By Maggie Grainger | Photos by Hemail Zaveri
Like the city she has called home her entire life, Carmen Milagro is always reinventing herself. The self-described “entrepren-artist” is no stranger to change. In fact, she’s learned to embrace it with open arms. “Change is going to happen,” she says with a smile. “I mean, that’s what makes San Francisco the great city that it is.”
It is also what has kept her on her toes for most of her life. Milagro, 51, is currently starting her own skincarecompany—Borbonskin.com—while balancing her roles as the founder of the non-profit Peanut Butter & JAMMusic Sessions for Kids, a board member of Heaven’s Door Cancer Foundation and Performing Arts Workshop, a working musician among other roles on her resume. “I’ve always struggled against labels,” she laughs.
It was this curiosity and passion for life that stuck with her through the years. “I’m very laser-focused and disciplined now, but I wasn’t always,” she admits. “It comes with age, experience, and trial and error.” She’s found that it also comes with taking a few risks that might take you completely out of your comfort zone.
For Milagro, that moment came back in 2007 when she landed a gig playing Latin-inspired music with a Japanese band at one of the swankiest luxury hotels in Japan.
The minute she learned she had landed the audition, she was whisked off to Japan for three days of music, parties, and adventure. She quickly realized it was the chance of a lifetime and signed on the second she heard she had won them over. “I got the headline spot in a Latin band, which required leaving everyone I knew,” she explains. “I didn’t know a soul in Japan. It was pretty crazy. I had never been, didn’t speak Japanese, and didn’t know what I was getting into!”’
Milagro was accepted by an audience that was gracious and appreciative in a way she had never experienced before. Their responses brought tears to her eyes. “I was taught by my drummer that the Japanese audience did not clap loudly, but the faster they clapped the more they were enjoying the music.” On many nights she noticed her regulars silently clapped so fast their hands looked like the flapping wings of a hummingbird. “They love Latin music!”
During her visit, a 12-course 3 a.m. dinner with Iron Chef Morimoto tops the list of memories alongside singing at a club where the cheapest bottle of wine was $1,500.
Despite the homesickness, Milagro would do it all again and hopes to travel with a band. Her dream destination? Dubai. Until then, she’s focusing on her skincare creation, which has come with its own ups and downs.
“It all started when I woke up with two huge age spots on both my cheeks,” she admits. “I began to ask people, ‘What did your grandmothers use on their skin?’ I focused on what my mother taught me.”
During her research, she discovered something else: her product was helping people by providing something that is beneficial and not harmful. “At the end of the day, it’s how we feel about ourselves.” Milagro says seeing the happiness and hope she can bring to others propels her and makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile.
What advice does Milagro have for people looking to make a big life change? Pay attention to positive voices that help bring to fruition what you believe in. Milagro believes that hard work assists us in becoming our authentic selves. “If you’re constantly being berated for being you, find people who are kind in business and who understand and accept you, and do the same in your personal life.”