Poppy founder Cameron Hardesty and The Butterfly Effect bouquet.
Bouquets Are Her Business
One thing is certain about all of us here at Chantecaille: we are flower obsessed! Cameron Hardesty, founder of Poppy, shares our deep affinity for blooms, which is what drew us to collaborate with her team on an exclusive flower kit this season, which was inspired by our Butterfly Collection.
In Hardesty we’ve found a fellow flower lover who is pursuing her dream while also helping to empower female florists to maintain their work and further their careers—despite founding her company at the very start of the pandemic. On the eve of Women’s History Month, and with International Women’s Day on the horizon, we chatted with Hardesty about her love of flowers, the female mentor that ignited her career pivot, and her company’s budding future.
Can you tell us the story of how you sort of 'fell in' to flowers as a career?
I’ve always been passionate about flowers—there’s even a photo of me as a toddler trying to “arrange” a bouquet—and building bouquets began as a form of my after-work decompression routine over ten years ago when I worked at a big PR firm here in Washington, DC. When I went to work in the Obama White House, my parents came to visit during the holidays and I gave them a tour of the incredible holiday decorations. One arrangement in particular mesmerized me, and after about a month of prevaricating (and urging from my then-boyfriend, now husband—who now works with me!) I emailed Laura Dowling, the White House’s then-chief florist and asked if I could stop by for a visit. She graciously invited me to the White House flower shop and pretty soon I was volunteering and learning everything I could from Laura.
Knowing of my love of flowers, one day a colleague at The White House told me that her husband and his college roommate were launching an e-commerce flower company called UrbanStems. I began to informally advise them on content marketing and floral design, and within six months I left my desk job at the White House to design their bouquets as their Head of Product, becoming one of the two highest ranking women on the executive team.
The Butterfly Eye Quartet and Poppy blooms.
The floral industry has such a romantic appearance, but Poppy aims to actually turn it on its ear. Tell us how your approach is different from the conventional flower/florist market.
I got the idea for Poppy when I was planning my wedding in 2017, which of course I had to design the flowers for! It occurred to me that while I knew the ins and outs of the floral industry, the process was completely opaque and utterly confusing for anyone looking for gorgeous flowers but without an unlimited budget—which is practically everyone. I’ve talked to folks with $200 to spend and $15,000 to spend, and their complaints were exactly the same: they received baffling expensive proposals from floral designers that fell way out of their budget. With years of building relationships with flower farms and my experience with e-commerce, I knew I could create a platform that would make it easy and fun for couples to select their wedding flowers.
Covid changing how we celebrate was sort of the 'aha' moment for your business really taking off. How has the pandemic made a difference for your business?
Our very first wedding of 2020 was scheduled to take place the day after the national lockdown began. To be honest, I was reeling. Who launches an event business in a pandemic? When that couple decided to proceed with a micro wedding and asked us to make their bridal bouquet and boutonnière, I instantly recognized that Poppy was in a position to adapt to this new, emerging market of smaller weddings that defined our industry in 2020 and continues to define it today. We created a package that was perfect for Zoom weddings: a custom bouquet and boutonnière for a flat fee with the couples’ favorite primary and secondary colors. Now that people are embracing more intimate weddings, we’re seeing couples re-prioritize and re-budget based on smaller guest lists. Couples are able to express themselves more with floral arrangements and decor because they don’t have to worry about feeding hundreds of people! In our first year in business, we booked 100 weddings—mostly in our home market of DC, but also in NYC and Chicago.I am so proud of the fact that we found our way through such a challenging first year in business.
The pandemic changed Poppy in another significant way: in response to it, we launched Poppy At Home floral kits. The economic shutdown was initially devastating for the international flower industry and about two billion stems were destroyed when everything ground to a halt. We wanted to find a way to help our farm partners and with my experience in e-commerce I thought these kits would be a perfect way for people to stay busy while being cooped up inside and allow our farm friends to keep working.
Hardesty prepping flowers and arrangements ready for delivery.
“I love all flowers. I truly haven’t met a flower I didn’t love.”
At its heart, Poppy is essentially empowering women in business. Why was that important to you for this endeavor?
The flower industry is powered by women, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at the list of the industry’s top executives. We think it’s time to flip the script, and we work with supply chain partners who agree. We prioritize Fair Trade partners and farms who provide world-class, free childcare on-site, enabling their moms to earn a living, and for every Poppy At Home Kit sold $1 goes to the women who work at our farm partners. In our experience, more than half of floral designers are women, and we are putting them to work while providing them pathways to grow as designers and professionals. Finally, many of our customers are women—women with, frankly, a lot to do, who may not have time to take multiple in-person meetings and calls to perfectly match the color of their hydrangeas to their table linens. We built this company first and foremost to empower our customers.
Poppy flowers are present at some incredibly important milestone moments—any great stories to share?
Oh yes! Every single wedding we have the honor of being a part of is incredibly important. One of our bridal bouquets was for a wedding officiated on the steps of the Supreme Court. I personally built a mandap altar alongside the father of the groom for a backyard wedding in Georgetown this summer—that was kind of awesome. And in January we did a workshop for my dear friend Amelia’s entire extended family during her virtual baby shower. It was so fun to see multiple generations, time zones and languages come together to bond over something so simple as flowers in a vase.
A Poppy flower farmer bundling roses.
At-home arranging isn't always so easy—do you have any tips for novice floral artists?
They’re flowers. You can’t mess them up! But a few common mistakes I’ve seen that can be easily remedied:
- The wall of stem: if all of your flower heads are at the same height, you will be left with a jarring “wall of stem” that leaves the arrangement feeling unbalanced. Fix the wall of stem by varying the height of your focal flowers and “pulling the color” down closer to the lip of the vase.
- Ride the wave: let color move organically through your design by creating a “wave” formation of each stem type around the edge of your design.
- Build outside in: Plan for the first flowers you place to rest on the lip of your vase, and cross your stems inside the vase below the water to create a lattice for subsequent stems to stick into. The more stems you place, the denser the lattice will become, and the easier it will be to stick stems where you want them and keep them there.
You just received an exciting round of 'seed funding' (what an apt name!) can you tell us what's on the horizon for the business?
Not to make too much of the metaphor, but in general we are planning to grow like crazy! We are expanding our wedding business into cities all over the country by finding excellent designers everywhere. At Poppy we like to say that love always wins and it’s true, despite the pandemic people are still getting married. We field hundreds of leads every day and it’s exciting to see how well couples receive Poppy, even though it’s a totally new concept in the market. We’re also continuing to innovate with our Poppy At Home lines with new selections, ordering options and some exciting brand collaborations like the one with Chantecaille!
The Butterfly Collection and Poppy blooms.
Lastly—as a flower-obsessed company, we can't leave without asking: what are your favorite flowers?
I love all flowers. I truly haven’t met a flower I didn’t love. It’s funny, when I was meeting with investors before our seed round came together, one in particular objected to my business because they had met with founders from a previous, failed flower start-up who had such a bad experience with the industry that they never wanted to return to it again. I found that so surprising, because “real” flower people have the opposite experience—they enter the flower industry and never want to leave! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in this industry who not only spend their entire career in flowers without tiring of them, but their children and grandchildren enter the industry, too. I warn everyone who joins my team that they might be making a lifelong decision without realizing it!I believe that we all long to be closer to the things that make us most human. The earth beneath our feet, the fresh air, sunlight on our faces, things that grow from the ground. Every flower I’ve ever touched reminds me of the farm it grew on and the hands that tended to it. Every flower is a miracle in my book!