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Updated: 2:16 p.m. Monday, May 28, 2012 | Posted: 2:10 p.m. Monday, May 28, 2012

Tata Harper takes skincare from man-made to handmade.



By Nedra Rhone

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Growing up, Tata Harper was surrounded by beauty -- and not just the natural beauty of her  forher native Colombia.

"I grew up in a family where the women were obsessed with beauty," said Harper. "They used all sorts of potions and creams."

Harper's grandmother was known for mixing up cosmetic concoctions so enticing that even Harper's father submitted to facials. When Harper left home, she discovered that Americans had a different philosophy of beauty.

"Americans want to just do one product or one thing. In Latin America , we are like, ‘what other products can we use?'" Harper said. As an adult, her beauty fanatic past would serve her well.

Two years ago, Harper founded an eponymous line of high-end skincare products with ingredients that are all-natural, and mostly certified organic. She grows many of the ingredients on her 1,200 acre farm in Vermont, where she also makes, packages and distributes the products. The collection quickly gained converts on the coasts and arrived locally this spring at Exhale Mind Body Spa in Midtown.

With certifications from several respected organizations including Leaping Bunny (no animal testing), the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EcoCert, Europe's standard for environmentally friendly products and practices, Tata Harper Skincare is part of a growing number of independent brands intent on proving that natural skincare can be as effective as it is safe.

Horst Rechelbacher, best known as founder of Aveda Corporation, recently launched Intelligent Nutrients -- a collection of hair, skin, body care that is food-based, non-toxic and contains organic ingredients.  Rechelbacher, who sold Aveda to Estee Lauder in the late 1990s, also grows some ingredients for Intelligent Nutrients on his farm in Wisconsin. The brand boasts five certifications including the USDA Organic seal and Leaping Bunny.

Unlike Rechelbacher, who began his career in the beauty industry at age 14, Harper is an industrial engineer by trade. In 2001, when her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, Harper -- who served as his translator -- learned through conversations with his doctors that lifestyle choices would play an important role in his recovery.

"The doctor explained that all the products we use every single day until we die give daily exposure to many toxins and many chemicals that are linked to different cancers," said Harper. "I was thinking about my own closet back home."

Harper was using high-end department store brands to care for her skin. She knew all natural lines existed, but they were basic supermarket brands far removed from the luxury products she preferred. So she decided to to create her own brand.

"What I wanted to bring was a line that was created by a woman for a woman that was truly good," she said. "Yes, you want natural but you also want it to work."

In the five years of development for her line, Harper located visionaries in the field of natural cosmetics -- eight in total -- including an aromatherapist, a biologist, and an expert in cosmetic preservation. She decided early to create the line from scratch, rather than rely on the pre-made bases many manufacturers offer.

By then, Harper was married, living on a farm in Vermont and on her way to being a mother of three. The farm became her laboratory. When considering ingredients, she only used those that had research and testing to support their effectiveness.  Her vision was to have a 100 percent natural and 100 percent certified organic line, but because she sources organic ingredients from around the world -- in countries such as Israel, for example -  getting an organic certification wasn't always possible. She did manage to create a fully natural line without using a single synthetic ingredient.

Each of the 14 products in Tata Harper Skincare comes in eco-friendly glass bottles wrapped in paper packaging that features the percentage of organic ingredients. Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum ($150), the cornerstone of the collection, features 29 active ingredients such as arnica, calendula and willow bark extract. The other products include cleansers ($50), Hydrating Floral Essence ($65), Resurfacing Mask ($55), moisturizers ($100), eye cream ($90), Replenishing Nutrient ($45) , and body oil ($90) and aromatherapy oils.

Treatment, said Harper is her main focus for now. "I think it is important for a company when it is really young to have a focus," she said. "At the moment, I want to concentrate on treatment where there is a really big gap in the market."

The main challenge she said, is getting consumers to believe that all natural products are really effective. That is one reason she chose to sell her products at Exhale Mind Body Spas  -- the international lifestyle brand created by fitness and beauty experts to promote well-being of the mind and body. "I wanted it to be a place where people that were serious about their beauty products...or people who were healthy and had a holistic approach to beauty [shop]," she said. "I thought [Exhale] was an amazing fit for the line." The products can also be purchased online.

Harper said more retailers in the Atlanta area are coming soon, as more and more, local women are seeking out her products.

"Innovation is propelled by the people," she said. "It starts small and grows into something big."

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