Liquidated for love: Tatcha provides a bridge from beauty to empowering girls’ education.
Blocking UV rays in style, Tachta founder Vicky Tsai with one of the handmade parasols she collects.
Three months after 9/11, Tatcha beauty brand founder Vicky Tsai—then a derivatives trader for Merrill Lynch—found herself staring into a hole. She worked at the World Financial Center across the street from where the Twin Towers had fallen, and after a temporary office relocation to Jersey City, she was back at headquarters, with the only window in her sightline overlooking ground zero.
“That was the beginning of my career,” says Tsai, who witnessed the site’s excavation for several months. “I thought I would spend the first two decades of my adult life making money and building a career, and I would figure out the rest later. After 9/11, I completely saw my life differently.”
Tsai watches the sunrise on a visit to a Cambodian girls’ education program.
Born in Missouri to Taiwanese American parents, Tsai worked as a teen in her mother’s Houston shop selling Asian skincare products, later earning an economics degree at Wellesley College. She started her career in trading because she found the markets fascinating. But the distress of 9/11 and its aftermath led Tsai and her husband, who also worked for Merrill Lynch, to reevaluate their future plans. “I thought, ‘If I can’t make a positive impact through my work, then I don’t know how I’m going to find meaning and make a positive impact in my life,’” she says.
Original Aburatorigami blotting papers, $40, by Tatcha at Sephora, in the Galleria
In 2009, Tsai launched Tatcha, a San Francisco-based skincare brand inspired by the beauty rituals of Japanese geishas. (She believed so strongly in the business she sold her engagement ring to fund its first product line: blotting papers made with gold flakes and abaca leaf.) The core ingredients in Tatcha’s products are rice, seaweed and green tea, a powerful trifecta that, after visiting Japan and meeting a geisha who shared her skincare secrets, Tsai used to heal her own acute dermatitis.
The Rice Polish Classic foaming enzyme powder, $65, by Tatcha at Sephora, in the Galleria
In 2015, Tatcha was listed by Inc. magazine as the No. 2 fastest-growing privately owned company in the United States led by a woman. Fans of the brand include everyone from celebrities (Drew Barrymore called Tatcha’s Luminous Dewy skin mist a “game changer” and Chloë Sevigny has described herself as Tatcha-“obsessed”) to makeup artists to royalty. In 2014, actress-turned-Duchess Meghan Markle shared with Allure magazine her love of Tatcha’s rice polish, an exfoliant made with finely ground rice bran and papaya enzymes.
While Tsai took a circuitous path to starting the company after leaving Wall Street, earning an MBA at Harvard and working for a Silicon Valley startup along the way, her yearning to effect positive change in the world persisted.
Tsai in Cambodia with children in the Room to Read girls’ education program
That’s why, along with helping women achieve that geisha glow, Tatcha helps girls go to school. Through its Beautiful Faces, Beautiful Futures program with nonprofit Room to Read, the company donates a portion of every product sale to funding girls’ education in underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa. Tatcha’s contributions to date have funded more than 3 million days of school for girls.
“The macroeconomic multiplier effect of educating girls is so significant on their communities,” says Tsai, who partnered with Room to Read in Tatcha’s third year in business, before the company was profitable. “Educated girls become educated mothers who have lower birth rates and lower infant mortality rates. They’ll start their own businesses; they’ll give back to their communities; they’ll make sure their kids get an education.”
Cambodian children in the Room to Read girls’ education program
Barriers such as lack of safety, increased costs and societal pressure to marry cause many girls to drop out prior to completing secondary schooling. The program supports girls approximately 11 to 18 in the areas of life skills, mentorship, material support, and family and community engagement. Local mentors, called social mobilizers, empower girls to advocate for themselves and their futures. “It’s an individualized approach to helping girls reach their potential,” says Tsai, who has joined Room to Read on visits to participating schools in Cambodia, India and South Africa. She says the girls’ bravery and capacity for hope in spite of extreme challenges reminds her what courage is.
“They’re in communities that are so under-resourced, the basics around human life and comfort are not there—there’s no electricity, no running water. ... They might not have enough to eat on any given day. They also retain the fundamental optimism of children—‘If I wish hard enough and try hard enough, maybe my future can be different.’”
The Silk Peony eye cream, $60, by Tatcha at Sephora, in the Galleria
Last July, Tatcha was acquired by Unilever, a transnational consumer goods company with a range of brands including Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Tresemmé. Tsai has stayed on as chief product officer and chief treasure hunter (the latter title depicts her mission to uncover treasures of Japanese culture), and Tatcha’s partnership with Room to Read, built into the brand’s business model, will continue.
At the forefront of her plans moving forward is developing a way to bring clients along virtually to the locations Tatcha supports through Room to Read. “I would love for them to see the impact they’re making in giving somebody a more beautiful life,” she says. “Tatcha is just the conduit.”
Photography by: Courtesy of Tatcha