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If you asked me for a skincare brand that I cover 24/7, my answer would be Tatcha. I’ve written tons of stories about its buzzy offerings—from Jennifer Aniston’s favorite lip mask and Kourtney Kardashian’s go-to cleanser to a personal review of the brand’s new clay mask. So when I got the chance to interview founder Vicky Tsai, I was over the moon and not just because it’s a popular brand. Tatcha maintains missions and values that hold so much significance and help others around the world.
For those new to Tatcha, the Asian American Pacific Islander-founded brand launched in 2009 with its very first product: blotting papers. However, the brand has since grown to carry a multitude of formulas that blend traditional Japanese botanicals with clinical ingredients. You’ve definitely spotted Tatcha’s beautifully-packaged products online or at its retailers, including bestsellers like The Dewy Skin Cream (loved by Selena Gomez) and The Rice Polish (loved by Meghan Markle).
But even more impressive than the line’s sleek product packaging is the brand’s efforts to serve a greater community. Tatcha recently was honored at an annual gala for Room to Read, a global nonprofit organization that is a proponent of children’s literacy and young girls’ education across Asia and Africa. Over 28 million kids have benefitted from the organization’s literacy program and over 34 million books have been distributed to schoolchildren. These are just a few of Room to Read’s impressive accomplishments, and Tsai’s brand plays a valuable role in these achievements.
Tatcha launched the Beautiful Faces, Beautiful Futures fund in 2014 with the aim of keeping girls in school through Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program in Asia and Africa. In 2021, the brand’s work with the nonprofit expanded to providing books to underserved communities in the United States.
As of April 30, 2022, proceeds from Tatcha’s orders have provided over six million days of school and over 208,000 books in the United States to those in need.
Beyond getting all of the deets from the founder herself on the long history behind the brand, we also got the tea on her ride-or-die Tatcha products.
What inspired you to create Tatcha?
“In a way, Tatcha was born out of necessity,” says Tsai, who developed acute dermatitis after finishing business school and working in marketing and general management. She was prescribed steroids and antibiotics to relieve the inflammation on her face, but after three years, she decided she no longer wanted to endure the drug’s side effects.
“I woke up one day and just said out loud, ‘I choose happiness.’ I was disillusioned with my corporate work and wanted to find a simpler, more authentic approach to life,” she adds. “I started traveling and ended up in Kyoto where I encountered these timeless well-being practices that healed my skin and my spirit. With a team of experts from Japan to California, I created Tatcha to share these rituals with the world.”
What have you loved most about starting a brand as an AAPI founder?
“I think there’s something to learn and be appreciated in every culture, and I’m grateful to be part of elevating Asian beauty and our visibility as a community,” says Tsai.
From the glass skin phenomenon to gua sha tools, so many of the trends and products the beauty community has come to love have stemmed from Asian traditions and cultures. AAPI Month might have passed in May, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning about new companies and support them, too. In fact, we gathered a comprehensive list of 32 AAPI-owned brands to shop that are all well worth your coin year-round.
What obstacles might you have faced when starting a beauty brand as an AAPI founder?
Self-starting a beauty brand is no easy feat, especially when you come to the table as a woman and someone who is part of the AAPI community. Tsai faced her fair share of obstacles when Tatcha was just starting to blossom.
“Asian beauty wasn’t mainstream as it is now, nor were Asian American female founders. Industry veterans and retailers told me that I should give up because ‘Asian beauty is not aspirational here’ and that Tatcha was ‘too niche and exotic’ to work,” Tsai explains. “Compounded with the fact that I was a first-time female founder and CEO who simultaneously launched a company and became a mother, I frequently wondered whether we would survive… I’ve learned a lot since those days though and have put down the unnecessary burden of imposter syndrome. I see the racial and gender bias in the business world for what it is and am equipped to handle it and try to make things better for those who are coming up behind me.”
How have you seen the beauty industry become more diverse and inclusive?
When Tsai started Tatcha, there was limited diversity in the beauty industry, and she “was regularly encouraged to give up.” Tsai has witnessed more positive change lately, with “companies [using] their platform to celebrate every shade of beauty.”
She cites Fenty Beauty’s 40 shades of foundation launch as something that progressed diversity, inclusion and representation in skin tones. Additionally, Tsai acknowledges K-Beauty and J-Beauty as things that moved Asian cultures and practices into the spotlight. However, Tsai believes there’s more work to be done. “There’s room for all of us,” she adds.
How have you dealt with beauty standards and what message would you convey to other people who might feel the same way?
“Growing up in the Western world, the Eurocentric beauty standards that dominated mainstream media led to a lot of internalized racism and colorism for me. As an Asian American girl, I never saw anyone that looked like me in media and never read stories about people like me in history books or storybooks. I felt invisible and alien,” says Tsai.
“It was only after immersing myself in beauty traditions from other cultures, including Japan, that I came to appreciate that it’s our differences that make us beautiful. Tatcha’s goal is to help people see their skin as a wondrous organ that carries them through life, instead of a problem to be solved. Every shade and age of skin is worthy of care,” she adds.
Who do you look up to for beauty inspiration?
Most founders say it’s their mom, grandma or sister; however, Tsai has a response you probably won’t hear anywhere else: the geisha. The founder had the privilege of studying with modern-day geisha in Japan. “Geisha literally translates to ‘art person.’ They are trained in classical Japanese arts like dance, music and tea ceremonies. The iconic white performance makeup they wear, far from covering any flaws, actually exacerbates any scar or bump in the skin. So for centuries, geisha have been creating and honing beauty rituals to keep their skin smooth and radiant as part of their artistry.”
How has your partnership with Room to Read impacted Tatcha’s mission and your perspective on running a company?
“One could start a company just to generate profit, but it’s far more interesting and meaningful to us to build a company that drives systemic change in the world,” says Tsai. “Our partnership with Room to Read is a huge source of our motivation. Even on our hardest days, we’re inspired knowing that we’re making a difference. It makes the highs even higher, and the lows not so low.”
Support an amazing AAPI-founded beauty brand and give back to Room to Read by checking out Tsai’s favorite Tatcha products below.
The Camellia Cleansing Oil
The first step of Tsai’s skincare routine is The Camellia Cleansing Oil that Kourtney Kardashian also happens to stan. The cleanser gently removes makeup, oil and sunscreen and leaves your skin feeling moisturized, rather than dry or stripped. The star ingredient, camellia oil, has been used in Asia for centuries because it’s rich in antioxidants that nourish your skin.
The Classic Rice Polish
Next up for Tsai: The Classic Rice Polish, which Meghan Markle also loves. The exfoliator comes in a powder form and when mixed with water transforms into a creamy foam that promotes natural skin cell turnover with the aid of rice bran and papaya enzymes.
The Essence is truly a jack of all trades; it relies on three superfoods that are common in the Japanese diet: rice, algae and green tea. Together, they exfoliate, hydrate, plump and smooth. Tsai says it’s her “all-time favorite” product, since it “floods the skin’s aquaporin channels, increasing hydration by 576 percent instantly.” Essentially, the toner paves the way for additional products to penetrate the complexion deeper.
The Water Cream
While Tsai maintains the same steps in her skincare ritual, she rotates moisturizers to align with the climate. In the summer, she goes in with The Water Cream to top off her routine. “The Water Cream is my go-to moisturizer because it’s incredibly lightweight and is made with a unique water-burst technology that feels so refreshing when applied, and helps tighten pores and smooth texture,” she says.
It’s time to get shopping—add the products Tatcha’s founder swears by into your own routine. A portion of all sales will go towards benefiting Room to Read.