2023 Honorees

Sarah Fotis

CEO & Co-Founder

“Female founders must be able to speak up, take up room at the table, and cut through the noise quickly.”


Tell us about your company and role.

I am the CEO & Co-founder of Collective Laboratories. Collective Laboratories is on a mission to shed the shame of hair loss with globally sourced, nature-derived products to bring you the best in scalp and hair care. Combining proven science and traditional botanical remedies, we are dedicated to developing clean and effective solutions to save your scalp and strands. 

We pride ourselves on being inclusive — hair loss is something that affects all people, and that’s why it’s important to tell all stories and develop products with everyone in mind. 

Hair loss is very personal to me. My struggles with hair loss began after the birth of my children, and subsequent stroke. While my doctors said to not worry about the loss, and to use products with harsh chemicals like minoxidil and finasteride to grow my hair back, I just could not do it. I had elevated concerns about interactions due to stroke medications. So, I made countless trips to drug stores and consulted with experts looking for a safe and effective solution for my hair loss — but was left feeling lost, confused, and convinced that there was no natural solution to help me.

Thankfully, I am the daughter of two Pakistani immigrants. So I called in reinforcements — my family! I found myself using traditional Ayurvedic recipes from family and friends, instead of products that were full of harsh chemicals, to grow my hair back. And guess what? They worked! 

With a problem to solve, I set out on a journey to find a hair growth solution that was safe and effective. My personal journey led me to start talking with people who had experienced hair loss… and in April 2019, Collective Laboratories was born.

What qualities do you think a successful founder needs to have?

Not all founders are created equal. Female founders must be able to speak up, take up room at the table, and cut through the noise quickly. Statistically speaking, female founders have to take 2x (sometimes 3x) the meetings to “get work done.” Layer on race/culture/ethnicity, and it becomes a lot harder. Unconscious bias is real, and diverse founders feel it every day. 

That said, I think that all founders should have a mindfulness practice. For me, meditating every morning for 30 minutes gives me perspective and starts my day off with gratitude.

How would you describe yourself?

Mother of two and stroke survivor. I have over 20 years of professional experience in building and optimizing organizational performance, while motivating teams to drive business outcomes. I am obsessed with traveling the globe to find ingredients that naturally solve health and wellness challenges. I also love spending time with my kids and husband… and talking ALL things gender equity.

What has been your biggest professional success so far?

When we launched Collective Laboratories in 2019, we connected with the LA Stylist community. Our product got into the hands of Celebrity Hair Stylist, Mark Townsend, who is known for his work with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Elizabeth Olsen, Gal Gadot, Tom Cruise, Dakota Johnson, and Glenn Close. Little did we know that Mark was testing our products on himself and fell in love — so much so that he introduced the brand to his clients. It was truly a “we made it” moment when Mark DMd me to share his hair loss story and tell me how Collective Labs helped him gain confidence. Six months later, Mark joined the Collective Laboratories team as the new Creative Director.

Pattern art Pattern art

What causes are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about gender equity. In 2018, I worked with the City of Los Angeles to develop a gender equity strategy and plan. The goal of the strategy and plan was to accelerate gender equity across the City of LA. I worked with all 38 City departments — from the LAPD to Engineering — to develop clear, measurable plans for gender equity, ensuring more opportunities and a better future, for the two million girls and women of Los Angeles. The strategy is now the basis for the Global Gender Equity Network (comprised of seven founding cities committed to driving at the local government level).

In addition, I am on the Board for Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (where I spent one month after my stroke). Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the first-ever “translational” research hospital where clinicians, scientists, innovators, and technologists work together in the same space, applying research in real time to physical medicine and rehabilitation.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing eCommerce brands?

Simply put — the rising costs of customer acquisition. Now, more than ever, digitally native brands need to be thinking omnichannel to combat the rising acquisition costs.

What's your favorite loyalty program or subscription offering from an eCommerce brand?

The ability to “gift” a free trial subscription — I love this. I have joined a number of subscriptions based on a free month from a friend (somehow it feels different than me being offered a free month to try).

What do you geek out over?

Professionally, I geek out over the subscription business (what motivates people to join, cancel, engage, etc.). 85% of our customers are on a subscription, so this is a topic I obsess about daily.