Beauty Interview

Interview with Vicky Tsai of Tatcha

Today’s interview is with the beautiful and accomplished Vicky Tsai – founder and CEO of the beauty company Tatcha. I first heard of Tatcha over a year ago when a friend who founded a beauty company handed me a packet of Tatcha’s now famous Aburatorigami oil papers as a gift. A connoisseur of oil papers myself (yes I’m basically saying that I’m oily), I thought that the Tatcha papers were absolutely amazing! On par or even better than my favorite Yojiya’s from Kyoto.

I’ve followed Tatcha ever since, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Vicky. She is gorgeous, intelligent and knows a whole lot about not only beauty, but building a brand and a successful business. Random fun fact – we also went to the same business school! Enjoy meeting Vicky.

image via Tatcha (Miki Chishaki)

Who are you? Where are you from, and where do you live?

Hi, I’m Vicky. I was born in the States, soon after my parents moved here from Taiwan. We lived in Texas when I was growing up, and now I live in beautiful San Francisco (when I’m not traveling!). And, I’m a mom!

Can you share a little bit about how you started Tatcha? What was the thing/event that prompted you to start your own business?

Growing up, my mother made a lot of our own skincare treatments from traditional Chinese herbs. I resisted using our concoctions even though they really worked because they smelled medicinal, but she always said that it originated with geisha, and if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us. Fast-forward fifteen years: I was working for a high end skincare brand which involved testing a lot of products, and I developed acute dermatitis. It was not pretty – my face, lips, eyelids, everything was bleeding and blistering and peeling. It took a year of topical and oralsteroids and antibiotics, but my skin hasn’t been the same since then. That was a wake-up call. I worked later for a start-up called Good Guide, which rates products based on health, social, and environmental benefits.

Vicky’s book of geisha beauty rituals

There, I learned that there is no regulatory environment for skincare in the United States; the FDA has no oversight since technically cosmetics are neither food nor drug. I tried using ‘green’ and ‘organic’ products, but they left quite a bit to be desired from an efficacy and sensorial experience. To add to all of this, I was thinking of having a child, and the last thing I wanted was to be putting chemicals in my skin that would be passed on to her. That’s when I remembered my mother’s stories about geisha and I started traveling back to Asia. My travels ended in Kyoto, where I have had the rare opportunity immerse myself in a world of pure beauty, artistry and heritage like I’ve never known. These experiences reminded me how much beauty and goodness there is in the world, which I try to share with others through Tatcha.

My favorite Tatcha Aburatorigami papers

I know that before you were in brand management for SK-II and Starbucks. How were those experiences? What were some of the biggest learnings that you’veapplied to your biz now? 

I have been fortunate enough to learn the ropes with some of the best brands out there. SK-II is one of the handful of beauty brands for whom I’ve worked, and from them I developed a strong technical understanding of skincare formulations, and how our skin works as an organ. At Starbucks, I learned about the importance of customer service and human connection. Brands can represent more than the product they provide; they can also stand for values.

I love that the evening size papers are designed to fit into a clutch perfectly!

How scary was it to start your own business?  (I read that you sold your engagement ring!) And what were some challenges that you faced that were harder than you thought?

As crazy as it sounds, it was never actually scary. I think fear comes from now knowing whether your next step is the right one, but once I discovered these treasures in Japan, I developed tunnel vision. All I could see was the possibilities. Entrepreneurs are all probably a little crazy in that way.  I also had this amazing support network behind me – my co-founders, husband, my parents, my friends. I’ve never felt alone.  That said, there were and continue to be challenges, every day. I worked four jobs at one point and started Tatcha when I was pregnant, so it was really a game of stamina more than anything else.

Vicky in Kyoto (image via Tatcha; Miki Chishaki)

Can you share a little bit about your style? I’d love to hear your aesthetic given how beautiful Tatcha products are. Any favorite clothing/accessory items?

Between my two-year old daughter and all the time I spend on the road, I value simplicity. As long as my skin looks good, everything else is about comfort. I do have a pair of real riding boots that have traveled around the world with me and back. They even have a ‘taxicab yellow’ smudge on them from when I got into a recently-painted cab. They’re the most comfortable things I can wear, from traipsing across Kyoto’s cobblestones to rushing across New York City grates – and they can be dressed up or down!

image via Tatcha

What about “dream” items you’d love to add to your closet one day?

I have a friend who is a retired geisha who works with clients design incredible kimonos.  Each one is a work of art – hand painted and full of personal meaning.  She took me to one of her favorite kimono artisans in Kyoto and I fell in love with this one that is black as night with the most exquisite pink and white peonies on it.  Each petal was tipped in gold.  It was on “sale” for $40,000. I wouldn’t mind hanging that in my house as a piece of art one day.

