In 1999, in recognition of her monumental success, Sarah was voted Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year and inducted into the Australian Business Women’s Hall of Fame. NZ finally caught up with recognising this dynamo by appointing her a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016.

When it comes to juggling, Sarah Paykel is a master. In the ‘90s she and her partner (now husband) Craig Greenwood were in their twenties and thirties when they launched the fresh cosmetics brand Lush into Australasia and grew it from their small team of two to 220 staff, 13 stores and a large factory. In 1999, in recognition of their monumental success, Sarah was voted Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year and inducted into the Australian Business Women’s Hall of Fame.

Exiting Lush and returning to New Zealand, Sarah ran the fragrance and beauty side of Chanel New Zealand before founding Sarah Paykel PR Limited and growing it to 16 clients and two staff. However, when she became a mother to three girls, Ella (13), and twins Charlotte and Olivia (11), she scaled the business back to make room for family. These days Sarah juggles being mum to the girls, runs a boutique PR business, is an investor in Rose & Thorne lingerie, and sits on the boards of Co.OfWomen, Flossie.Com and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.


Sarah began her career as a journalist. “In London I worked for the magazine giant Condé Nast, which showed me the rudiments of publishing,” says Sarah. ”They had all the great titles like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Tatler, World of Interiors. I temped in roles in production, advertising and editorial before landing the job of promotions coordinator at Vogue.”


While living in London, Craig and Sarah were introduced to the concept of Lush, a new way of retailing cosmetics. Presented delicatessen style, the cosmetics were (and are) handmade, fresh and natural with shampoos, bath bombs and soap slabs or cakes sliced for the customer. “The founder of Lush, Mark Constantine, used to develop products for The Body Shop,” says Sarah. “When he left, he founded a mail order business, Cosmetics To Go. After his six-year restraint of trade was up, he moved away from the mail order business and opened the first Lush store in Convent Garden. Craig and I thought it was such a unique way of retailing cosmetics we invested to open the first store.”

As the couple were leaving London in the mid-‘90s, Mark suggested they open Lush in Australasia because he felt, being a stockbroker, Craig would be good at running the financial side of the business and Sarah could look after the marketing. “There were people all over the world wanting a licence to sell Lush at the time,” remembers Sarah. “We didn’t know anything about retail and Mark’s take on our complementary skill sets was very simplistic, but the opportunity made us realise that deep down we both had an entrepreneurial bent and hey, you don’t know what you don’t know, so we decided to have a go at having our own business.”


“It was a huge learning curve. We had to purchase our equipment from industrial baker suppliers and fresh food providers – everything was super sized and we had no idea what we were doing,” says Sarah. “We looked at New Zealand first and realised we needed to hit the big market of Australia, but honestly, business-wise, New Zealand and Australia are like two different planets. We didn’t fully understand the tax and employment laws of Australia, which are so much more complex than here, or the Australian’s approach to doing business. If we had, we probably wouldn’t have gone there.”

"Lush was a huge learning curve - everything was super sized and we had no idea what we were doing"


“We built our teams organically. As we grew they grew and we moved them to middle management,” says Sarah. “We always employed the best people we could get; they were as smart if not smarter than us, and often knew more in their own area of expertise. I wanted to grow Lush to be the best it could be, so we hired people who shared our vision and had a great work ethic.”

Sarah says the biggest challenge was, due to the nature of the business, building two different teams under the umbrella of one company culture. “We had manufacturing staff who were making product by hand, day in and day out – they were more introverted personality types – then we had the extroverted retail staff. At Christmas parties the manufacturing staff would flirt outrageously with the retail girls; it was like managing a family,” she smiles. “I didn’t hire our retail staff due to their selling experience. Buying cosmetics is a personal purchase, so I employed people who were caring, empathetic and used to working in a collective. I also looked for people who were keen to be involved in something revolutionary in the retail scene and quite quirky. These were people who wanted to come on a journey with us.”


“There were so many learnings from that experience and some great stories came out of Lush,” says Sarah. “The guy who used to run our factory has gone on to have a stellar career and now runs the manufacturing of a renowned eco-conscious brand. Because Craig and the manufacturing team were so good at what they did, and as Lush was growing internationally, the Australian company suggested buying raw materials as a collective and we ended up being in charge of a lot of the global purchasing for the entire group.


Sarah and Craig had always had an exit plan in place and sold Lush back to the parent company to return to New Zealand. Initially, Sarah worked for Chanel, but she made the call to leave the company because she was trying to have a baby and realised her passion was in PR and telling a brand’s story. “I also realised how much I’d learned, how much I had to offer, from running Lush,” she says.


“I set up Sarah Paykel PR when I was eight months pregnant,” she says. “Four years later I had 16 clients, two staff and an office in the Axis building. It was all word of mouth, and I made a conscious decision to only work with great brands and like-minded clients.” Again, Sarah did it differently, encouraging her client portfolio to collaborate and help to build each other’s brands. “It was quite a new thing, as in the past brands had been quite territorial,” says Sarah.

Most people wouldn’t think of opening a business when they were almost due to give birth, but Sarah loves to work and is passionate about being connected to others.

Amniotic Fluid Embolism

However, what she, and no one else, expected was that about a month later her life would hang in the balance. While Sarah was giving birth to Ella, she had an amniotic fluid embolism, a condition where the amniotic fluid escapes the uterus and is toxic to the mother. She was only the second woman to survive the condition in 20 years in New Zealand, which some might say could be due to her business brain. “I was lucid for a long time and I remember saying to Craig, ‘This is all about process; everyone is panicking and they need to get back to the process,’” she says. When a nurse tried to reassure her and told her they were doing the best they could, she replied, ‘I’m in PR and I would never say that to a client when it isn’t the case.’”

