Founder Vicky Tsai never knew that her elegantly-designed bottles, in the most soothing shades of lilac and aquamarine, would one day become one of the most talked-about brands internationally. Prior to the brand’s founding in 2009, Tsai spent many years feeling unfulfilled by her professional life.
She soon realised that she needed her work to be meaningful, in order for her life to feel meaningful — and that’s when she started thinking of how can she marry her values and work.
At that same time, Tsai started traveling, in a bid to find a more authentic way of living. Along the way, she found herself in Kyoto, and there she was introduced to traditional beauty rituals that promoted well-being, and that healed her from skin to soul. Tatcha, in all its Japanese beauty, was created with the goal to share all that she’s learned with others.
As the founder of a booming beauty business, what’s your morning routine like?
As a working mom, I keep my morning routine simple. I wake up around 5.30am and enjoy the peace and quiet in the house as the sun rises. My husband brings me coffee in bed and then I journal a bit or meditate to clear my mind for the day. Around 6.30am, I hear little footsteps pattering, and my daughter runs into my room and jumps on the bed, followed by three cats and a dog. We snuggle for a little bit and then I hop into the shower where I use The Rice Wash, which I love for a gentle start to the day. Once I get out of the shower, I apply my Tatcha ritual which is The Essence, The Violet-C Serum, The Silk Cream, The Silken Pore Perfecting SPF and The Silk Canvas. I let my hair dry naturally and generally skip makeup for the day, especially as we’re all working remotely.
What is it about Japanese philosophies that drew you to ground Tatcha in it?
I love Japanese design as its intentional — always full of care and meaning, never simply decorative. I am not an artist or a designer, but I appreciate things that are crafted with care. Tatcha is meant to reflect that, meticulous, and meant to promote mindfulness.
What are some of the ways that you practice mindfulness in your everyday life?
Skincare is self-care, and your skin is a reflection of your mental, physical, and spiritual health. It’s important to take time each morning to set intentions for the day ahead, especially now. I use the five or so minutes it takes me to go through each step in my skincare ritual to reflect back into the moment and spend time with myself and my thoughts before starting my day. The series of meditations I go through in my head during my skincare ritual are:
When I cleanse with The Rice Wash, I remind myself that cleansing can be an act of letting go and think of anything that I need to release from my mind – thoughts or feelings that are not in service to my well-being like self-doubt, anxiety or fear.
When I exfoliate — gently — with the Rice Polish Classic, I remind myself that in any moment, we can begin again. I think about anything during the day that I didn’t hit the mark on and imagine shedding the old and starting anew.
When I use The Essence in and replenish my skin I think about replenishing my energy. It’s my reminder to give back to yourself as much as you give to others.
Lastly, as I nourish with The Water Cream I envision also sealing myself into a cocoon of care that’s given to me by the people in my life. This reminds me that for all I give throughout the day, there are always people who are caring for me in return.
What does individuality mean to you?
Unique is beautiful. Individuality means celebrating every type of skin, every shade of skin, and every age. Beauty is no longer just about ‘good’ skin, or striving toward a uniform, surface-level ideal, but rather celebrating full body health, aging and individual values.
Share with us the most ridiculous thing you’ve done in the name of beauty.
Before I started Tatcha, I treated my face as like a science experiment and used every expensive skincare product I could find on my skin and ended up with acute dermatitis for three years that I had to use steroids and antibiotics to treat, but could not get under control. It permanently sensitised my skin and made me realise how important it is to treat the skin with respect and care.
What’s a common misconception that consumers tend to have of beauty, even till today?
That you need to be able to feel the burn with skincare. Your skin is your body’s largest and most important barrier organ, and it’s important to care for her properly and ensure your skin barrier function isn’t disrupted. Gentle, efficacious, kind-to-skin formulas created using minimally-manipulated naturally sourced ingredients are your friends. If it tingles or burns, wash it off immediately.
How do you reconcile an East-meets-West beauty brand, like Tatcha?
We have offices in both San Francisco and Japan — our sales and marketing headquarters are in SF, while our R&D and production facilities are in Tokyo at the Tatcha Institute. From this dual vantage point we’re able to explore Japanese beauty culture with both a beginner’s mind and centuries of scholarship and craftsmanship, and it allows us to connect the dots to innovate within a beautiful tradition.
As an avid traveler, do you have a favourite holiday spot?
It’ll have to be Kyoto. It’s known as the City of 2,000 Temples because they are so grand and make the whole city feel spiritual. It’s also known for the waterways that crisscross the city, providing pure water. I remember feeling so peaceful there, but most of all I fell in love with the culture.
On my first trip there, my hotel assigned me a driver for the day, named Toide-san. Several hours in, I had to ask him to take me back to my hotel to rest as I was pregnant and suffering from a bad case of morning sickness. When I woke up, there was a package waiting for me with three CDs filled with Toide-san’s photos of the city. A little note said, “Since you couldn’t see Kyoto, I brought Kyoto to you.” He had spent the afternoon driving an hour and a half home, burning thousands of his photos onto CDs and driving back to the hotel to share his love of Kyoto with me, and to make me feel cared for. That was the moment I fell in love with Japan.
If you had to pick a favourite product…
My favorite Tatcha formula would have to be our Essence, which has given my skin a plumpness, radiance and brightness to the point where I no longer need to wear foundation. It’s 98.7% pure Hadasei-3, our proprietary complex of double-fermented Japanese actives derived from Uji green tea, Akita rice and Okinawa Mozuku algae. It plumps and brightens skin immediately, increases the skin’s hydration by almost 150% in seconds, and makes all other skincare you apply after work better.
As a busy boss-mum, how do you practice self-care?
Meditation. I love the quiet of a self-guided meditation with incense, and have been fortunate enough to study with a Zen monk in Kyoto over the past several years named Toryo-Ito. Whenever I travel there I always make time to spend a day or so with him and learn about the mind-body connection and different meditation practices. Even if it’s only for a few moments, it can make the world of difference.