The first thing you need to know about Tata Harper is that she glows. Not like a space alien or a person who has stood too long in front of a microwave oven. No, Harper’s incandescence is something entirely different. Fashion magazines might say it’s her inner beauty shining through, but that would be wrong.
Harper can thank genetics for her slim figure and runway-model cheekbones, but her radiance is the product of her eponymous, all-natural skin-care line, which is made in small batches on her farm in Addison County. A little dollop of her eco-luxe rebuilding moisturizer here, a little spritz of hydrating floral essence there and a squeeze or two of rejuvenating serum for good measure, and Harper’s skin looks like it has just been treated to an hourlong facial. Yes, you should be jealous.
The second thing you need to know about this 35-year-old mother of two is that, though she’s into beauty, she is anything but vapid. Her shrewdness and intellect are evident when she holds forth on supply chains and material sourcing as readily as she does on pore reduction and wrinkle prevention. An industrial engineer by training and a natural-born businesswoman, Harper identified a gap in the skin-care market and set about filling it.
So far, Tata Harper Skincare has been wildly successful. Since late 2009, when Harper launched it in earnest, every fashion and beauty blogger worth her DiorShow mascara has raved about the synthetics-free line. Vogue loves her products, as do the tastemakers at Vanity Fair and the New York Times style blogs. At New York’s recent Fashion Week, Harper’s lotions and potions showed up on models pounding the runways of designers Bodkin and Porter Grey.
Despite Harper’s growing influence in chic fashion circles, in Vermont she’s a relative unknown. That’s not surprising, considering that in her rural environs a beauty regimen might mean a scrub with Mane ’n Tail and a slap of Bag Balm. Here in the Green Mountains, our mud masks tend to happen accidentally: in the spring, after the snow has melted.
But as Harper’s business grows — currently, it’s doing about $100,000 a month, she says — it’s hard not to take notice, especially when Vermont itself is part of the company’s marketing scheme.
Harper isn’t a native Vermonter, though she’s as comfortable trudging through paddock muck as any woodchuck. She and her husband, Henry, a real estate developer and gentleman farmer, bought their 1200-acre property called Julius Kingdom six years ago because they “wanted to be in a place where farming was happening,” she says. There, Henry runs Julius Kingdom Artisanal Foods, which sells grass-fed, hormone-free Scottish Highland beef raised on the farm, as well as lamb.
Harper was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, a city of 2 million on the northern coast of the country. Hip-shaker Shakira, “Modern Family” bombshell Sofia Vergara and scathing reality-TV fashion editor Nina Garcia are all native daughters of Harper’s birth city.
Her parents divorced when she was a child, forcing her mother to seek work — uncommon for middle-class Colombian women of her ilk. To make ends meet, Harper’s mother founded two businesses and recruited her two daughters to take care of things such as billing and event planning.
Harper didn’t resent being put to work; she embraced it. “I have worked all my life,” she says. “I love working. It gives me a really good satisfaction to get things done and see them to fruition.” She credits her mother with her industriousness.
Not only was she helping run her mother’s businesses as a teenager, but Harper was also working for herself. After spending the summer in Paris studying fashion design, she returned to Colombia to start her own clothing line, which she ran until she graduated from high school.
After high school, Harper moved to Québec City for six months to learn French and then on to Paris to study engineering. She finished her degree in Monterrey, Mexico, where she had moved with a boyfriend.
On a trip home to Colombia, Harper met the man who would become her husband, a real estate developer from New York City. Both were in town for a graduation and encountered each other on a trip to the bathroom.
They married in 2004 and moved to Miami, where Henry Harper had real estate interests. There, Tata considered starting a cosmetics business — she’d always been a “beauty aficionado” and thought she could combine her technical training with her interest in the fashion industry.
Harper’s introduction to natural beauty products came at a young age, when her grandmother would mix up tinctures and tonics in her kitchen. All the ingredients her abuela used came from the earth. Harper delighted in sharing those products with her friends, whom she calls her “guinea pigs.”
But it wasn’t until her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer that Harper began to think seriously about natural skin-care products. At the Mayo Clinic, where he was treated, Harper learned about all the chemicals — some carcinogenic, she says — that are allowed in cosmetics. Even her favorite La Prairie moisturizers and toners weren’t free of toxins.
The discovery both disturbed and inspired her. “I came back with this commitment that I didn’t want to put cancer juice all over my face,” Harper says. “But I couldn’t find anything without chemicals.”
Knowing that she couldn’t be the only woman interested in chemical-free skin-care products, Harper set off in search of an all-natural solution. Years of research and development have gone into her products, which are anything but toxic. Harper’s offerings contain dozens of active ingredients, many of them organic, from calendula to borage to meadowsweet. Though the price point of her product range is high — a 50-milliliter bottle of reparative moisturizer runs $100 — there is no shortage of buyers looking to convert to an all-natural beauty regime.
Kim St. John, pharmacist at Waterbury Pharmacy, one of only two Vermont shops that carry Harper’s products, says a handful of customers swear by Tata Harper Skincare, despite the cost. “We have some real believers who see a difference,” she says. “I think people are becoming more aware of the benefits of all-natural products, and they want less chemicals.”
At Waterfalls Day Spa in Middlebury, clients had been requesting organic facials. After researching all-natural offerings, the spa staff chose to use Tata Harper products for its Vermont Anti-Aging Organic Facial. This is because, raves owner Sara Daly, the skin-care line is “exceptional” and “makes your skin feel amazing.” Plus, since the products are made in Vermont with ingredients grown in Addison County, Daly felt they worked well as part of a local, holistic skin-care plan.
Harper’s rapidly growing eight-person operation at Julius Kingdom works elbow to elbow in a converted milking parlor. There, they blend, bottle and package the products. This summer, Harper hopes to expand to another barn.
In addition to their Whiting property, which boasts two sizable farmhouses and a menagerie of rescued animals, the Harpers maintain an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan overlooking the American Museum of Natural History. They commute between the two homes by private plane.
Most of Harper’s ingredients are sourced outside Vermont — in Israel, the Czech Republic and the Amazon region of Brazil, among other exotic locales — but she does grow some of the botanicals on her farm. “By choosing to grow our own stuff, we have more quality control,” Harper says. It also adds to the cachet of the brand and of Harper herself. Not only does she look great, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty to achieve that beauty.
Harper’s enthusiasm for her concoctions verges on evangelism. She preaches the gospel of all-natural skin care every chance she gets. “It’s a total upgrade from using synthetics: the way it feels, the implications for your health,” she says of her line. “The whole formula with naturals is biocompatible.”
Any skepticism fades when you see Harper’s radiant skin. She is a walking endorsement of Tata Harper Skincare.
“I made this product for myself,” she says. “And my skin keeps getting better.”