What is the one product you’d say people absolutely have to try from Tatcha?

If I can only recommend one step in our ritual to everyone, it would be our Rice Enzyme Powder. It’s a cleanser, exfoliant and treatment in one, with three different strengths for different skin types. It also increases the efficacy of anything that you use after it, and immediately leaves skin with a baby-soft glow.

image via reBloom

Can you share some of your favorite beauty products that are non Tatcha?

That’s a tough one! For me, beauty is looking well-rested and put together, even when I’m not.  So my favorite non-Tatcha beauty products are things that help me fake the funk, like ReBloom, an all-natural sleep aid – and Visine.

What are your top, not-well-known beauty secrets and tips?

SPF is a necessity, and people should absolutely wear it, but my number one beauty secret is a hat and/or a sun parasol. Photo-aging can be extremely damaging to the skin – look at this man.

Tatcha muse Kyoka-san, geisha in training, with no face makeup on (image via Tatcha)

In skincare and makeup – you obviously know a lot. What should we splurge on, and where can we save?

Splurge on skincare, across the board. Treat your face like it’s the only one you’ve got. If you have good skin, makeup is just the icing on the cake. If you have bad skin, no amount of makeup can fix it.  For makeup, powder-based color cosmetics like blushes can be a save. Anything around your eyes, though – mascara, liner, so forth – should be a splurge. Eye products are more technically difficult to formulate so you generally get what you pay for.

Beautiful Vicky – image via W (Miki Chishaki)

I know that you are very inspired by Kyoto and geisha/geiko. What are a few things that we could all learn from the geisha?

In Japan, there is a philosophy called kodawari. It translates to the quality of being sensitive to details, but the philosophy represents the pursuit of perfection, even in minor things. It’s similar to what my mom told me growing up: anything worth doing is worth doing well. The reason that I think geisha are badasses, and still highly admired in Japan, is because they take kodawari – this idea of committing yourself to your art – to a whole different level. From them, we can learn how to fully commit ourselves to whatever we choose to put out into the world.

Can you share a piece of life advice?


Finally – please share something surprising about yourself!

I’m not Japanese?


Since I recently returned from my own trip to Japan, I feel that I can really identify with Vicky’s philosophies. The attention to skincare, simplicity and desire to execute even the smallest details to perfection were some of the ideals that made a huge impression on me. Thank you Vicky for bringing some of the best of the East here to us and for sharing some of your thoughts and beauty philosophies here today. For more of Vicky and Tatcha, check out the site here.

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  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Thank you for introducing me a new skincare line to explore. I always appreciate the philosophy behind the brand and how wonderful she combines the old Japanese beauty rituals with modern technology to create these skincare products. Skincare is one area i am willing to invest/splurge to find the products that work. Her products sound so good and the price points are not bad at all comparing to a 2 oz. $200 ReVive moisturizer i just finished (which i love so much but very expensive). I will have to give Tatcha a try next.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 7:59 am

    So interesting reading about a new line, I am a SK-II user as well but may have to give Tatcha a try. Thanks Katherine.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I loved this interview as it was a nice detour into skincare and beauty, which is a departure from your wonderful fashion posts.

    I agree with the SPF & covering up advice – my Korean mother drilled that into my head (in many Asian cultures, as you know, it’s really really bad to sit out in the sun – maybe the obsession with having white skin partially had something to do with having better skin in the long run). I would also add that a healthy lifestyle (NO SMOKING PLEASE!), with plenty of veggies, nuts/legumes & water, along with good sleep hygiene & exercise, is essential to the overall look and feel of your skin. Too often we try and slather a potion on our face instead of fixing our habits, which is really half the battle!

    I am intrigued by the blotting tissues – I just use cheapie Clean & Clear ones…

    • Reply
      July 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

      I use SPF everyday but I still worship the sun – your words and Vicky’s are really helping me to kick my habit (at least some!). I also agree that diet is huge, I need to fix mine. You are my heroine!

      • Reply
        July 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

        You don’t have to avoid the sun like the living dead – it can be simple things like going to the pool after 2-3pm to avoid frying too much, or buying a stylish wide-brimmed hat to wear on the beach (also an excuse to shop for chic and cute headwear), and donning a nice, sheer kaftan in a coordinating color over your swimsuit!

