meet the maker: tata harper

Tata Harper is as stylish and elegant as she is ambitious and fiercely intelligent. It’s no wonder that her eponymous non-toxic skin care range can go toe-to-toe with conventional luxury brands. Motivated by her own search for active, effective formulas that weren’t, in her words, “hippie creams”, she created an award-winning, modern, results-driven collection.

On a whirlwind tour of personal appearances and events, Tata Harper visited the West Hollywood Detox Market to host an unapologetically lavish skincare masterclass to a room packed with devotees. Each attendee went through an in-depth regimen with their own signature green train case, pink gingham headband, and handheld mirror. Once everyone was fresh, glowing, and had a chance to meet with Tata for personalized recommendations, we had a moment to chat.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I grew up in Barranquilla, which is a coastal town in Colombia. It’s the epitome of Latin culture. You know, it’s by the water, everybody’s dancing, super happy, minimal clothing. [laughing] And people are obsessed with beauty. Beauty is not seen as a chore or as a luxury, but as a way of pampering yourself. It’s a self-care ritual. That’s how my family introduced it to me, and that’s how I’ve embraced it my whole life. I feel so lucky to have been born there because it really reinforced beauty that’s not so much about how you look, but how you feel. How it makes you feel when you’re at your vanity with your creams and doing your ritual before you go out at night.

When do you first remember learning these beauty rituals?

I was really close to my grandmother, and she used to host in her house almost every Saturday like a spa day. In the morning she would wake up, and I would help her prepare all sorts of concoctions that we would use. She would have manis, pedis, blowouts—the most crazy affair. And we would scrub and do hair things.

And would she have friends come, too?

And family! Mainly family like my sisters, my cousins, my aunts. We come from a huge family. That was really early on that I was helping her. I was 7 or 8 when I started. But then when you grow up you are not necessarily appreciating that anymore, and no one is necessarily having the time to do homemade things. But you still embrace the whole concept of cleansing, toning, serum—all that stuff. It’s just deeply ingrained.

Tell me about your wake-up call to go more natural. Were you using more traditional brands before?

Yes, I was doing the very traditional brands before. It was really when my stepfather got diagnosed with cancer. I never thought that accompanying him to see doctors and go through his treatment was going to change the course of my life. You know, I was doing something completely different. But going with him I realized how much little choices you make everyday affect your health and your well being. I’ve always paid a lot of attention to myself and used things that I considered good for me. So when I really started reevaluating everything—from food to cleaning products to beauty products—that was my big wake-up call.

 

“BEAUTY IS NOT SEEN AS A CHORE OR AS A LUXURY, BUT AS A WAY OF PAMPERING YOURSELF. IT’S A SELF-CARE RITUAL.”

 

Did the doctors educate you on that?

Yeah, they would alert him more about specific parabens and phenoxyethanol, but then I just got addicted to googling what was in everything. You’re like, “Oh. This is the ingredient we use for machines.” I’m actually an engineer and I know about a lot about industrial ingredients, and then you’re like, “Whoa, why is that in this product?” It was so shocking.

I think we trust that someone is regulating that.

And no one is. That’s the problem.

Why do you think this resonated so deeply to make such a big shift?

Well you know, it was the first time that we had cancer in the family. When you have an incident like that…it’s very close to home now. With all of these modern diseases you realize you better take a more precautionary approach. I don’t want to be in complete ignorance using all of this stuff for 20 years without knowing what it leads to. And really it’s this quest for well-being and for trying to be the best version of myself. Nowadays the life span is really long. We all want to live until we’re 100, and we want to live until we’re 100 with health, and hiking, and traveling, and not battling a disease.

At what moment did you realize you wanted to create your own brand? When was the lightbulb moment?

I think after searching high and low. You know, first the obvious places were a lot of supermarkets like Whole Foods. That’s where natural beauty was at the time. I wasn’t able to find anything there that really replaced what I was doing. Then I started going to beauty stores, department stores, and just realizing the products that I was looking for didn’t exist, and I couldn’t believe it.  

When was this happening?

2005-ish?

And then when did you end up launching? What was the process?

2010.

So it’s 5 years later.

It took 5 years just to formulate the products.

And you mentioned that you have an engineering background. Did you feel like you had an entrepreneurial spirit?

