Get to know TATA HARPER, the well established Queen of Green Beauty. EW spoke with Tata about the creation of her empire, what keeps her grounded and inspired these days, what she is looking forward to, how feeling more beautiful is ultimately empowering, and why sustainability does not need to mean compromising luxury. Read on, below…
BY ERIN WALSH
Erin Walsh I want to start at the beginning. When we met, you gave me the 411 on the how’s and why’s of what you do, but for our listeners and readers, I think it’s important to know your story and how you got started.
Tata Harper My stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, and through helping him change his lifestyle I started to examine everything I was putting in and on my body. For the longest time, natural beauty was thought to be simple and low quality – a lot of the textures and experiences weren’t designed for a serious skincare client like me. Typically you would find natural beauty in food stores and apothecaries where you don’t find high quality products with the technology you expect.
At the same time, when I went to department stores they have a few natural ingredients that are mixed with synthetics and chemicals. I wanted to fuse both worlds and create products that were 100% natural but made with high quality, potent ingredients. There wasn’t an option for people like me that were looking for that. Since I couldn’t find any natural skincare products that gave me the results and the luxury experience I was looking for, I decided to create my own.
EW Tell us about your background pre Tata The Brand. What were you up to and where were you raised?
TH I was born and raised in Colombia by my mother and grandmother who were obsessed with beauty. After high school, I wanted to study fashion, but my mother encouraged me to attend school in Mexico to become an industrial engineer. I was living in Miami when my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer and I would travel back to Colombia frequently to help my mother care for him. At the time, we had purchased a farm in Vermont to escape the city which would later be where we handcraft everything from formulation all the way through to fulfillment of our products.
EW What was the catalyst to venturing into the beauty biz? And especially in such a GREEN WAY?
TH The catalyst to starting a green beauty line was when my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer and I became aware of the toxins and chemicals that were in all of the products we were using. I couldn’t find any natural products without synthetic chemicals that gave me the results and the luxury experience I was looking for. Looking behind the curtains of the products, I was disappointed to learn that many products used the same formulas, but the brands just added fillers to put their name on it. This inspired me to create my own line that was safe, natural, and sustainable without compromising luxury and results.
EW I wonder when you look around now at the white space you have filled in the industry, and how many people have followed in your footsteps… What do you find to be most gratifying about being a pioneer? What has been the most frustrating?
TH The best part about my job is how I wake up every morning knowing that we are not just creating another serum or another moisturizer, but we are creating a serum and a moisturizer that make people’s lives better. The products we create are so complex that it gives me a sense of purpose to continue innovating and creating.
At the beginning I was kind of laughed at — no one believed it was possible to create effective, luxurious products from completely natural ingredients. Now we’ve proven that it is, but the ingredients themselves can still be challenging because they are natural and unique – if there is a bad crop we might have an ingredient shortage, or the color of a product might vary slightly. Another challenge, and the reason why big companies use synthetic chemicals, is cost. Our products are MUCH more expensive to produce than traditional prestige skincare products. More specifically, conventional ingredients (including high tech synthetic chemicals) are readily available, not as expensive, and easy to work with. Natural ingredients are not always available, they are more expensive to source, test and purchase, and are harder to work with.
EW In the beginning, what did Tata and Co. look like logistically? Where were you working, how many were you? Did you have to get funding to start?
TH It took 5 years and 8 chemists to develop our first line of 12 products. We made everything on our farm in Vermont then, and we still do now. We were lucky to get seed-capital funding at the beginning which helped us in the development phase of our first line and also in getting the products in the hands of our first customers.
EW How quickly did things start changing?
TH We were outliers when we first launched, so education was the key to breaking into the beauty market. For the first few years, it was like we were talking to customers and retailers in a foreign language. The idea of clean beauty was not accepted so we built trust through transparency and an unwavering message. In 5 years, we were able to take those first 12 products we launched and launched 26 more. Once our clients used our products and saw results, they believed in the concept.
EW How many are you in Tata Inc these days? And how does that breakdown?
TH We are vertically integrated. What we do is unique and complex, so controlling every stage of our production ensures that we are consistently making products that are as fresh and as potent as possible. Doing everything ourselves, from formulation all the way through to fulfillment, also allows us to make environmentally conscious decisions at every level. We have approximately 200 employees across all of our departments. We have our Research & Development, Production, and Product Development teams based out of our farm in Vermont. In Shelburne, Vermont, we have our Fulfillment, E-Commerce, and Finance teams. Our Marketing team is based in New York, and our Sales team is all around the world.
