common in recent years. This has led to a lot of companies jumping on the marketing bandwagon, which is exasperating for the customer desperately looking for an authentic product solution.

I believe we differ from the majority in our holistic approach. We always try and bring it back to the individual and help them to self-solve and take decisive lifestyle steps to manage their skin in the long term. Our products are only ever one piece of the puzzle.

We have developed a lot of expertise in the last 11 years and that brings us credibility in this space. We live and breathe challenging skin. Many of our staff work for us because they have suffered with their own skin issues and wanted to join us on our mission, which means they understand our customer and have walked in their shoes.

What role would you say authenticity plays within the Pai brand?

To succeed I think every pillar and post of your business has to be authentic and rooted in truth. Otherwise, what’s the point? It makes for a much more fulfilling and enjoyable ride.

I never wanted Pai to just be a sales and marketing outfit but a creator. We still formulate and manufacture every one of our products. People tell me almost daily that it’s crazy, drains cash out of your business and creates endless operational challenges. It’s a decision I’ve never once regretted and means we have a unique connection to the products we are selling.

Pai often shares behind-the-scenes content on social media to demonstrate how products are made. How has this transparent approach helped to engage customers?

In our ‘Making Monday’ Instagram series we ask our followers which of our products they’d like to see the process behind and use their responses to help guide future content.

It’s the fact we produce all our products here in London that makes that level of responsiveness and of transparency possible. It also gives us an opportunity to explain the stories behind our products and the choices we make when formulating them, whether they’re environmental, ethical or to ensure they’re suitable for the most sensitive skin.

We are becoming increasingly conscious of our impact on the world as consumers, and more and more people are seeking out sustainable and eco-conscious brands. How does Pai communicate its sustainable initiatives in a meaningful way?

I think customers start to see the positive actions we take on environmental issues, such as animal testing and microbeads, as they dig deeper into the brand and get to know us better. We don’t tend to shout it from the rooftops. Certification standards do help in this respect. They are reassuring kitemarks of quality and purity, but many people still don’t know what these symbols and standards mean.

We are certified by the Soil Association (Organic), Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International (against animal testing). This is an especially important accreditation as there is no labelling regulation governing the term ‘organic’ in beauty. Any product can claim to be 100% organic and not contain a single organic ingredient. It’s a huge loophole.

The Soil Association standards are exceptionally strict and guarantee our products are grown sustainably in clean soil (without pesticides), extracted without chemical solvents and handled properly throughout the supply chain. That’s the tip of the iceberg. The due diligence they do via annual factory audits is great.

What are the brand values that have helped Pai to become a trusted and recognised company?

I’d highlight just one. Integrity. It’s the one that matters most to us. We push ourselves to make the right decisions even when they are commercially impractical or create way more work for ourselves. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. As it happens, 9 times out of 10 that ethical decision pays back for us in the long run.

What other businesses do you see embracing authenticity in an exciting way within the beauty and wellness industries?

Not strictly wellness or beauty but worthy of mention are: Fashion brand Everlane and Elvis & Kresse which produce luxury bags made from old firehoses. Lush are always authentic in their messaging and aren’t afraid to get on their soapbox about important and controversial issues. They’ve managed to stay true to their beliefs as they’ve expanded which many corporates aren’t brave enough to do.

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