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 soap making class at a local ranch. It was not the headline I had envisioned for my life: Emergency Physician with Zero Business Experience Who Rarely Wears Makeup or Combs Her Hair Launches Natural Skincare Company! But I know love when I feel it, and when I took that class, I fell in love.
I grew up in Washington, D. C., and completed college, medical school, and my emergency medicine residency there. But having visited my brother in the mountains of Colorado since the early 90s, I knew I needed to move my life here. 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 three months old when she came home with me to say goodbye to her grandmother. We were lucky enough to be there to watch her move from this world to the next: the most beautifully heartbreaking moment of my life.
Upon my return, with a crystallized understanding of how short life is, I had some big thinking to do. After almost ten years of practice in the emergency department, I felt unsettled about working in a system that didn't make sense to me. After watching my mom try so hard (and fail) to beat cancer, it was upsetting to see how many of my patients had absolutely no interest in contributing to their own health. I started wondering how I could inspire them to be more curious, more involved, more accountable when it came to their wellness.
When I took the soap making class, it was as if something came into focus for me. I had been obsessed with lotions and potions for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I would watch my mom applying her face oils, and it was one of the rare times I saw her slow down, breathe deeply, and drop into the moment. If I could create healthy products with extraordinary ingredients, maybe that would entice people to care for themselves (and the earth) with greater intention.
I spent almost two years in a converted storage room in my friend Judi’s house, figuring out how to make stuff. I let myself out to eat, see my family, read to my babies, exercise, and work my shifts in the ER. 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 came 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 healthier habits while lightening our impact on the planet.
In the spring of 2011, I weighed my options: keep a foot in the ER and a foot in Osmia, or close my eyes and jump. I could hear my mother saying "Honey, do what you love." With the incredible support of my husband and daughters, I jumped!
We launched the store and the website in April of 2012. I'll never forget waiting breathlessly with Monika (the only other employee) 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 Osmia is a broader brand of medicine—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.