The products we create are so complex that it gives me a sense of purpose to continue innovating and creating.
EW I want to talk about the learning curve of starting a business, being the leader being a pioneer. Who were you mentors when you started? How did you lead and learn simultaneously? As a leader, I know some prefer more transparency than others in terms of being open about the things you don’t know. What’s your take?
TH My grandmother and mother have always been my mentors, especially when I was building my business. They both taught me about entrepreneurship at a young age and imprinted on me the importance of being a hardworking business woman. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Throughout the process of creating the brand and our products, I have been transparent with our team of what I know, and what I want to learn. I love working with our in-house chemists and our research and development team because we do everything ourselves and make everything from scratch, so every single ingredient in a formula has a purpose. My engineering background has made me love and understand science, but I am humbled by the amazing work that our chemists do. To lead and to learn in each step of the process of bringing our products to life has been such a rewarding experience.
EW In terms of product development and creation, how do you decide what’s next with each new development you have?
TH I think I’m at my most creative when I’m out in the world, seeing what’s happening and experiencing new and different things. I love to travel and a lot of my inspiration comes from walking around little neighborhoods and talking to people. Interacting with people in general, whether it’s customers, my team, someone I met over dinner, is how a lot of my ideas come to me. In terms of my creative process and product development, it’s very team oriented. We develop new products primarily for category gaps and also based on client feedback. I like to seek out multiple points of views and take time to absorb and process everything before landing on the final vision. And from there, it’s about executing and making that dream a reality on a very specific timeline.
EW What do you see as the biggest hurdles in the green beauty biz in general?
TH I find the biggest hurdle for both the industry at large and our brand is packaging. Clean cosmetic packaging has a long way to go in terms of sustainability. Things that are sustainable are not luxurious, yet things that are ‘considered luxury’ are non-recyclable plastic and acrylics that end up in landfills. It’s been a challenge that we have been overcoming one step at a time and I am proud to say that we have launched our first refillable product, the Water-Lock Moisturizer. We are working on adding more products to this refill method.
EW For us consumers, what are some red flags in terms of labels we should be looking for?
TH I always tell our consumers to avoid the toxic ten. It can be difficult to memorize this list of chemicals to stay away from when shopping for skincare products, so our customers trust us to do the work for them.
A few of these harmful chemicals that should immediately raise red flags are:
• Parabens: Can cause endocrine disruption, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity.
• 1,4 – Dioxane: Can cause cancer and birth defects.
• Benzophene: Can cause cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation, and ecotoxicity.
EW I personally see Tata as a MOVEMENT. How would you describe your overall mission? Any thoughts in terms of 5 year plan? 10 year plan?
TH When I set out to create my own skincare line, I wasn’t looking to replicate products that were already on the market. My founding mission was to give the skincare industry a fresh start with highly effective and luxurious antiaging beauty products that are completely free of synthetic and chemical ingredients. I believe people deserve beauty products that deliver the results they want, without putting their health at risk. As a company we seek to challenge the assumption that ‘natural’ means less effective. I’m passionate about promoting a modern, health-conscious natural beauty lifestyle that’s committed to safety, honesty and sustainability.
As for our future plan in terms of 5 years to 10 years, we will continue our mission of improving the lives of others, educating the public on toxic chemicals, and working towards our goal of being 100% sustainable. I would also love to create new product lines for different age groups so our products are accessible to everyone.
EW What is missing from Tata currently?
TH Our goal is to take our sustainability efforts even further and we want to do this by eliminating all single-use products. We have begun to fill this gap with our new refillable Water-Lock moisturizer, but there is still a ways to go and we are doing everything we can to achieve this goal.
EW What do you think this moment in time is asking of your company right now? Like in a COVID world, what will change in your business model?
TH Much of our business has been moved from the retail space to the online space as a result of Covid-19. We are working to make the experience as seamless and informative as possible on our own website so our customers don’t lose the personal connection or the mission behind our brand. We have implemented a concierge service that helps guide our clients toward a specific regimen that works for them.
EW Do you enjoy being a part of the face of your company?
