Q+A With Doctor
Sarah Villafranco MD
Osmia (pronounced oz~mee~uh), while not a word in the dictionary, is defined by the story behind our featured January 2016 brand, Osmia Organics, and its’ founder, Doctor of Emergency Medicine, Sarah Villafranco, MD. Osmia means ‘A sense of who you are, why you’re here, and all the ways you choose to be happy’. What might skincare have to do with this? The answer lies in the ‘beauty’ found in healthy, truly natural skincare and the realization that it has the potential to influence more than just your skin, but your whole body by engaging your senses. Sarah’s vision for Osmia Organics is that the interaction with the range of skin and body care products she crafts and blends helps us return to our senses, intending that each bar of soap and drop of oil might offer us a prescription to return to our nature, purpose and wellbeing. Having had the opportunity to meet Dr. Sarah on several occasions, I have experienced her passion for health, fun, and nature and how she infuses her products and every touch point in her company with these elements. Discovering Osmia Organics has been fulfilling, joyful and completely sense enlivening, as is this interview. En-joy!
What were your origins in creating skincare? How did you learn the art of formulating?
After taking a soap-making class, I became obsessed with the idea of making natural skincare – as though a little switch had flipped in my brain. I have always loved luxury potions, and I realized that my background in science would make me a fast learner, both from a research standpoint, and concerning the chemistry of formulation. Even so, it was a messy process: I made some seriously ugly soap in the beginning! But, I am nothing if not doggedly persistent. Once I figured out how to formulate soap that was incredibly nourishing to the skin and artful in appearance, I set my sights on doing the same for a full array of products.
Perioral dermatitis played a big role in my desire to create a whole line – I had struggled with it for about a year, and when I created the Black Clay Facial Soap, I finally saw some changes in my skin. That change inspired me to create other products that could help people with similar issues. From there, the line expanded to address other concerns like acne and eczema.
How has being a Doctor informed how you approach product development?
It has informed me in almost every way, really. Working in the hospital environment around drug reps made me really aware of the claims people make about what their products can do for you, and I learned the importance of being an informed consumer. Now, when researching the ingredients that go into our products, I feel fortunate to understand the scientific method. You can tell me something will perform a certain way until you’re quite blue, but I am going to try it myself, study it, observe it, test it, take notes on it, and ditch it if it doesn’t meet my standards.
What’s your workspace like? Can you tell us a little about the team behind Osmia?
I started out in a windowless storage room in a friend’s house (and will be forever grateful to her). I used a giant plastic tub with a sump pump as the drain. After almost 4 years, we are in a 3000 sq. ft. studio, with warehouse ceilings, tons of natural light, and incredible views of Mount Sopris, the 13,000-foot mountain that stands guard over our little town. The space was finished with environmentally conscious, non-toxic materials, like huge slabs of beetle-kill pine – I’m a big fan of materials that make you want to touch them. We have a massive custom soap rack, and a great kitchen area where we intersect throughout the day.
As for the team, I am deeply blessed. It starts with my husband, who looked at me like I was smoking something when I announced that I wanted to leave medicine to start Osmia. That look lasted about three seconds, and then he realized I was serious. He has been my unwavering supporter in every conceivable way since the beginning. Monika, our production manager, is a passionate perfectionist about making our products, and she’s teaching the art of it all to her assistant, Pola. Our clientele specialist, Ashlie, packs most of the orders and handles our customer service with unimaginable grace. She gets great support from Kenzie and Sarah – we still do all production and packaging in-house, so we need many talented hands! Our lovely director of operations, Taja, is heading on to new adventures this year, but we just brought on two new team members, Brittany and Mary, and I can’t wait to see how their talents help grow the brand.
I could not thank my crew enough if I spent all my days trying. This is my passion, and they have jumped on the train with faith that I’m steering it somewhere awesome – that alone inspires me to be my best every day.
What’s been the biggest discovery for you lately in terms of the creative process – or in creating a specific new product?
You can’t rush any aspect of the process, from inception to testing to getting the packaging just right. That doesn’t mean we drag our feet, but when something doesn’t feel completely right, even if it’s a really great product, I won’t move ahead with production until it’s perfect. It can be very frustrating, especially when your team wants to launch something in time for a holiday or a season, but making the product exceptional has to take priority.
When it’s time to create a new product, how do you begin?
I close my eyes. I make notes, with a pen and paper. I pull out the ingredients. And then I savor the process of making something new – it’s my favorite part of my job.
