Victoria Tsai had problem skin.

She’d been suffering with acute dermatitis when a trip to Kyoto, Japan, changed everything, Tsai, chief executive officer of Tatcha, told attendees at the WWD Beauty Summit.

She met and befriended local geisha, and was amazed that under their white makeup they had nearly perfect skin. “I thought, I’ll have what she’s having, and I started using what they use,” Tsai said. The green tea, rice and seaweed-based formulas worked, and her skin conditions subsided.

Tsai was inspired to learn more about the beauty rituals of geisha, and eventually found a book filled with skin care and makeup rituals. “This one enterprising writer wrote it down,” Tsai said. “What they were doing. We got it, and we translated it and we started it bringing it back to life.”

She sold her car, sold her engagement ring and started Tatcha, which builds all of its product formulations from scratch “like a couture dress,” Tsai said. Tatcha takes its cues from the book, which has different chapters for skin care and makeup.

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She launched online and with Barneys New York. (Today, the brand is also sold in Mecca, Sephora and on QVC.)

“We felt in our hearts that digital and e-commerce was going to be one of the ways to bring a nuanced and deep story to clients in a meaningful way,” Tsai said.

Despite some retailers’ reactions that the brand was “too niche” (to which Tsai responded, “there’s nothing niche about making people feel special”) Tatcha took off, and Sephora came knocking — but it wasn’t time.

“They were one of the very first retailers to believe in us, but we weren’t big enough to be able to be a good partner to them until the end of 2015,” Tsai said.

The brand’s web-based storytelling ended up reciprocated — Tatcha sent letters to customers, and customers started sending them back.

“When you ask about skin, people tell you about life,” Tsai said. “They understand instinctively that their skin is a reflection of their soul. When you take care of their skin, you take care of their soul.”

That concept is one woven in throughout Tatcha’s entire ethos — from Tsai personally responding to customer Snapchat messages, to the company’s database that keeps track of customer details.

And it all comes back to geisha. “They make you feel like the most special person in the world,” Tsai said.

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