TH I’m really my own customer, which has been such an asset – when I created the line, I knew what I was looking for when it came to performance, experience, and safety, and I knew that other women would too. Being a part of the face of the company is only natural to me and one of the best parts of the job. I love to lead our intimate Green Beauty Classes where I teach our customers about the natural ingredients and some of my own application techniques.
EW Any other fellow green brands you are fond of and like to support?
TH Stella McCartney is someone who is evolving the fashion industry and I have been very fortunate to collaborate with her for many seasons. I not only admire her for her commitment to taking significant measures to reduce their environmental impact, but she is also committed to promoting good labour standards and protecting human rights in all aspects of its business.
EW What are some of the biggest changes we can make in terms of overall wellness?
TH Wellbeing is the art of cultivating our own sense of self. For me, it’s about being and staying centered, strong and focused. This really comes down to evaluating your daily habits because at its heart, wellness really is about making choices to better your life and improve your wellbeing and that encompasses everything from nutrition to sleep to beauty to exercise.
EW Any advice in terms of internal supplements and diet we can try to speed up this LOOKING AND FEELING BEAUTIFUL process?
TH What many don’t realize is that there are hormone disruptors in plastics, and herbicides and pesticides in the foods and water we drink. Milk Thistle and Alpha lipoic acid metabolize excess hormonal by-products and activate liver detox pathways thus excreting waste.
EW How are you dealing with this quarantine situation?
TH I’ve been taking this quarantine period to find new ways to reconnect and relax, a big part of that is cherishing these extra moments I have with my children and taking the time for self-care. Finding balance is a daily process, but I’ve been trying to find ways to ease my stress through meditation, aromatherapy, and my skincare ritual.
Finding balance is a daily process…
EW Any causes or charities you would like to direct us to? We will also be supporting those you suggest via an ACTION BUTTON, which will direct our readers to how they can help implement change.
TH I am an ambassador for Trees For the Future, an amazing organization that is improving the lives of impoverished farmers by revitalizing degraded lands. The Forest Garden Program trains farmers over a four year period to plant trees that protect and bring nutrients back to the soil.
I would also like to direct you to the BeautyUnited coalition created in response to the Covid-19 crisis. They are bringing beauty and wellness founders together to help raise funds and donate personal care products to support our frontline responders.
EW What’s your favorite unwinding trick?
TH I love to unwind with one of our at-home facial regimens. I’m a skincare maximalist so I have a lot of at-home facial routines for whatever mood my skin is in, or that I am in. The routine that I have been loving the most to help me unwind is our anti-aging facial. Just a few extra skincare steps helps me to destress after a long day, especially when I need to relax my mind.
EW What’s your comfort food these days?
TH I’ve been loving making a lighter version of chicken pot pie sourced with ingredients from our garden and from local farms. It is the ultimate comfort food and the kids love it too.
EW What are you reading now?
TH I am currently reading Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza. It is about how the mind body connection can transform and change your life.
EW Any movies or shows we should try?
TH I have been loving the show Little Fires Everywhere. Some of my favorite must-see movies are Pulp Fiction, Meet Joe Black, Coming to America, The Secret to My Success, License to Drive, and Clueless.
EW Go to fragrance?
TH I prefer essential oils over synthetic fragrances found in perfumes. One of my favorites is our new Love Potion aromatic treatment. Davana, ylang ylang, and pink grapefruit help inspire an inner sense of sensuality, beauty, and confidence from this scent.
EW Go to home scent?
TH I’m obsessed with the candle collaboration that we did with Farmhouse potter (Tata x Farmhouse Pottery Lavender and Citrus Candle). It smells absolutely amazing! I also love using my diffuser for at-home essential oil blends. My favorite is combining a few drops of geranium and chamomile essential oils — I call this my happy vibes blend because geranium is uplifting while chamomile is very calming and soothing.
EW Tata, we ask all those that we feature, WHAT’S YOUR SBJCT? What moves you, inspires you, what’s your driving force?
TH Seeing projects come to fruition, like creating a new product and seeing it go from concept to reality is incredibly empowering for me. I’m more fulfilled by going to stores and meeting my customers. Hearing their stories, seeing how their skin has transformed and that we’ve been able to help them feel more beautiful, it’s really moving, and it’s why I do what I do.