Tata Harper on How She Created a Sustainable Luxury Beauty Brand on an Organic Farm
Organic and eco-friendly beauty brands are a dime a dozen in this era where the topic of sustainability is on the tip of everyone's tongues. But it is a whole different ballgame if we are looking at beauty brands that can also remain luxurious while supporting sustainability.
Enter Tata Harper, the founder of the eponymous eco-friendly luxury beauty brand who was inspired to start her own skincare line after her father's cancer diagnosis.
“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,” said Harper in an e-mail interview with Tatler Singapore.
With the desire to create beauty products that were all-natural but made with quality ingredients in mind, Harper decided to start her own skincare line with her husband, Henry, on their 1,200 acre organic farm in the Champlain Valley of Vermont in 2010. The two spent five years to research and develop what would become the very first Tata Harper product. The brand has come a long way, celebrating its 10th anniversary just last year.
Ahead of Earth Day 2021 on April 22, we speak to Harper to find out more about what inspired her to start her brand, how sustainable her brand exactly is, considering a multitude of factors that exist today, as well as her favourite beauty tips and go-to skincare routine.
Tell us more about Tata Harper’s story and what inspired you to start the brand on your organic farm?
Tata Harper (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.
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 had a few natural ingredients that were mixed with synthetics and chemicals. Looking behind the curtains of the products, I was disappointed to learn that many conventional companies (and even some companies who seem "green") packed their products with synthetic fillers or chemicals of concern that are more likely to be found in your car. I couldn’t find any natural products that gave me the results and the luxury experience I was looking for, so I set out to create my own.
I wanted to fuse both worlds and create products that were 100 per cent natural but made with high quality, potent ingredients. This inspired me to create my own line that was safe, natural, and sustainable without compromising luxury and results. 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 fulfilment of our products.
From the very beginning, we refused to use any synthetic or hazardous chemicals, even in the extraction processes of the ingredients we process ourselves or buy from our suppliers around the world. Although the method would be unique and complex, we decided that controlling every stage of the process on our farm would ensure that we are consistently making products that are as fresh and potent as possible.
Our products are not subcontracted to a third party who requires us to produce minimums that would leave our products losing freshness while sitting in warehouses.
Why did you choose to start a sustainable beauty brand and to what extent is your skincare brand eco-friendly? Considering packaging, shipping and more.
TH Sustainability has always been a top priority for me and even though we’ve always been eco-friendly, there’s always an opportunity to do more. I also believe that natural beauty needs to go beyond the ingredients used in the products, it has to be about putting those natural formulas in packaging that doesn’t pose a risk to the environment.
Almost all of our products come in glass, which is infinitely recyclable. Our cartons are made with certified paper from sustainably managed forests and we use biodegradable soy ink to reduce the toxicity of our cartons. The majority of our packaging is made of glass, and this is a decision we at Tata Harper Skincare conscientiously make. What little plastic we do use is necessary for the function of the packaging and is as eco-friendly as possible. The plastic resin for our tubes is derived from sugar cane, which means it is made from a renewable resource instead of petroleum. Our cartons have two different sustainability goals. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative label on a few of our boxes lets you know that the package’s materials came from a responsible source—as opposed to unethical sources such as illegal logging processes or from areas that lack effective social laws. We also use 100 per cent post-consumer materials, or recycled paperboard and soy-based ink for printing. Paper recycling always involves removing ink so that the paper will be ready for the next use, making soy ink an ideal choice for sustainable packaging.
We are always thinking about how we can even be more sustainable so we have rethought our packaging practices and are proud to say that we recently launched our first refillable product Waterlock. We want to make sure we offer our clients the opportunity to choose a product that is great for the health of their skin and the planet without having to choose one or the other.
For us, sustainability isn’t about marketing, it’s just the way we’ve always done business. You can’t be a green company without a green product, and that means everything from ingredients to manufacturing to packaging needs to take the planet into account.
Your brand is considered both a luxury beauty brand and also a natural beauty brand—many do not think these go hand in hand. What do you have to say about that and what were the challenges you overcame?
TH My goal from the beginning has been to create products that would give me the results of the luxury skincare I was used to but with completely natural and nontoxic ingredients. For us, luxury is about the quality of our ingredients and the powerful performance of our products. We achieve that by using as many potent and high-tech ingredients as possible in every formula to make multifunctional, hardworking products that give you real results without a single drop of synthetic chemicals.
I also think that freshness is a luxury in skincare—so many brands outsource their formulation or various aspects of their processes and products are months old by the time the customer actually gets it. We keep our products fresh by being vertically integrated and doing everything ourselves, and also only make exactly the amount of product that we need to make so it stays as potent and as fresh as possible.
