Do Tell: The Florist Who Quit Her Corporate Job & Launched Her Own Business

April 14, 2020

Meet Caroline Lahti.

Job: Owner of florabrook
Passion: Floral design, flowers, art and design
Home: New York, New York

Nothing brightens up a space like a colorful bouquet or burst of greenery. It’s a testament wildly believed by Caroline, whose love of botanicals dates back to her teenage years.

As the founder and owner of New York-based floral design company, florabrook—which, she started at the age of 23 (!)—it’s safe to say that Caroline has more than just a green thumb. She’s an entrepreneur at heart and a go-getter who believes in learning from your mistakes and never taking no for an answer.

We recently chatted with Caroline to talk career, life and the secret to building a perfect arrangement.

ON GETTING TO NEW YORK

I grew up an hour north of NYC. I went to school in Albany, but the whole time I couldn’t wait to get to the city. I just loved that it was where all the action and opportunity was.

ON GETTING INTO THE FLORAL INDUSTRY

My first flower job was when i was 16. One of my mom’s friends owned a local flower shop and I worked there after school. I instantly loved it and continued to work there part time throughout college.

It’s one of my claims to fame that after graduating college, I had a corporate job for 2 days (no exaggeration)—it just wasn’t for me. I quit and got another job as a florist. Then, after about a year, I was like “Okay, I think I can do this on my own now.”

ON STARTING HER OWN BUSINESS

I really trust and believe in my ability to make things happen. During my first year of owning the business, I also worked part time as a bookkeeper for a catering company. When they let me go, I was so nervous that my only income would be from florabrook, but it was one of the best things to happen to me. It forced me to put all of my energy into supporting myself.

The most important thing to me is being resilient. When I’m knocked down (which is inevitable as a business owner), I don’t stay down. I’m able to learn from it, use it as motivation and jump back quickly. Never complain or pity yourself—just take action.

ON HAVING A GREEN THUMB

My mom and grandma have always loved flowers, but I never really took notice until I started working in the industry. I would come upstate to my parent’s during spring and be like, “Wow, did those always grow here?”

ON THE BEST PART OF HER JOB

So many things! I’m most happy when I’m creating and there is so much of that. Also, all of the people that work for florabrook are really my people. I think because we’re all drawn to this industry makes us alike in some way, and it’s such a beautiful community of creatives to surround yourself with.

And I have such wonderful relationships with the clients I’ve been working with for a few years. You’re there for their weddings, their birthdays, their first and fifth anniversaries. It’s amazing to be there for all the monumental days in their lives.

ON HER LEAST FAVORITE PART OF HER JOB

Schlepping! People always think this job is fancy or cutesy because they see the “finished” photos. But there is a lot of carrying flowers in and out of Ubers, on subways, crawling on the floor cleaning messes and dirt under your fingernails!

ON HER PERSONAL STYLE

My personal style used to be a lot cooler [laughs]. My interest now is comfort and efficiency. I’ve come to hate jeans and essentially want to wear athleisure or stuff that I can move in easily. Overall, I think I have a hippie/tomboy flair, but can also rock a floral dress. Let’s call it ‘florist chic’.

ON HER MORNING ROUTINE

When not in quarantine, I usually wake up to get to the Flower District anywhere between 5 and 6:30AM. I have my clothes laid out the night before so I don’t have to think too hard. I always have fruit or something simple. Then, when I get to the Flower District I buy myself a $5 cappuccino, latte or other fancy drink. It makes early mornings a little better for me.

ON HER EVENING ROUTINE

I’m usually exhausted when I get home and take a solid hour to recover from racing around the city at events, handling our accounts, etc. I’m a big junk TV person, so I’ll watch some of that to decompress. Then I try to run or hit the gym. My boyfriend and I have been trying to save more money by cooking more, so when he comes home we’ll make something.

My one ritual is taking baths. I take a bath everyday, which some people find weird, but it’s honestly the best part of my day. I have all these aromatherapy sprays and bath salts. It almost renews me.

ON HER NEW NORMAL

I came upstate to my parents’ house with my boyfriend for what I thought would be a weekend. We’ve now been here for…30 days? I’ve lost count at this point.

All of the businesses we normally do weekly flower arrangements for are closed, and all of our events for the foreseeable future have been cancelled or postponed. But I quickly switched to a new business model. I’ve started putting together dried arrangements for shipping and created an e-commerce page in my parents’ kitchen.

We’ve been getting sponsorships from our followers, and are taking nominations for people who need a little something extra during this time and sending out free bouquets to them. It’s been a trying but uplifting experience.

ON WHAT SHE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT

Flowers!

JUST BECAUSE

Listening to: Billie Eilish—her voice is angelic to me.

Last Google search: “How do I ship to Canada?”

Favorite flower: Ever changing, but right now: tulips!

Least favorite flower: I really don’t NOT like any flowers. If arranged right, they can all look pretty.

Thoughts on carnations: I have strong feelings about carnations. I think they’re beautiful. They have bad “branding” because they’re very inexpensive, but if you really look at a carnation, they’re so intricate. I’m about to start a campaign called “Free the Carnation.” [laughs]

First fashion memory: I remember what I picked out for my first day of kindergarten. A black short sleeve turtleneck with a Pocahontas necklace and pink biker shorts. I’d probably wear all of it today—well, maybe not the necklace

Biggest hero: I have a lot of heroes but currently my heroes are the people still out there working and allowing us to continue delivering flowers. My postman, my UPS man, my wholesalers giving me curbside pickups — all of them.

Best advice you’ve ever received: Fake it till you make it. I think a lot of people are waiting for instructions or thinking everyone else is an expert. But you have to pave your own way and learn from your own mistakes. Also, never say no to people. Just say yes and you’ll figure it out.

Best advice you’ve ever given: Start somewhere. If you want to be a photographer, just start taking pictures. If you want to be a florist, just start creating. The business will come.

FLORAL ARRANGING 101:

There are so many different arrangement styles, but what I like to tell people is to make the arrangement like a stairwell. Here’s what I mean…

Step 1:

Find your vase. Your arrangement should be roughly the same height or taller as whatever vessel you’re using.

Step 2:

Start with some greenery or fillers. You want to break them up at the “V” of the branch where it connects to the stem.

Step 3:

Put the tallest greenery or fillers at the back, like a frame or a burst.

Step 4:

Cut your big “wow” flowers a little shorter than the greenery/fillers and arrange them closer to the neck of the vase

Step 5:

Start stacking! Place each flower like a stairwell to display each head and cover any visible stems.

Pay it forward

Know someone who could use a pick-me-up during these unprecedented times? Nominate them to receive a surprise bouquet from florabrook here!

Sometimes all it takes is a little act of kindness to make someone’s day a little bit brighter.