        Diet is totally huge – and being a huge foodie myself (I love your food posts btw), I have learned that the diet “a la francaise” helped a lot! You can eat anything you want, but eat a moderate amount of it, and be sure to walk a lot (for me, walking with my pit bull terrier Emily and the boyfriend) or take part it some kind of activity – doesn’t have to be super strenuous or anything, just something to “bouge ton cul” (move your butt!). I personally prefer Argentine Tango and Ballroom dancing – it really works the whole body and is a whole lot of fun! Swimming is also a great workout, especially if you’re concerned about joint health.

        I also make sure to snack on a lot of seasonal fruit and vegetables, instead of processed stuff from the company vending machine. This, coupled with my preference for cooking at home (where I can control what goes in) 80% of the time (I still indulge a lot on the weekends), has made a huge difference in my energy level and complexion.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I’m inspired by her determination and steadfast attitude to succeed. As a mom, I can also relate to her about not using any chemically ridden products.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Great one, Katherine! Always look forward to wednesdays 🙂
    Have yo used anything beside paper from this line?

    • Reply
      July 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

      No! But I received one of these which I’ll use to try out – I think the price is nice for the set if you are curious, and you can put in special requests if there’s something else you’d like to sample 🙂

      • Reply
        July 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        If you received a product to try shouldn’t that have been disclosed in the post?

        • Reply
          July 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm

          Hi Ella, that’s a good point – though I haven’t personally tried any products given by Tatcha other than the papers (which were a gift a long time ago from a friend who isn’t affiliated with Tatcha at all). The feature had nothing to do with promoting Tatcha in exchange for goods, I wanted to support a fellow alumni who I happen to think is fascinating! Thanks for the feedback though and in the future though I’ll make sure to note if I review a product that’s been given for free.

  • Reply
    Desert heels
    July 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I love this interview. I’ve been a huge fan of Tatcha for a while now. This woman is simply amazing. A true beauty inside and out.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Great interview!! Her story is amazing and her products and advice towards skincare are so true!! Thank you for a great interview. Off to check out Tacha!!

    On a side note the the link for the sun damage did not come up.

    • Reply
      July 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks Julide! And for the heads up on the link, it seems to work with some browsers and not others 🙁 Nice to hear from you!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Love her to pieces! Everything she says is what I dream for! Best part is we share the same name. lol. Great interview, Katherine. Thank you.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    You interview the most fascinating and inspiring people. I ♥ it!

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 3:05 am

    I absolutely love this interview and everything Vicky advises. Amazing.

  • Reply
    Audrey Allure
    July 19, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Love Tatcha — great interview!

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for an intro to a new product. I enjoyed the interview very much.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

    what an interesting woman! and i might have to check out her cleanser rec….

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 11:01 am

    One of my favorite of all your interviews so far. Nothing about material stuff and collections. Being an Asian, I love reading about empowered and fulfilled Asian women. Nice one Kat!


    • Reply
      July 19, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Thanks Kaloka! I totally agree 🙂

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    This is one of my favorite interviews you’ve featured. Vicky sounds like such an incredible person, and her skin care line sounds great too! I am a big beauty junkie, and have also looked into different brands to try. Over the past few years, I’ve found that Western brands, no matter how high-end and luxurious, do not settle well on my skin, and did not have the same effect as I would have hoped. I also worked in a research facility in the Bay Area, and found a lot of ingredients in the skin care products that were downright alarming. I’ve switched over to organic skin care, but ultimately, believe that skin care made by Asian Americans are best for me. I will certainly look into TATCHA and try the rice powder.


    • Reply
      July 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      That is fascinating Amy! Thank you for sharing. I actually have a post coming up about Japanese cosmetics. What did you find that was particularly alarming?

  • Reply
    July 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Great interview Kat 🙂 I loved this one especially since I went to Japan and got to see the Geishas 🙂

  • Reply
    July 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Katherine,
    I found your blog randomly and since that day I’ve read everything but loved your interviews. Must say that all of them are very inspiring but some speak very close to my heart. Still reading from time to time the one you did with B. and the lady that works with aviation….now Vicky. My faves so far…
    I’m not Asian but I’m an admirer of the Asian beauty, culture and values.
    TATCHA can be found anywhere in South America ?

    I didn’t find any link to send you a personal message so if you can pass my regards to B. and tell her that she touched my life for better.

    PS: love the pics on this interview, what a wonderful smile.

    • Reply
      July 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you for the kind and thoughtful comment! I’m glad that you like the interviews and I’ll be sure to pass your feedback along 🙂 Also my email is – there’s also a contact form on the top right, under “contact”. Thanks again L!

  • Reply
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