Victoria Tsai was once worth negative one million dollars. Why was she in so much debt? One bold idea: taking care of your skin using a 200-year-old beauty routine.

Tsai is the founder of Japan-inspired beauty skin care line Tatcha. The high-end brand is based out of San Francisco and sold in the U.S. online, at Barney’s and on QVC and also at stores in Hong Kong. Tatcha is used by celebrity makeup artists and has received glowing reviews from Vogue, Oprah and the Wall Street Journal.However Tsai’s desire to share Japanese geishas’ beauty secrets is neither purely altruistic nor merely about business — she credits the geisha for solving her own acute skin problems.

In order to launch Tatcha, Tsai worked four jobs while pregnant, used all of her savings, maxed out multiple credit cards and sold her car and her engagement ring. (“I’m not going to lie — I miss it,” says Tsai of the ring.) 

The route to Tatcha was paved with personal intentions. Tsai, the daughter of two Taiwanese immigrants, had ruined her skin while interning at a prestige skin care brand while at Harvard Business School, testing skin care products on herself for competitive research.

She quit her job and traveled to major innovation centers for skin care and cosmetics: France, Germany and Japan. “My intention was to hopefully figure out a makeup solution that I could feel good about and also cover up my messed-up face,” she says. While in Kyoto, she hired Japanese translators and tracked down the aburatorigami manufacturers, and they introduced her to the very private world of geisha.

“The woman who walked up was such a work of art — living and breathing art,” recounts Tsai. “I saw them with their makeup off. Their skin is like a Boticelli painting, whether they’re 80 or 20, their skin had that same quality.”
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