My Starting Over Story: I Rebuilt My Wellness Business After it Burned in a Fire

Entrepreneurs face mental health challenges just like everyone else. And the stress of running a business can lead to burnout and feelings of isolation. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll be sharing inspiring stories and wellness resources to shine a spotlight on the issue. 

Stacey Moss raised her business alongside raising her child. It was her second born, another piece of herself. It’s why, when she lost it, the grief was so profound.

Being of Lakota and Yaqui heritage, Stacey always believed in the potential of plants as medicine. This pushed her to attend college for an aromatherapy program. It was here she started blending botanicals and oils to share with friends and family. It was 2007, the latest DIY movement was still in its infancy (Etsy launched just two years prior), and Stacey’s hobby naturally bloomed into her livelihood, becoming Moss Botanicals.

For 10 years, the brand grew organically, as Stacey sold her handcrafted oils and mists at farmers markets, in retail stores, and direct-to-customer. She built a life on her own terms—without debt or investors—designing it around motherhood and doing what she loved. Entrepreneurship suited her and she thrived alongside the business.

Then, on December 6, 2017, everything burned to the ground. The Thomas Fire was a massive and infamous California wildfire that destroyed more than 200,000 acres by the time it was contained the following month. Stacey’s business—and her home—was gone.

Before the fire, Stacey was about to make a move that would take her business to the next level. But in the aftermath of tragedy, she was faced with rethinking that dream, rebuilding her brand from the ground up, and finally turning her gift of healing inward.

This is Stacey’s story, in her own words:

I signed up for the Indie Beauty Expo, and I put in $4,000. I felt like the next step for my business would be doing a trade show. And that was going to be a big jump for me. I was ready to go. I had purchased a lot of product material and I had the most resources I’d ever had on site with me. 

To have it all burn was very guiding. I really thought, “I wasn’t supposed to do that expo.”

When it first happened, it was like, “I got this. It’s fine.” I immediately went back to what I knew. I was in go mode, sending thank you cards to every person who donated to us, making Excel spreadsheets of every single loss, just completely administrative at that point. 

When the grief did come, it was so deep. It was like a well, and I couldn’t get to the bottom of it.

But when my family was going back to work and school, I was at home alone figuring everything out. And that’s when it got really difficult. I was still in shock. It was six months in before I thought, “What’s happening to me? What’s going on? This isn’t good.” I had been dealing with PTSD and grief, but I wasn’t really even aware of it at the time. 

We didn’t get to return to our property—we were on 24 acres. I’m getting emotional right now. It’s weird that I can conjure that up so many years later. I would say I was forced to give up some things that were really valuable to me. And I haven’t got that back yet. That’s the grief part.

It’s really interesting when you don’t have a recognition of something that’s new, like grief. I never knew what grief was. And when the grief did come, it was so deep. It was like a well, and I couldn’t get to the bottom of it for a while.

I know it sounds funny, but the simplicity of having nothing was very freeing. It was actually very freeing to have everything go away. We’ve since resurrected everything we have and more. What really cleared the way for me is that this could happen all over again and I would be fine. The world is very abundant.

When I was resurrecting the company, it was clear to me I still wanted to do it the way I had always done it. I didn’t actually want it to go large scale.

While rebuilding the business, I learned a lot. Right before the fire, my mindset was like, “I’m going to let go. I might have to have fulfillment centers.” I’ve always poured every single bottle myself. I still do. But when I was resurrecting the company, it was clear to me I still wanted to do it the way I had always done it. I didn’t actually want it to go large scale.

Moss Botanicals has always been small because it really is so personal. It’s such a personal line. With aromatherapy being such a saturated market at this time, I feel like staying the course has really just been my destiny. Even though I like collaborating with others, I do prefer to work alone. 

I know it sounds funny, but the simplicity of having nothing was very freeing.

When I restarted, I became more strategic about things. I repackaged everything so it would be more in line with the FDA. It’s hard to stop what you’re doing when you have a certain momentum happening and just be like, “Oh, I’m just going to repackage everything right now.’ But the fire allowed me to do that. I resurrected it with all new branding, like boxes over the products instead of little cards that went with them. 

Interior of Moss Botanicals retail space with jars on shelves and various dried herbs

I just recently opened up a retail space, something I’ve never done. I was learning to not shut down in a way that’s isolating and to even be able to put myself out in the world. I think this place has been like a coming out for me—being in a store where I’m in the public. I’ve done farmers markets, but this is different. I’ve learned a lot about healing and what others have to offer me. And that connection is so valuable, especially through COVID.

It’s been a real ride. I still think, “What is Moss Botanicals? Why am I still doing it? And where’s it headed?” It’s become such an extension of me, it’s hard to separate myself from it and to really look at what I would do if I wasn’t doing this. 

I always think in my mind, “Did I create this fire?” I’ve thought a lot about that. Obviously, it’s one of the biggest California wildfires, but there’s a part of me that thinks we co-create the universe. Some people wouldn’t look at it this way, but I’m glad that it happened to me. As much as there’s sadness, it was also life changing.

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Feature image by Loren Blackman