A Discussion on Serial Entrepreneurship, A Commitment to Living Clean, and Following Your Instincts When Building A Business
By Eleanora Morrison
If you’re interested in beauty trends, chances are you’ve read about Tata Harper Skincare in Elle, Allure, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and other major publications (to name a few). If you haven’t yet heard of Tata Harper Skincare, I’m thrilled to be the platform that introduces it to you. Last week, Neiman Marcus San Antonio invited me to attend a skincare masterclass with Tata Harper at Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness. I left refreshed, renewed, impassioned and wanting to buy the entire line.
Tata Harper has created the next generation of skincare by staying true to an old world concept: her products are made, manufactured and shipped from her family farm in Vermont, and they’re actually natural. Not fake marketing “natural.” Her line is for the women out there like me who want luxury skincare options that don’t have any harmful chemicals, but also don’t compromise when it comes to comparing results to other designer beauty lines. Her products are truly good for your body and your skin, and they feel incredible to use. I had the opportunity to personally meet Tata and interview her about the path she has taken to create a revolutionary line in the beauty / wellness movement. My number one takeaway from her? Follow your instincts and be true to your intuition if you’re trying to blaze a trail.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Vermont?
I grew up in Barranquilla, Colombia which is on the coast of Colombia near Cartagena. I was born and raised there, and then I left Colombia after high school. I lived in Canada, I lived in Paris for a little bit, and then I moved to Monterrey [Mexico] where I finished my studies. After that I moved to Miami. While I was living there, my ex-husband and I bought our farm in Vermont. He was from New York City, and we knew we wanted to move back to New York, but we wanted to have a farm and that connection with nature. I grew up on farms in Colombia, and having land was something I really missed from my childhood.
What did you study in college and what was the dream career you envisioned for yourself?
I’ve been entrepreneurial since I was a little girl. In high school I had a fashion company with a friend of mine, and we used to make clothing for our friends. I wanted to study fashion design—it’s always been a passion. When it was time to go to college, my Mom was concerned that a degree in fashion design would be too limiting for my future career options, so she encouraged me to study something broader. I chose Industrial Engineering. It was actually great, I loved it. It gave me a strong background and it taught me how to think. At that point, I thought I would go on to be an Industrial Engineer.
How did your stepfather’s cancer diagnosis lead you to developing your natural line of skin care?
My stepfather got cancer about 13 years ago, but we had never had cancer in the family. He was coming to the U.S. for treatment and I was living in Miami at the time, so I volunteered to take him to all of his appointments. Just being on that journey with him and really listening to doctors over and over again—it wasn’t necessarily about the drugs, or the operations, or the chemotherapy—it was very focused on lifestyle. They would ask him what he ate, what he did every day, how much he slept…they asked him to bring in products he used in the house and in his life on a daily basis- what he was really in touch with.
Thinking about all of these things and watching my stepfather make changes to his lifestyle really stuck with me. I wanted to do this in my life too. I was in my late 20’s, I hadn’t had kids yet, and I wanted to make adjustments to my lifestyle early on so that I didn’t end up sick later in life. Once you know information about wellness and how to make adjustments to the way you live to be healthier, you can’t go back.
I first started with food, then moved into cleaning products, and really beauty was the last thing I changed. The natural products in supermarkets never appealed to me—I wasn’t a supermarket beauty buyer. I also couldn’t find things that were really, really natural in department stores or in luxury beauty stores. The products I wanted didn’t exist, to be quite honest. It was a product that was completely pure, that had a lot of ingredients, and was all about maximizing: when it comes to skincare, more is more. More ingredients give you more results. Out of the necessity of trying to find my own products to use, I was inspired to start the line I couldn’t find anywhere.
How long did it take you to go from your idea to the first shipment?
It took me a long time. Almost five years. I didn’t know how to make beauty products, so I had to learn everything and do the research on my own. You can’t really create a next generation product by doing the same thing everyone else has done. You have to break so many conventional wisdoms and barriers. I even had advisers from the beauty industry that were guiding me on how to produce and operate, but I always felt that what they were telling me didn’t make sense for our brand. It was challenging, because I would learn how products are currently made in the industry, and decide I didn’t want to make my line that way. So I just had to follow my instincts, and make decisions that I felt made the most sense for the business.
What is the biggest challenge that you find producing and shipping your line from your farm?
I decided that I wanted Tata Harper Skincare to operate completely vertically. I didn’t want to outsource anything because I wanted the products to be very fresh by the time they got to my clients. I wanted everything to be done on the farm: making the products, packaging the products, shipping the products—instead of subcontracting, which is the normal practice for the beauty industry.
I actually didn’t find challenges with doing all of this from the farm. Of course, you have to hire more employees and be on top of things managerially, but at the same time, it was the best decision for the company because this model removed a lot of extra steps and allowed us to have more control over our products.
How do you balance being a mother of three and Co-CEO of your own skin care line?
I think that I have found balance by really taking control of my schedule. Figuring out very far in advance when I need to be traveling, the important dates and vacation times for the kids, etc. I do this exercise at the end of every year where I map out all of the things that are nonnegotiable in my family life. From there, I map out when I am available to travel. It’s a lot of work, because you spend a lot of time planning your schedule, but then when it’s all set you have control and nobody else can take over.
In terms of husband and wife dynamics, even when my ex-husband and I were dating, we always worked together. We had a partnership dynamic that was really strong. As we both grew older, our priorities changed. We decided not to be married anymore, but we kept our business partnership and an amicable familial partnership in raising our three children. Things are really okay and the kids hardly notice the difference.
What Tata Harper skincare product can you not live without?
Elixir Vitae, the serum.
If you could have lunch with any woman (living or deceased), who would it be and why?
Probably Coco Chanel. I love how she was a pioneer for women in the business world. She grew up in an orphanage and overcame her background to create a huge life for herself. Starting her own business in the 1920’s that was financed by a lover and building it into one of the world’s biggest brands is remarkable and inspiring.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.