Zen Castle

Zen Castle

The Accidental Artisan

Friday, January 27, 2012

Behind-the-Scenes

ZenCastle SoapFrancine Villaneuva hadn't set out to be an artisan; she was a graduate student, research assistant and U.S. Army veteran.  But sometimes wars, love and necessity intervene.  That's what happened back in 1991, when Francine's husband John returned from the first Gulf War.  John, an Operations & Intelligence Advisor assigned to the Special Operations Community, had been on the ground when the retreating Iraqi forces set fire to 700 oil wells in Kuwait, exposing John and his fellow soldiers to its choking black smoke and  thick residue.  Within days of the exposure, John and others developed a variety of skin disorders that resisted and were made worse by conventional medical treatments.  Francine, putting her research skills to play, learned that traditional treatments contained some type of refined petroleum oil, which probably made things worse!

Shortly thereafter, while visiting John’s family she came across his grandmother’s recipes for making soaps and compresses with herbal and plant extracts, which had been widely used in those days to treat everything from bug bites to sunburn.  Using these recipes as the starting point, Francine began to make soaps and creams from plant-based carrier oils, essential oils and herbal extracts for her husband.  To her amazement, the rashes on his head, face, neck and back started healing, his skin discoloration faded and his complexion took on a healthier tone and texture after only two weeks of use.  She shared these handmade soaps and creams with other soldiers, friends and family and a handcrafted artisan was born.

Fast forward to January 2008, Francine, with John's assistance, launched ZENCASTLE®, the name and logo of which were inspired by a visit to the lavender fields of the Senanque Abbey in Provence, France in 2006.  Today, Francine's products are still made by hand -- here in Alexandria -- using only the natural and organic ingredients and used by people around the world.

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