How often do you make a new product? How long does that process take?
We’ve made a bunch lately, but there’s no set schedule. The process is different every time. Sometimes a skin care issue, like perioral dermatitis or acne, drives the process. Sometimes an idea is the impetus, like our recently launched Osmia Organics Gem Series body oils, based on the concept of ancient royalty and what they might have used on their skin. And sometimes it’s a smell in nature – like smoke in the winter air or wet earth in the spring – that inspires me to create.
You just launched your newest Hero Product, Nectar Vital Rose Drops, can you tell us more about and how it fits in with the rest of the Osmia collection?
This was a product that came together as a result of me playing with some really beautiful ingredients. I wanted a simple, effective combination of botanical oils with some ultra-luxe, highly therapeutic essential oils. After several months of using it, we all realized there was something nearly magical about it. It seems to have a potentiating action when used with a moisturizer or serum, increasing penetration, improving skin tone and texture, and helping skin stay hydrated longer. And the aromatherapy effect is incredible – Bulgarian rose otto and wild Australian sandalwood are deeply healing to both the skin and the spirit.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? What do you love about it?
That’s more or less like asking which daughter I prefer. Over the seven or so years I have been studying and formulating with these powerfully healing ingredients, I have come to love and appreciate so many of them. I actually say goodnight to them when I leave for the day – isn’t that ridiculous?
How does Osmia Organics source its ingredients?
By now, I have a fairly good sense of the suppliers I trust and respect. Of course, we use certified organic products whenever possible, but that isn’t usually enough, especially when it comes to skincare and essential oils. You might find a wild-harvested oil from a high quality supplier that is clearly superior to a certified organic oil from a less trusted source. And I smell everything – I really trust my nose.
Osmia is a pretty young company, just turning 4 years old in a couple of months. What is your dream for Osmia Organics? What should we know about the line and its core values?
Mostly I want people to know that we walk the walk. I mean it when I say I want to change the world. I want to educate people about what is happening when you choose parabens and phthalates and petroleum and sulfates – not just to you and your family, but also to other species and our planet. I obsess over the details – like recycled shipping boxes and biodegradable labels and finding the MOST beautiful rose oil – because I want to do what I say I’m doing and I believe the details add up over time. Of course, I’d love to see the brand continue to grow and scale successfully, but making positive, beautiful change – from your morning routine to the way people think about skincare and health – is really the reason the brand exists.
It’s not easy being green. Can you share some of the specifics lengths Osmia goes to ensure your packaging is as sustainable as possible?
I lose sleep over this stuff, still. We have always chosen the most environmentally considerate packaging possible for each product, while ensuring that the product is presented beautifully and protected from oxidation and contamination. It’s a very tricky balance to strike, and one that is constantly shifting. Just like the cloth versus disposable diapers debate, there are multiple issues to consider – we may choose glass packaging for something, but glass is heavier to ship, and uses more fuel to get where it’s going. What I can promise is that I’m thinking about it all, and making a conscious, considered decision for each product. Our airless pumps are a great example. They’re not the most beautiful pumps out there, but they don’t have a metal spring in them (almost all airless pumps do), so they will actually get recycled at the sorting facility. Again, what matters to me is that things GET recycled, not that we can say our packaging is “recyclable” without making sure that’s really true.
Do you have a creative muse?
Colorado is my creative muse. Since the first time I visited my brother in Aspen in 1992, I have felt a connection to these mountains: they light up my every cell. The grandeur of the landscape, the mountain smells, the dramatic weather, the profound peace, the animals who wander past my window – they all connect me to nature in a way that makes me want to celebrate and protect it with all my heart.
Do you collect anything?
Not obsessively, but you’ll often find me with a rock in my pocket. And I have all my daughters’ teeth – the tooth fairy gave them to me.
How do you relax?
I exercise. I am fairly bad at relaxing just for the sake of relaxing: I can only sit in a hammock for about six minutes before I start to feel unproductive. But exercise creates chemicals in my body that make me feel relaxed, so once I’ve run or biked or hiked for the day, I might stay in that hammock for a full ten minutes. I also really love to spend Sundays in the kitchen, cooking for family and friends, and creating recipes for our blog. I especially love it when my daughters help, but they’re often busy casting spells on each other or roaming our property like feral children, which makes me equally happy.
TAGS: behind the scenes, Colorado, Osmia Organics, Perioral Dermatitis