With a degree at Harvard Business School under her belt and years of experience with large companies, Victoria Tsai had the capability and drive to start her own company—she just didn’t know what she wanted to do. Restless, she began traveling, and while visiting Japan, life-changing inspiration struck. Tsai met a geisha and became enthralled with the heritage and craftsmanship of geisha beauty rituals, which she learned from her new friend and muse. In the process, she also found gentle and effective relief from acute dermatitis that had plagued her for years. Soon after, she launched Tatcha in 2009.

Below, Tsai tells us about the journey, from that chance encounter years ago to more recent milestones, like moving into the company’s first proper office space in San Francisco this month.

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Tsai in Kyoto with her muse, Kyoka.

THE IDEA

I spent a decade in the corporate world, first on Wall Street and then with big global brands. During one of my jobs, I developed acute dermatitis that no medications could resolve. I walked away one day feeling like I needed to find a different approach to beauty and to life and started traveling. My travels eventually took me to Kyoto, where a chance encounter with a geisha changed my life. She taught me a new approach to skincare—that less is more. I decided I wanted to create a beauty line and base it on a centuries-old beauty book, written in 1813, that captures the rituals of the geisha.

THE NAME

Tatcha is short for tatchibana, a classical Japanese art of flower arrangement that speaks to the beauty of simplicity. Our mission is to curate timeless Japanese rituals for those seeking beauty in their lives.

THE PLUNGE

When I decided to start Tatcha, I worked four jobs and sold my engagement ring to make it happen. We began with the Petal Fresh Original Aburatorigami Beauty Papers—they embody everything that I fell in love with in Kyoto. To me, they represent the geisha’s beauty rituals and the idea that the most exciting ideas may come from the past. I brought them to the West and hoped that I wasn’t the only one who would fall in love with them.

THE PIVOT

At first, no PR agencies would work with us; they said we didn’t have a story to tell. Instead, I worked directly with makeup artists, who were incredibly supportive, and they are really the ones who brought the brand to life. Our pivotal moment was the first time I saw Tatcha in Barneys New York—it was actually a dream come true!

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Though based in San Francisco, Tsai travels frequently to Tokyo, where the whole collection is manufactured and formulated.

THE TEAM

Most of our leadership team comes from big companies excited to work for a smaller organization. We all value what we’ve learned from our corporate experience but wanted to work for a values-driven company with the intimacy of a start-up. As we build the company, we are very careful to hire people whose values match the Tatcha values. Now we have about 50 members on the team.

THE MENTOR

Leslie Blodgett [CEO of Bare Escentuals] inspired me before I even knew her personally. She built an incredibly successful beauty brand as a mother and without the resources of a large company behind her. Now, she is my mentor and helps me think through the nuances of growing a company in an authentic way that honors your intentions, your value system, and your clients.

THE MAJOR

I was watching a movie the other day and spotted Tatcha in a scene—that was very exciting! Another major moment was when we finally moved the business out of my home and into an office space. Now, we have a beautiful office in San Francisco and over 50 employees, but it seems like yesterday that we were working out of my living room!

THE BEST PART

The people. Our clients send us gifts and letters from around the world telling us how Tatcha makes them feel beautiful and cared for. My colleagues have become my friends and family, and I would do anything to take care of them. And the girls that we get to impact through our Room to Read partnership—I was lucky enough to meet some of them in Cambodia, and they make every challenge we face absolutely worthwhile.

THE FUTURE

As I mentioned, Tatcha is based on a centuries-old beauty book that captures the rituals of the geisha. We started with skincare because it is Chapter One, Section One of the book. The Kyoto Red Silk Lipstick—our first makeup item—quickly sold out in Barneys New York. Perhaps it’s time to explore a new chapter!

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