All my life. My mom has always been a big entrepreneur, and she has always supported us. Like, “Oh you wanna go to Europe? You wanna go to that course in France and learn about champagne? Ok! You need to come to my office. And you’re in charge of these things. And you need to handle them.” When I was really young, I loved to work. When I was in high school I had a fashion company. I thought that I was going to be a fashion designer. In 10th, 11th, and 12th grade—those three years—I used to go with a friend of mine to the US to buy fabric. We had a person there that would do our patterns, and we would design and create really limited editions of a lot of fashion stuff.

That’s so fun! That does not surprise me. You’re very stylish.

[laughs] Thank you.

So over those 5 years with formulating, is that something you felt confident doing on your own or did you collaborate with labs?

Oh no. I had no idea where to begin. I really had to collaborate with a lot of experts to make this line. And I didn’t want it to just be about me and what I could produce on my farm and just be like, hippie cream. There was just tons of hippie cream. The point was not to do another hippie line. It was to do high-performance, high-quality, world-class, 100% pure skincare. So it really required a lot of collaboration. A lot of scientists helping me make this happen.

 

“FOR US MORE IS MORE. MORE INGREDIENTS EQUALS MORE RESULTS IN SKIN CARE.”

 

Tell me about your farm How does that come into play? What happens at the farm?

The farm is the place where everything happens. It’s in Vermont, near Middlebury. In the gardens we grow and harvest five different herbs: borage for a multivitamin effect, arnica for inflammation, calendula for soothing, meadowsweet for cellular turnover, and alfalfa for oxygenation. With those five herbs we make an ingredient called the Estate Grown Beauty Complex that covers all of the basics for skincare. We put that ingredient in all of the products, but then on top of that we bring ingredients from all over the world. We bring ingredients from 58 countries at the moment. All those ingredients arrive to our farm, and in the farm we’re in charge of making the product. Every single month.

Your labs are actually there?

Yeah exactly. And our production facility. And our formulations—all of that. It’s all there.

And you live there, too?

Yes! With my kids.

And you have 11 dogs?

13 now, actually.

Why is the Tata Harper range different? What defines it?

That’s a great question because with so many natural lines, or lines claiming to be natural, people think that natural is all the same. And I’m like, “Well, is all synthetic all the same? Would you compare Nivea to La Prairie?” No. They’re all synthetic, but they’re not all the same. So one of the things that is really unique about us is the fact that we are what we call “fully loaded.” If you want a product that gives you multiple results and has multiple ingredients that are working for your skin all simultaneously, that’s when you buy us. I feel that there’s a big trend happening right now especially with natural skin care that it’s more about like, simplistic beauty. You know, it’s simple, it’s clean—we are not that. We’re the opposite of that. For us more is more. More ingredients equals more results in skin care. And really that’s one of the biggest things that sets us apart. When you buy one of our products you get multiple results from that formula. And the ingredients that are in that product are actually working to make your skin beautiful. Also our products are super fresh. Not a lot of brands can say that they make their products, and that by the time that they get to their clients they’re super fresh and alive and really, really active. That’s one of the reasons why we overcomplicate ourselves. We’ve been vertically integrated, and we didn’t decide to take the easy route like everybody else.

 

“IN THE GARDENS WE GROW AND HARVEST FIVE DIFFERENT HERBS: BORAGE FOR A MULTIVITAMIN EFFECT, ARNICA FOR INFLAMMATION, CALENDULA FOR SOOTHING, MEADOWSWEET FOR CELLULAR TURNOVER, AND ALFALFA FOR OXYGENATION.”


What does that mean—vertically integrated?

Vertically integrated means that you do everything, you know? You don’t outsource. That you receive, you produce, you fill, you package, you ship. You know, everything happens in house.

That sounds like a lot of work.

That is a lot of work!

And your company is growing tremendously. What keeps you grounded?

Meditation. A meditation practice is big for me. It’s just 20 minutes I do at any point. And also exercising. When I’m traveling I typically go running for an hour. But when I’m home I do a lot of circuit training.

Where is your favorite place to unplug? Or do you ever unplug fully?

I unplug a lot in nature. I’ve become really addicted to being surrounded by nature. If I’m feeling very stressed I typically take a little break and I go into the woods. I love walking in the woods. And also being around my three kids de-stresses me a lot.

Where would you like to see the beauty industry in the future?

Well I am 100% convinced that the future is green. That natural is not a trend, that it’s a movement. It’s fueled by customers wanting better things and really supporting companies that elevate their quality of life and that makes them live better. I believe we are a byproduct of that. We exist because of this big wellness movement that’s happening not just here in the US. It’s happening around the world. We are just trying to make better decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our kids. That’s what this is all about.

 

Shop all Tata Harper Skincare, here.