Osmia Organics skincare opens second production facility in Carbondale
Your favorite, locally produced bar soap may start in a French salt marsh. In Guérande, people hand-harvest salt by hand, as they long have done. The salt makes its way through shipping, travels overseas and ultimately arrives in Carbondale, still dripping with marsh water.
French grey salt was one of the first ingredients Osmia Organics founder Dr. Sarah Villafranco fell in love with, and it remains essential in the company’s luxury skincare products.
The company sells its products to individuals and retailers around the country. But Carbondale remains home, even during a period of growth. Last year, Osmia saw a 40 percent increase in its soap sales from 2016, which led to expansion into a second Delores Way space.
“We sell mostly elsewhere, but we’re grounded here,” said Director of Sales and Marketing Brittany Hailey.
Villafranco began to consider a career change after her mother’s death, shortly after the Washington, D.C., native and family moved to Colorado. She’d just given birth to her second daughter, and Villafranco re-examined her priorities. She had spent a decade as an emergency physician, but it no longer satisfied. Villafranco cut her medical practice to part time and, after a soap making class, began to develop what would become Osmia’s product line. Osmia formally launched in 2012.
“People were looking to her or other doctors to make them healthy,” Hailey said.
But Villafranco was concerned about helping people make choices — lifestyle, nutrition and the like — for better health.
“In some ways, I feel like I am practicing broader medicine now — helping people choose natural and organic skin care products, encouraging them to nourish themselves physically and spiritually, and detoxifying their medicine cabinets all the while,” Villafranco wrote on the company’s website.
Ingredients including French Grey Salt are key to that philosophy. The salt softens and conditions the skin, and shows up in the company’s bar soaps and Recovery Salt Bath. Upon arrival in Carbondale, the salt and other ingredients are carefully stored — Osmia’s facility includes sterile space to ensure product quality — before incorporation into its face and body products.
The initial space included a sizable retail store, but over the years staff has reduced its footprint to accommodate growing personnel and production needs. Instead of ordering base oils in half-gallon jugs, as they once did, purchasing and inventory manager Rachael Israel now places frequent orders for drums of the ingredients.
With the new production facility up and running, Osmia has significantly more space in which to create and cure its soaps. Soap maker Pola Oginski blends French grey sea salt with another of Villafranco’s carefully researched ingredients, Dead Sea mud, and other essentials to form Vetiver Grey Soap. Dead Sea mud’s mineral composition is rich in sulfides, magnesium, chloride and potassium, and its inherent antibacterial activity makes it effective in calming breakouts and smoothing skin, Villafranco said.
The company’s Black Clay Facial Soap, in which the mud also appears, has become a favorite among people with perioral dermatitis, from which Villafranco has also suffered.
“We really differ from modern-day dermatology because we believe you can heal without these creams and ointments,” Hailey said.
Oginski pours the soaps into molds, and then the products go into storage for six to eight weeks. The longer soap cures, Hailey explained, the less water it contains. Some soap makers cure their products for as little as two weeks, but a longer cure time results in a hard, longer-lasting bar.
That process comes with its drawbacks, though, at least from a business perspective. Sometimes Osmia will run out of a particular soap, and customers must wait until it’s back in stock. Other challenges also arise from the company’s insistence on natural ingredients.
“We can’t imagine using anything synthetic or artificial in our products. But it means we have to be somewhat flexible and communicate clearly with our customers,” Villafranco said by email.
Currently, that means Osmia is unable to produce its popular Sunset Body Oil, which relies on natural vanilla. Weather conditions have caused a worldwide shortage. Instead, the company directs its customers to alternative fragrances, with an explanation of why they might appeal to the usual Sunset loyalist. Osmia is also cautious about what it considers unethical behavior around an ingredient, such as an ingredient being harvested without regard for its surrounding ecosystem. She will either cease use or source from others to uphold the company’s standards.
Osmia spells out these expectations in some detail on its website, and its blog is an educational resource.
“Sarah always says, ‘Sure, I love to sell product. But I want to educate consumers. That’s the goal,’” Hailey said. “Sarah is a great bridge between Eastern and Western medicine.”
Osmia uses a primary supplier for essential oils, and the oils themselves are traceable to producers around the world. Vetiver comes from Haiti, for example, lavender from France, chamomile from Hungary, bergamot from Italy and fir from Canada.
“It’s like having a miniature United Nations of Scent right here in our little store,” Villafranco said.
After its eight weeks on the shelf, a bar of Vetiver Grey Soap will be ready to ship out of Carbondale and into the world from which it originated.
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