Premature Twins

When she became pregnant with Charlotte and Olivia she showed the same spirit and tenacity when they were born at 29 weeks. “I was supposed to be taking Napoleon Perdis to an interview at TVNZ first thing in the morning after the twins arrived three months early and had to ring and say, ‘I can’t be there because my babies are on life support, but everything is organised so just go ahead as planned.’ I also had Chanel trunk shows to plan and run six weeks after they were born, and because I was self-employed with no staff at that time, I had to go ahead with the job, so I juggled being with the girls each day at the hospital and working from home. I think working all the way through probably saved me, as premature twins will test the best of mothers; you do what you need to do.”

Sarah was only the second woman to survive the condition in 20 years in New Zealand, which some would say was due to her business brain


Sarah is a strong believer in delegating and being solution focused. “There will always be business and personal challenges, but rather than having a meltdown or panic attack, I always tell my three girls to look for a solution. There is always more than one and you just need to pick the one you think is best and move on.”

Sarah had two staff she could delegate to at Sarah Paykel PR. “Again, I didn’t hire through experience. I recruited the girls straight from AUT and uni and chose them for their personality and passion for the industry,” she says. “That way I could work with them to build our own culture in the business and not have to deal with the residue of someone else’s.”


“It’s about being a role model. No matter what you’re doing in life, whether it’s parenting, mentoring or in business, I believe you are always a role model,” says Sarah. “I’m passionate about being connected to others; it’s such a privilege. I collect energy from other people and it feeds me. I set up my own business because I didn’t want to be isolated and I wanted to keep learning. As a mother, I say to my girls, ‘Make the most of the education you are receiving because you are going to be working mothers and you are so lucky to be able to do both.’ I get so much joy being with other people on their business journeys and I want them to experience that in some way in their futures also.”


“Throughout my own journey I have realised how much good you can do in business,” says Sarah. “I said to all of my clients, ‘If you’re going to work with me you need to give back, and if you don’t already have something in place we’ll create something.’ I feel giving needs to be part of the ethos of an organisation, but it’s also great for business. For me, it’s business/philanthropy win/win. I was brought up to be a giver not a taker.”

“I think philanthropy is almost an expectation now. But how do we make giving relevant to the next generation?” she adds. “In lieu of a birthday present I have asked my godchildren to choose a charity of their choice and each birthday I donate to them, it’s a wonderful way to engage them in giving.”

Throughout my own journey I have realised how much good you can do in business


“If I could say one thing about building teams it’s to empower people,” she says. “Whether it’s in your business, your children, husband or dog. My biggest mantra is ‘to empower’”.

Sarah says she does approach parenting a bit like business. “I segment it,” she says. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work part-time and to parent because I want to give and get as much out of the experience as I can. For me, the age they are at now is prime. I love watching these three young people become empathetic and enthusiastic human beings and really do appreciate how lucky I am to influence the adults they’ll become. I say to my girls, ‘The world is full of dizzy blondes. I’m not making another three.’”


It’s not unusual for Sarah to be making bliss balls before attending a board meeting to make big business decisions. “I think the connectivity of the work environment feeds you,” she says. “I never want to stop learning and being receptive to other people’s views and ideas. As a woman and a mother, it’s important to retain your own sense of identity because you can get lost. That’s why I’ve allowed more room for family, and because I’m a contractor I can work from home. I work with businesses and business owners who are dynamic and focused on growth. It’s very fulfilling.”

Sarah’s also excited to be part of the Rose & Thorne lingerie team. “Rose & Thorne has given me the opportunity to invest in a retail brand again and bring some of my prior knowledge back to the table,” she says. “I also get to work with an inspiring team who have amazing international experience, and I love that fact that the brand is about connecting emotionally with women and empowering them. We’re also focused on the future of retail and where it is heading, working in the online space, and the recent addition of the Find My Fit app is a powerful way to allow women to purchase online with confidence in the privacy of their own environment.”


“Every day I exercise in some way. It’s so important, that time; I relish it and I feel at this stage of my life I’ve earned it,” she says. “Whether it’s yoga/Pilates or walking Jonty (the dog) – that connection with nature allows me to return to work with energy.”

Sarah includes one thing daily for herself when she’s managing her day. “Exercise, having your nails painted, cooking, what ever it is, self-nurturing feeds your soul,” she says. “Women can be martyrs and there are no prizes for martyrs. We’ve got to work hard and juggle everything to stay engaged, and looking after ourselves is a big part of this. I’ve learned to say no. Juggling is about protecting yourself.”

Sarah's tips on BUILDING great TEAMS

Make sure you get the right people around you
Empowering and entrusting is essential
Allow people to be themselves and bring to the party who they are
Set high expectations and don’t settle for less.
There needs to be mutual respect
You have to like them because you have to work with them

juggling tips from a juggling blackbelt

Outsource – use couriers to save trips across town at busy times, as your time is worth more – meal plan, car pool and harness the resources of other working mums to help each other
Collaborate with others at work and in your personal life
Proactively manage your time - Plan your day: work, family, me-time.
Expect the best from every day - keep a solutions focus
Be prepared to drop everything when one thing really needs you, whether that’s work, family or friend; make it a priority and have support in place to be able to do that
Be a sharer and a carer.

More on the fantastic Sarah Paykel

We're stoked to have Sarah as a member of Co.OfWomen's board - Be sure to check out Sarah on co.w TV & Radio - you'll find them 'on my shelf'