My career as a creative began after I decided to leave my ten-year career in the music industry. I simply woke up one day completely burnt out and totally uninterested in continuing my current career path. It was such a strange experience. If anyone had told my younger self that I would have lost interest, passion and drive to pursue a successful life in the music business, I would have thought they were insane. But, just like that, the magic was gone. Truth be told, I was exhausted. I loved music so much, though I had placed too much emphasis on the need for validation within the industry, and ultimately, that pulled me far from what had first attracted me to working in music in the first place. I realized that pull to work in music was connection and community.
Brené Brown says, “Connection is why we are here.” And, I find that statement to be at the root of motivation for all of my personal and professional endeavors. I closed my chapter with music because I no longer felt connected to it, to myself or to others while doing that work; the magic I had felt was lost. This all happened when I was in my late twenties, newly married, and living in NYC, yet, despite my career crisis, I felt I should have still been able to be happy. I had married a partner whom I love and loved me well, who was also extremely driven and passionate. We had moved to NYC for him to complete his graduate degree at Columbia—pretty exciting stuff . While I knew I was so lucky and privileged in many ways, I truly felt lost. Depression and anxiety set in, and I remember the long sleepless nights and the late mornings where the simple act of getting out of bed felt nearly impossible. Who was I without music and without my friends and network that I left back in Los Angeles? Where would I go from here? How do I start over now?
First things first—I had to deal with my depression. Finding the right support can be daunting, but without our health (mental or physical) we don’t have much to give—especially to ourselves. I began the long journey of addressing my mental health and found the proper support to begin healing and to feel like I was motivated enough to start looking for what was next for me career-wise.
As I looked ahead at what I could do for work and began exploring the possible options, I remembered how much I enjoyed the creative aspect of putting together our wedding. I had worked with a dear friend and talented designer, Ruthi, to bring all of the personal and meaningful parts of my relationship with James, my fiancé, to life in a visual way for our wedding. The process of Ruthi creating a color story, a mood board, designing our invitations and even supporting with the decor and other visual details were creatively so exciting to me. It wasn’t so much the wedding aspect as it was the creative process that truly ignited something new for me. In my departure from music, I decided to lean a bit more into this creative landscape, and with some great advice from Ruthi, I set off to just try out some more creative endeavors to get my feet wet. I took off to Oregon and put together a photoshoot on a friend of a friend’s farm with some incredible women— and to this day, I still love this photoshoot! Sometimes, it can be cringe-worthy to look back at my previous work, but I am still pretty proud of this one. Working on this photoshoot solidified that I wanted to continue to pursue photo and prop styling, and I did just that.
At that time, I also decided to go back to school. I applied to The New School and was accepted to a liberal arts program where I would have the freedom to cater my courses to my interests. I applied for a job at BHLDN, Anthropologie’s wedding line, as I thought it would be a creative environment to work in while I was taking classes. While I enjoyed going back, my time at the New School was cut short as I really began to enjoy and grow quickly with BHLDN and Anthropologie.
While I worked there, our bridal shop often needed flowers, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose and arrange what we put in the shop. At the time, a now-mentor of mine saw my interest in florals and botanicals and continued to give me more and more opportunities to work with these items within the visual layout of both the BHLDN and Anthropologie stores. The support and encouragement I received from this leader had an immense impact on me, and I attribute so much of the spark that set my floral design career alight to her. During this time, I became familiar with the New York City Flower Market—which really is just a street— on 28th between 6th and 7th Avenues. It is here that I fell head over heels, drunk in love with flowers. I’ve been to many markets in the US and a few internationally, yet New York City is still my favorite. The vendors on this bustling street are brilliant at sourcing the most unique, special ephemeral beauty you can imagine. This market is the heartbeat of my creative process. I always start here—looking in the storefronts for something I’ve never seen before or just for the perfect bunch of peonies or garden roses.
As often happens in large corporate companies, priorities for Anthropologie’s bridal brand began to shift, and the creative position I held was removed overnight, becoming solely an operational role. I was so discouraged, but from that disappointment, East Olivia was born. I moved brands and worked for Anthropologie for a few more years, but decided to pursue prop and floral styling on the side as a freelancer. I took a role at Anthropologie Rockefeller Center as a part of their visual merchandising team where the hours were brutal with a 7 am start…often 6 am…and sometimes, even 5 am! This was necessary so that all new products could be set in the store well before the retailer doors opened. This meant, though, that I got out of work much earlier than a traditional 9-5 and thus began my long path of moonlighting while working full time.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
My time as a visual merchandiser, plus having the opportunity to work with florals and botanicals across all of our NYC stores laid the foundation for my understanding as a floral designer and creative director. I am not traditionally trained as a florist, but I sort of love that about my journey. It gives me a unique perspective on floral design, though of course, not being traditionally trained comes with its very hard on-the-job learns too!
About two years ago, I noticed that this women’s conference, Create & Cultivate, was coming to NYC. I, being the shameless person that I am, sent them a cold call email. I said, “Hello! I love what you are doing. Do you need any flowers for your event? I would love to be involved if you haven’t already partnered with someone else.” The Create & Cultivate team responded pretty quickly, and to my delight, they were interested in working with me! I thought they might want some arrangements, something simple, yet I could not have been more off base! They asked for an eight foot wide by ten-foot-high suspended floral installation, and to be clear, I had never done anything like that before; however, I did not let that stop me. I figured…I know plenty of intelligent creative engineer types (thank you Anthropologie!), and between that and my floral design skills, I should be able to make this happen. The installation was an absolute success, and to this day, is still shared all over Pinterest, Instagram etc.
After that first large-scale installation, I was hooked and since then, my company has grown to now having completed over 150 installations and still counting. After that project, it still took a few more years of steady moonlighting while keeping my full-time job at Anthropologie to build my company to the point where I could step away. I even hired my first full-time employee before I let myself quit! I never wanted to have to compromise and take clients whose work I wasn’t passionate about doing. I figured if I wasn’t desperate for money, I wouldn’t take projects I did not like. It’s worked out pretty great so far, and we now have four employees and are growing.
I feel so grateful that I work with ingredients that inspire me daily and that I get to hire talented, intelligent women who do the same. I think for anyone reading this story, however, I need to share that arranging flowers and making beautiful things is dirty work. We work long hard hours; I start at the flower market at dawn and sometimes, our installations are done throughout the night.
Each day, however, I get to see so many beautiful things and so often I get to be an integral part of creating a beautiful environment for others to enjoy. The growth of my business continues to motivate me. Knowing that my work has any small part in making it possible for people to connect has been the greatest joy of creating.
I believe that when we are surrounded by beauty, we are at ease; and when we are at ease, we can truly connect with ourselves and with those around us.