We’re a relatively young business, in fact, last fall was our 10th anniversary, and we’ve faced challenges at every stage. When we first started, formulating high-tech, ingredient-packed products with exclusively natural ingredients was a challenge. Then, once we launched our first products, the challenge we faced was overcoming this old misconception that naturals weren’t effective. Now, as we continue to grow and are more focused on international expansion, we’re facing new challenges that come with scaling a vertically integrated business It has also been challenging to design luxury packaging that is sustainable. We’ve had to create our own moulds, rethink conventional packaging practices, and spend years researching. It has come a long way, but it is still a hurdle.
What’s your favourite product from your skincare range?
TH It is very hard to pick but I really love one of our most high-powered anti-ageing products, the Rejuvenating Serum. An intensive age defence system with micro-smoothing technology for visible signs of ageing. A multitasking collagen treatment addresses multiple signs of ageing by delivering the benefits of seven anti-ageing products in one serum. A concentrated formula of powerfully rejuvenating ingredients helps to reduce the look of fine lines and deep wrinkles while infusing the skin with hyaluronic acid, antioxidants and vitamins for a visibly healthier, more radiant appearance. Promotes a firm, youthful look, while supporting elasticity and helping to protect the skin from environmental damage. This is your happy healthy skin serum, it gives your skin everything it needs: healthy collagen, wrinkle prevention with advanced neuropeptide technology, and antioxidants.
(Related: Collagen, Fish Oil and More: All About Supplements and Superfoods For Glowing Skin)
How do you think skincare regimes have changed since the onset of Covid-19? Can you share some of your beauty secrets?
TH If you don't have a skincare regimen just yet, now is a great time to experiment with new products and discover what works best for you. With all the stress and uncertainty during quarantine, my skincare routine has really become my self-care routine. It’s the time in my day I get to relax, wind down and take care of myself and it has really become my daily ritual. Instead of skincare feeling like a chore, I like to light a candle, throw on my cosiest robe, and really take my time through each step of my regimen. We all need a little extra pampering and whatever your self-care ritual may be, we should keep it at the top of our minds to get through an extraordinarily difficult year.
(Related: How To Treat Maskne)
Something that has also become a big concern for me during Covid is maskne. Maskne happens when your skin is irritated from the friction and heat that builds up under your mask from breathing and sweating. It’s truly the perfect recipe for itchy, red skin and breakouts, but I have discovered a few tips and tricks that really work to diminish that irritation and help your skin feel more comfortable. I have switched to wearing silk masks and my favourite is the one that we created with Jonathon Simkhai. If your skin has become sensitive or blemish-prone from wearing a mask, the 100 per cent silk material is ultra-soft and breathable on broken down, uncomfortable skin. My second easy step is curating a skincare routine that works to fight breakouts. I have been loving using a combo of our clarifying line to target blemishes and rednesses: the Clarifying Cleanser, Clarifying Mask, and Clarifying Moisturizer.
Heat and sweat tend to accumulate under your mask and refraining from wearing makeup when you are out will help your skin breathe and minimise bacteria buildup that leads to breakouts. When I am home and feel like glamouring up, I love to apply our Illuminating Eye Cream and Illuminating Moisturizer that are formulated with diamond dust to give your skin a subtle glow without any glitter.
I think that skincare is the best makeup and I’ve been avoiding putting on anything dramatic or heavy to give my skin a break.
Tata Harper's beauty tips and skincare routines for morning and night
“When it comes to my daily essentials, I’m a maximalist. I believe that more is more when it comes to my skincare and I use a multitude of our products every day, twice a day. My skincare routine always addresses my skin for today and my skin for tomorrow. I like to switch up my cleansers, masks, and moisturisers for whatever mood my skin is in that moment. When it comes to serums and eye creams, the most important anti-ageing steps, I like to stay consistent so I can really see the cumulative results.”
For the AM:
“I love this skincare routine because it exfoliates, plumps, and volumises to keep my skin looking healthy and ageless. I start with my favourite Glow Getter hack which uses the Regenerating Cleanser and Resurfacing Mask together to give you double the benefits. To do this trick, first, use Regenerating Cleanser on dry skin and then apply Resurfacing Mask directly on top. Massage the products together and leave it on for five to 15 minutes before rinsing with warm water. Regenerating Cleanser pre-exfoliates the skin with apricot microspheres so that the pomegranate enzymes and BHA in the Resurfacing Mask can really remove dead skin cells and buildup and leave you with fresh, glowing skin. it also helps products absorb better. I follow with Hydrating Floral Essence to help prep my skin for treatment and help my serums penetrate deeper. Then it’s all about layering—I use Rejuvenating Serum on my whole face, next I’ll use Restorative Eye Cream, and then Repairative Moisturizer.”
For the PM:
“At night, I always start with double cleansing. First, I use Nourishing Oil Cleanser to get rid of that top layer of dirt and grime from the day, then I follow with the Purifying Cleanser to actually cleanse and detox my skin. Then, I use Hydrating Floral Essence. For serum, I use Rejuvenating Serum on my face and Restorative Eye Cream around my eyes. I also like a richer moisturiser at night, so I finish with Crème Riche.”