In 2009, after years of working for large corporations like Starbucks, Vicky Tsai found herself feeling adrift and unfulfilled by her work. She was also struggling with acute dermatitis — the result of testing out too many different skincare products or, as she said, “treating [her] face like a science project.”
In search of a new approach to both beauty and life, she set off for a few months of travel, eventually finding herself in Japan, where she was inspired to launch Tatcha Beauty, a company bent on the age-old beauty rituals of the geisha that many Japanese women still follow today. “They healed my skin and soul,” she said.
Tatcha began with one product, its best-selling Aborutoragami Blotting Sheets. The gold-flecked papers (used for clearing excess oil on the face) became a quick hit with makeup artists and celebrities, and prompted Tsai to expand her line into a full skincare range in 2012.
Tatcha Beauty products
Today, her products, which include the popular Water Cream and Luminous Dewy Skin Mist, are sold everywhere from Sephora to Barneys. The bulk of these products run between $30 and $180.
“We create each of our formulas from scratch, using ingredients that have been beloved for centuries and proven by science,” she said, referencing the trifecta of green tea, rice brand and Okinawa algae that serve as the line’s foundation.
We asked Tsai, who splits her time between Japan and San Francisco, to detail a recent day in her life, which included “mono-dressing,” a Facebook Live chat and referencing a beauty book from 1813.
4:30 a.m.: Since I’m in San Francisco, I’m up early to start my day. I always set the coffee to start brewing at this time, which wakes up our three cats. Alexander Hamilton, the kitten of the crew, then hops onto the bed and wakes us up with aggressive purring and kisses. I take a long shower, which is my best thinking time, and use our Deep Cleanse to lift away dirt and debris and unclog my pores. In the mornings, I also always follow this with our Essence (which makes skincare more effective), and the Silk Cream to help nourish my skin and seal in moisture.
5:00 a.m: I love the quiet time hours of the morning to go through emails and get organized for the day. I’ll either have a big cup of coffee, or whisk together some matcha green tea, or both, to fuel the morning. Today, it’s coffee. We recently moved to a house on the water so I can hear the morning sounds of the ocean while I work, which is so soothing.
6:30 a.m.: My 7-year-old daughter, Alea, is also an early riser. When she’s up, we both have “coffee” in bed (hers is hot chocolate), and my husband Eric makes breakfast. I started “mono-dressing” a couple years ago to save myself from too much decision-fatigue in the mornings, so I throw on a black blouse, leggings and boots, pull my hair in a bun, swipe on one of our red lipsticks, and head out the door.
8:00 a.m.: Alea is in the second grade at a school near our office and Eric works at Tatcha with me so we all commute together and spend the 45-minute drive catching up with each other. It’s so refreshing to see the world through a 7-year old’s eyes.
9:00 a.m.: Once I’m in the office, the meetings begin. On Mondays, we have a team-wide meeting, which we always begin with a love letter from one of our customers. Starting off with their kind words always gives us energy for the day and reminds us why we exist.
10:00 a.m.: I spend some time with our design team to walk through packaging for upcoming gift sets. One of my favorite parts of the day is exploring Japanese art and design for inspiration, and then seeing it come to life thanks to our incredible team.
12:00 p.m.: I’ll have some lunch during meetings; today, it’s sushi. I’m meeting with my colleague Nami, who discovered this beauty book from 1813 that is essentially the foundation of our skincare collection. We’re planning our next trip to Kyoto, which means scheduling time with our geisha friends, arranging a photoshoot and, very importantly, planning where to eat.
Tsai meeting with a geisha in Japan
1:00 p.m.: I try to schedule some time each day without meetings so that I can catch up on my email inbox and get some work done. I get about 450 emails each day. Today I’m also using this time to brainstorm potential names for one of our newest products.
2:00 p.m: Back to meetings. I spend some time one-on-one with as many people as I can to tell them about my most recent trip and hear about what happened in the office while I was gone. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is growing and developing the team, so I love hearing their take on the day. I also spend time with our customer service team, which we call the Customer Love team. They’re incredibly close with our customers, and are the beating heart of the brand.
4:00 p.m.: Our Tatcha Institute team [which works on product formulas] in Japan is in the office by now, so we video call to play with some formula samples they’ve sent us, give feedback in real time and talk through product development plans for the next two years or so.
Each of our formulas is made from scratch, like a couture dress, so there are a lot of details and ingredients to work through. The book that inspires our collection is seven chapters across three volumes and skincare is only chapter one, so we’re excited to keep exploring.
5:00 p.m.: Our friends at the nonprofit Room to Read [which benefits girls schools in developing countries] are in the office to hold a joint Facebook Live session with us. Each full-size skincare purchase we sell funds a day of school for an incredible girl through Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. I’m honored to share the stage with John Wood, Room to Read’s founder, where we talk about the impact of educating girls, as well as his backstory.
6:00 p.m.: Eric picked up our daughter a while ago and brought her back to the office, so she’s currently tucked under his standing desk, reading a book. I get her ready to go and we drive home (it takes about 30 minutes) while sharing stories from our day. Dinner is at a cozy little Japanese restaurant in our neighborhood.
7:30 p.m.: I always put on a face mask while Alea and I do bedtime reading — tonight I’m using one of our uber-hydrating masks — it increases the skin’s hydration by 200 percent in just 15 minutes.
8:30 p.m.: Alea is tucked in and I get into bed soon after. I read The New York Times for a bit — anything that doesn’t have to do with beauty or business — but fall asleep quickly to the sound of barking sea lions. Tomorrow will be another early day.