Tata Harper Makes You Feel Like A Natural Woman
If anyone can convince you to retire your trove of synthetic beauty products, it’s Tata Harper. The Colombia-born natural skincare guru lives on a sprawling farm in Vermont, on which she grows many of the ingredients in her elegantly packaged, 100 percent natural face and body care range, which launched online last October and in stores just last month. A few nights spent slathering on her Rejuvenating Serum, and we were fast fans; Harper’s totally flawless, radiant complexion—which we got to witness firsthand when we met up with her to talk natural beauty this week—was just further evidence of her eponymous line’s efficacy. Here, she enlightens us about setting up shop on the organic farming belt, the power of palm, and why the eco-chic movement is about to take over.
So what first motivated you to start your own line?
I just couldn’t find any products I liked to use. At the time, my stepfather had been diagnosed with cancer, and going to treatments with him at the doctor, I began to realize just how toxic all the stuff we put on topically is for our skin. The first thing his doctors did when he went into treatment was get him off all the synthetic products, like shampoos and deodorants, and switch him to a more natural regimen. And I had never thought about that connection. We all deserve to have things that will make us look and feel beautiful that aren’t full of chemicals.
Ingredients are obviously a top priority for you. Have you always been into farming or did that come about with the interest in products?
Well, I already had the farm in Vermont when I started the line. My husband and I bought it seven years ago and we just love it up there because it’s so authentic; we are in the organic farming belt! In the beginning, I didn’t think we were going to source ingredients from the farm for the line because I was just interested in getting the highest-quality naturals that would be good for skin, and I didn’t know if that would necessarily grow in our region and climate. So I worked backwards to it. Now we get anti-inflammatory, soothing, and moisturizing ingredients from our farm that I know we can grow well in the clay soil of Lake Champlain. The remaining 80 percent of ingredients are sourced from farms I have found around the world. We get ingredients from the Amazon, from Israel, from the Czech Republic, from the U.K., from France, from Tasmania, from New Zealand—from all over.
Did you encounter any challenges in the beginning trying to create a high-end natural product?
When I started the line, I wanted to make something that wasn’t just 100 percent natural but could eventually be 100 percent organic. But I encountered a couple of different obstacles, which is why it took four years to complete. If I wanted to make a product that was 100 perfcent natural, I needed to use a 100 percent natural emulsifier. We found one that comes from palms that really works great, and I import it from Brazil. Palms don’t need fertilizers, so being organic comes down to the farming technique. The other challenge was how to get farmers from other countries to come on and still get the USDA organic seal. So right now the line ranges from 79 percent organic to 100 percent organic, but it is 100 percent natural and I’m working with my farmers to help them make the transition. It’s just a matter of time, but that’s the goal.
It seems like finding a stable, natural preservative typically poses the biggest problem. How did you deal with that issue?
After testing maybe 25 different natural preservatives, we eventually found one that we love. It’s a radish root that we bring in from Tasmania, and it’s wonderful and gives us a year’s shelf life. But regardless, even if you have a natural preservation system, you need to be careful—like the products can’t be in jars, for example; you need pumps so people don’t put their hands in them, making them more easily contaminated. But the radish root preserves the product for a year as long as you’re not introducing hands and other things into the emulsions.
So keep away from small children and curious roommates then, yes? What about the packaging—is that green-minded, too?
The packaging took a very long time because I am totally against using plastics. Plastic containers can leak, and I’m a huge environmentalist, so I wanted to do everything in glass. I had to use pumps because of my preservation system, and unfortunately there are none made entirely from recycled materials because there’s a spring mechanism. But all of my collateral material is made from post-consumer waste fiber and it’s all green inks. The labels are made from limestone paper so they are treeless, and we recycle all our cardboard, often shredding it to use as filler. All our facilities run on cow power (we get an energy credit from the state of Vermont), and we produce so much on our farm that it helps with our carbon footprint. We try to contribute as much as we can.
Sounds like it. What about wooing that high-end consumer? Do you think women who only buy prestige skincare will ever go totally natural?
The luxury consumer is who we are going for, and I think all those women are ready. Both the company and I do tons of events and seminars with the Environmental Working Group so we can get information to people. Sometimes you assume that everyone knows how important natural ingredients are, but often they just think it’s about the environment, they don’t associate it with beauty. They don’t realize that being natural is about more than just saving the planet; it has to do with your health. We have never been in contact with so many chemicals as we are today, so that’s why it’s important to keep your toxic load as low as possible. And if you find a product that is as beautifying and powerful as any of the synthetic ones why take the risk? That’s my philosophy.—Fiorella Valdesolo
Photo: Courtesy of Tata Harper