Tata Harper loves a good face mask. Some might even say she introduced the world to — or at least gladly spread the gospel of — the concept of multi-masking, or treating different areas of the face with different masks. But once her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, the skincare enthusiast, who credits her love of beauty to her grandmother and other cosmetics-obsessed relatives she grew up with in Colombia, wanted a mask — and, of course, a cleanser and an essence and a moisturiser — that not only provided amazing results but also eliminated the need for harsh, toxic chemicals. So, what did she do?
“I was like, how am I going to replace my super-high-tech Swiss skincare line that I’ve been using forever?“ Harper tells me when we meet at Joyce Beauty in early May. “I started Googling what these products are actually made of, beyond those two or three ingredients the salesperson talked to me about. Because they’re made from so much more than just the active ingredients. You need preservatives, you need emulsifiers, you need stabilisers, you need pH balancers, you need thickeners. That’s where all the shortcuts are made. Companies typically spend their resources on the one hero ingredient but then after that, it’s just a lot of cheap industrial chemicals.”
Harper started looking at options in the “natural” skincare market. “They show you all these things that have algaes, roses, honey and then you turn the box around and you’re like, wait, this is the same thing again. The parabens, the PEGs, the SLS’s, the glycols, all those antifreeze derivatives, all the petroleum…”
Eventually, Harper took matters into her own hands. “I had no idea if I could do better, honestly,” she says. “But I was like, I’m going to try. It took five years working with a lot of scientists, a lot of chemists, in different fields helping me and teaching me.”
In 2010, Tata Harper the brand launched from its namesake’s farm in the northeastern US state of Vermont and immediately captured the attention of consumers looking for non-toxic skincare that provided the same results they had come to expect from mainstream luxury brands.
“That’s what we stand for, really: it’s cutting-edge technology but without a single drop of synthetic chemicals or any shortcuts along the way, including the level of active ingredients,” Harper says. “Natural skincare was not a place where people were making high-tech formulations. But the most high-tech stuff right now is in naturals; they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s more about: do you want that technology to come from artificial chemicals, or do you want it to come from natural chemicals that grow in the earth?”
Tata Harper products, which include a full range of cleansers, masks, serums and more targeted treatments, are made from around 800 raw materials sourced from 68 countries — including five herbs grown on Harper’s Vermont farm. And given the nature — pun intended — of the ingredients, everything is crafted with utmost care at the company’s dedicated facility.
“Brands almost never make their own products. That was the biggest surprise, honestly. Especially with luxury skincare, where it’s almost an expectation because part of what makes a product luxury is the craftsmanship and the know-how that you bring to the equation,” Harper says. “So we were like, OK, we’re not really participating in that. We want to make our products. And that has also ended up guaranteeing to our customers freshness because then you don’t end up with eight months’ worth of inventory that in some cases doesn’t get to the client for up to a year.”
Harper and her team still manage the entire manufacturing process, ensuring that the time between when a product is made and when it’s sold is about two months. And while the signature green-and-gold Tata Harper packaging remains the same, the company is constantly tweaking formulas and incorporating new technologies.
The beauty entrepreneur’s eyes practically light up as she describes the breakthroughs happening in the natural skincare space. “They’re extremely powerful and they represent today the latest in science and skin, whether it’s algae technology or stem-cell technology or the neuropeptide technology we bring in from Israel, all the redensifying technology that’s coming out of Germany. Plus all the functionals, all the natural preservatives, emulsifiers, everything,” Harper says. “It’s a really exciting time to be doing what we’re doing.”