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Vicky Tsai

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The Violet Files

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How one of the fastest-growing beauty brands uses ancient Japanese know-how to create a truly modern vision.

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VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to the founder of Tatcha.

Inspired by the beauty of a modern-day Geisha, Vicky Tsai, a Wellesley College graduate with a Harvard MBA, set out to create a skincare brand that honors the rituals and practices of Japan’s iconic beauty elite. Tsai, who had long battled dermatitis, had been on a journey to discover and develop a more evolved approach to skincare. In 2009, on a trip to Kyoto, she found what would become, in part, the secret(s) of her success: Miyakofuzoku Kewaiden (translation: Capital Beauty and Style Manual), a 200-year old, three-volume manual detailing skincare and beauty trends (of the time) that were followed and popularized by Geisha. This treasure trove of tried-and-true methods became the framework for her vision. She began working with scientists to develop the Hadasei Bioactive Complex, a trinity of anti-aging superfoods born from the Japanese diet—such as green tea, rice bran, and Okinawa algae—which would become the foundation of her myriad luxury potions.

Tsai launched TATCHA in 2009 with a single product—the Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers, which immediately became a must-have accessory for makeup artists, red-carpet celebrities, on-air personalities (those hot lights!), and pretty much anyone else looking to blot away a shiny T-zone. The gold-flecked papers, (the debate over whether it’s real gold rages on), which are neither powdery nor pasty and do not mess with makeup, catapulted the label into the public consciousness.

In 2012, Tsai launched her skincare collection—and the cult following grew. People went crazy for the Tatcha Akari Facial Massager, which targets pressure points in the face, neck, and hands, and improves circulation. The Deep Hydration Lifting Mask (which makes your skin GLOW) kept selling out of stores. Her anti-aging elixirs, the Indigo Collection—with its array of body butters and super-soothing and restorative creams—and the Dewy Skin Face Mist, beloved by the jet set, have all contributed to the phenomenal success of the brand, which was recognized in 2015 as the number-two fastest-growing, privately owned, woman-led company in the United States.

She explains her newest product, The Essence, as, “A formula several years in the making. The amino acids and lactic acid gently resurface skin. The water-light formula instantly doubles the hydration of skin … beyond using a moisturizer alone.”

Tsai is all about silky, smooth, ultra-hydrated skin. While she refuses to divulge the secrets she has collected from the beauty bible of Geisha beauty practices, she does share one tip, “Of all the Geishas I met—from 20 years old to 80 years old—the one with the best skin enjoyed a bit of sake.” Bottoms up, ladies.


  • 01

    VIOLET GREY: What is the atmosphere of your bedroom?

    VICKY TSAI: Peaceful.

  • 02

    VG: Please describe your bed and your favorite thing about it.

    VT: It is a California King, which means that my husband, my daughter, and my two cats and their toys can be there, and I still have my space.

  • 03

    VG: What time do you wake up?

    VT: Just before 5 a.m. I like the quiet of the early morning—it’s very meditative.

  • 04

    VG: Do you set an alarm?

    VT: Yes, but I always wake up before it goes off.

  • 05

    VG: How many hours of sleep do you require?

    VT: Tatcha Indigo Soothing Silk Hand Cream and [Tatcha] Camellia Gold Spun Lip Balm.

  • 06

    VG: What is your morning skincare regimen?

    VT: It changes a bit depending on the season, whether I’m traveling, and so forth. In the morning, I help my daughter get ready for school, so I need a quick and easy skincare routine. I exfoliate with our Polished Classic Rice Enzyme Powder and follow with The Essence, then apply The Silk Cream to nourish and hydrate my skin.

  • 07

    VG: What makeup and products do you use on a daily basis?

    VT: I try to streamline my routine in the morning, so I rarely change up my makeup. Most days, I apply our Kyoto Red Silk Lipstick and head out the door.

  • 08

    VG: What’s your hair situation in the a.m.?

    VT: A simple bun.

  • 09

    VG: Do you drink coffee or tea, eat breakfast?

    VT: I start the day with matcha green tea; the ritual of whisking the tea is lovely. My husband makes breakfast. Before I go into work, I have between three and five cups of coffee.

  • 10

    VG: Do you work out in the a.m.?

    VT: These days, I’m often on the road, which makes it hard to work out regularly. I try to fit it in whenever I can.

  • 11

    VG: What’s the first thing you read each morning?

    VT: I check The New York Times and my email inbox.

  • 12

    VG: What business do you conduct before 10:00 a.m.?

    VT: I like to work in the quiet time from 5 to 8 a.m. [This way] I’ve done all of my thinking work by the time I arrive at the office.

  • 13

    VG: Do you have any meetings or calls?

    VT: If need be, I’ll start taking calls around 6 a.m.

  • 14

    VG: What time do you head to your office?

    VT: Once we’ve dropped our daughter off at school, my husband (who works with us) and I arrive just after 9.