SARAH VILLAFRANCO, MD
Sarah Villafranco, MD is a graduate of Georgetown University Medical School, and completed her training in emergency medicine at George Washington University. She practiced at Aspen Valley Hospital, Valley View Hospital, and the Snowmass Clinic in the Roaring Fork Valley.
I started Osmia in early 2012, a couple years after taking a local soap making class. It was not something I planned. At all. But it was love—immediately.
I grew up in Washington, DC. I completed college, medical school, and my emergency medicine residency there. But having traveled to visit my brother in the mountains of Colorado since the early 90s, I knew I needed to move my life here. Every time the plane landed in Aspen, I had a deep, wonderful, settling feeling in my chest. Luckily, my husband felt the same way, and we relocated to Carbondale when our oldest daughter was two.
Shortly after we arrived here—after 32 years of living within a mile of my mom—she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our second daughter was 3 months old when I took her back home with me to my mother's house. We were lucky enough to be there to watch her move from this world to the next: it was the most beautiful and heartbreaking moment of my life.
Upon my return, and newly motherless, I had some thinking to do. I knew I didn’t want to follow in my mom's footsteps and spend far too much time working long hours away from my family, so I worked part-time. After almost ten years of practice, though, I became unsettled about working within a system that didn't make sense to me. The paperwork, the dictations, and the constant hum of worry in my brain about the existence of human error—I could miss something with a potentially devastating result. More upsetting than all of those combined was that many of my patients had absolutely no interest in contributing to their own health. Had we trained people to look to us, the doctors, for their wellness instead of starting at the source?
One day, while on the phone with my college roommate (a lawyer), she told me she had spent the last year making children’s natural bath products in her kitchen, and that she was starting a company and making a go of it (mytruenature.net). When she said it, it was as if something came into focus for me. I had been obsessed with lotions and potions (as my husband calls them) for as long as I could remember. Why not try to figure out how to make them myself, and make them naturally, using only ingredients that I really wanted to put on my skin and that didn't harm the earth? I enrolled in a soap making class, thinking it could become a fun hobby.
After that first day making soap, though, my brain changed. I thought about soaps and lotions and scents constantly. I remembered, or perhaps realized, that I loved chemistry. It consumed me, like when you fall in love and that person is the very first thing on your mind in the morning and the very last thing on your mind when you close your eyes at night. I dreamed about it. I still dream about it.
I spent almost two years in a converted storage room in my great friend Judi’s house, figuring out how to make stuff. I let myself out to eat, see my family, nurse my baby, exercise, and work a few shifts in the hospital. I made innumerable batches of awful, unusable lotions. I cried over emulsifiers. I exploded a pot of liquid soap. I shrieked with joy when i made my first successful cream. I made my face a living laboratory, and suffered flares of my perioral dermatitis when I used too many products. I took every class I could, and studied all of it endlessly, often long after my girls and my husband had fallen asleep.
Slowly, it all started to come together. I realized I didn't have to give up medicine to pursue my new dream: I could find an artful way to combine them. Just as there was a way to combine oil and sodium hydroxide to make beautiful soap, there was a way to create a company that inspired daily wellness in people while lightening our impact on the planet.
In the spring of 2011, I started weighing options: keep a foot in the ER and a foot in Osmia, or shift my weight and jump. I could hear my mother saying "Honey, just do what you love." With the incredible support of my husband and daughters (and still scared out of my mind), I jumped.
I leased a commercial space in Carbondale. We put together a green facility with a small retail space, a soap making area, a perfumery station, and two clean rooms for making skin care products. I had one employee, Monika, who is still our production manager. We launched the store and the website in April of 2012. I'll never forget waiting breathlessly with Monika for a crushing flood of visitors to find our new website. After an eternity of silence, we heard a little ding, high-fived each other, and ran off to fulfill our first order. Today, our team is up to 23 amazing people, and we occupy about seven times our original space.
I love what I do now more than I could ever have imagined. I miss a few things about the ER, but feel like I am practicing a broader brand of medicine now—energizing people to engage in their own wellness through skin health and sensory experience. Above all, I want our products to remind people of their own power, through simple daily choices, to be joyfully alive.
Because that's the best medicine I could ever have the privilege of prescribing.