Recently I was lucky enough to chat with Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia Organics, a whole-body products line.
We talked about quitting your job, soapmaking, and owning a business.
What were you doing before Osmia?
I was working part-time as an ER doctor, and full-time as a mama to two young girls. I loved the ER, and really enjoyed working as a team with the nurses and techs to care for a whole bunch of patients at once. The pressure was okay for me – I have one of those personalities that grow calmer as the surrounding panic increases, which seriously came in handy training in Washington, D.C. But there were a few things missing for me, and it created some inner turbulence about my career path. I wanted to be in a better position to inspire people to make simple, educated choices that would make them feel healthier and happier, rather than putting out fires once they had already been started.
Did you have any experience making beauty products before making the jump? How big was the risk you were taking?
I had zero experience making beauty products. I took a local class in soap making, and was instantly obsessed. I could tell I was going to get the hang of it quickly because of my chemistry background, and because of a serious, lifelong love for lotions and potions. (I still remember watching my mother apply her Clarins face oil – the smell would absolutely bring tears to my eyes right now.)
As far as the risk, it depends on your perspective. My husband and I decided that we would be able to support our family financially while I went from an earning job to a not-at-all-earning job. So, in that sense, it was not terribly risky.
But I had worked really hard for many years to become an ER doctor, and it felt pretty scary to step away from that identity. I’m the daughter of a prototypic academic – a law professor – and it was difficult to imagine saying: “Dad, I’m leaving medicine. I’m gonna be a soapmaker now.” I guess it’s a question of growing up and figuring out who you want to be and what really matters to you, even if you’re 38 and already a doctor when it happens. (And he, of course, is still a proud papa. Silly me.)
How did you come up with the idea for the company? What inspired you?
The idea for the company came after a conversation with my college roommate, a lawyer who started a business making children’s bath products. When she told me about it, a little switch flipped in my brain – I think I actually heard it flip. That conversation was what prompted me to take the soap making class, and once I had made soap, I had to make everything else. I wanted to create a deeply natural, totally honest company making uniquely beautiful products for uniquely beautiful people. I also hoped those products would remind them to cherish themselves, their loved ones, and this precious life.
I was inspired to make the career change by a perfect little storm of life events – the birth of my second daughter and subsequent death of my lovely mom. When she died, it was like the entire timeline of my life was suddenly compressed, and I had great clarity about how fast it would all go. From there, I quickly mustered the courage to pursue my passion.
Where do you get the ingredients for the products? I’m imagining someone traversing through fields snipping flowers — am I far off?
Actually, we do harvest the lavender from our property in Colorado – a really wonderful ritual for me and my daughters every year. But, most of our ingredients are not locally sourced, as we can’t grow olives or avocados or shea nuts in these mountains! We research all of our suppliers, and make sure we are using top-quality, ethically-sourced ingredients, with organic certification whenever possible.
What’s the best part about owning your own business? What’s the worst?
The best part of owning the business, for me, is using my brain in a very full way, encompassing photography, writing, marketing, formulation, packaging decisions, staffing, environmentalism, team-building, and figuring out how to be an effective CEO. It’s been amazing to see my personal passion grow into something that our staff and customers are passionate about, too.
The worst part about owning the business is that my brain gets a little tired and muddled some days, and there’s nobody above me to handle the tough questions. But, being a mom and a doctor has trained me to handle that scenario pretty well: you flail about in your own frustration for a few hours or days, and then you snap yourself out of it and move forward.
What is your favorite product you’ve made?
These are always the toughest questions, like someone is asking me to pick my favorite daughter. (Would you believe me if I told you that I say goodnight – out loud – to the products when I leave the store at night? If you did believe me, would you think I was crazy? Hypothetically, of course.)
My favorite product is usually the one I’m making or wearing at the moment. We have a few new body oils in the works, and we can’t wait to release one this spring – the scent is totally intoxicating. Working with such beautiful ingredients is like an endless romance – I still fall in love with it all, every single day.
If you go on a trip, what do you always bring with you?
I always bring soap and body oil – hotel soaps and lotions leave me incredibly itchy and usually smelling of some synthetic fragrance that bothers me all day. I have become so accustomed to the moisturizing qualities of our soap that it really only takes one use of a different one to make my skin protest.
What’s next for Osmia?
We have so much goodness happening! We will have a few new products this year, mostly for the body and bath. We are looking forward to expanding our wholesale accounts, and to sniffing out unique shops in more cities across the US where people will be able to try Osmia in person. And, we are also always on the lookout for amazing team members – finding the right people with passion and integrity to join our crew is pretty exciting stuff.