We sat down with our founder Cristina for an interview to talk about how she started Flowers Forever.
What is your name?
What is your official title at flowers forever?
Where did you go to school?
I’m a self taught artisan and businesswoman.
What were your hobbies growing up?
Growing up, I enjoyed activities where I could use my hands. An early example of my creativity was at 12 years old, when I put masking tape on a bottle and then used shoe polish to make it look like leather. At school, the Mother Superior liked it and asked me to make a few for the church bazaar. They turned out to be popular, and I ended up getting requests for several dozen more.
Have you always been interested in flowers?
Yes, I have always maintained an interest in flowers and jewelry, and I’m fortunate to have carved out a career where I get to combine both passions. The ever-surprising variety in colors, scents and textures is fascinating. Strangely enough, I don’t garden; I’ve never had a “green thumb.” I used to work for a florist, and showcasing each flower was very satisfying to my artistic eye. To me, flowers show their true beauty when displayed in personal settings, such as homes, weddings, etc.
I enjoy seeing the different kinds of bouquets (colors and designs) that come in to my shop. After 22 years in this business, I know exactly how a flower is going to look at the end of the preservation process, whether pressed, dried three dimensional, or turned into a Bellabead stone. Many factors go into floral preservation, like the chemicals used by each grower and florist, for example. Experience has allowed me to develop the best techniques possible for capturing each flower’s natural beauty.
… and jewelry?
As a woman, of course I like jewelry! It’s important for a little bit of “sparkle” to adorn us daily. Years ago a friend taught me how to make jewelry, and quickly, making my own creations to wear turned into another artistic outlet. I love the colors, shine and translucence of natural stones. My favorites are pearls, which are featured prominently in many of our Bellabeads designs.
How did you come up with the idea to start this business?
The idea behind starting Flowers Forever & Bellabeads sprang from time spent working with one of my friends. I didn’t know floral preservation was possible, until I watched her start a small business back in Virginia. She showed me the basics. With her, I learned how to press flowers, and then developed my own technique which we use presently. I still remember when my first customer picked up her finished pressed design. I saw the memories the flowers represented for her, and I realized I was preserving much more than just flowers. After successfully pressing flowers for many years, brides would ask if I could freeze dry their bouquets. At that point, I realized the growing need to offer another preservation option, so I bought two freeze dryers. A large part of how I’ve been able to maintain this business is that I never make the mistake of being satisfied with how far we’ve come. I’m always looking for something new to do.
Combining my love for flowers and jewelry making was the logical next step. You can’t go to school to learn how to make stones out of flowers; experience is the only teacher. After nearly two years I finally felt I had a quality product to offer to my customers and Bellabeads was born. Through trial and error, and many late nights of research and practice, I have developed what I feel are the best methods to guarantee customers the most amazing floral jewelry available anywhere. Over the years many clients have asked me to create novel pieces; customers are often the best sources of new ideas. I’m always willing to try. In fact, this is how our recent line incorporating ashes into our pieces became a reality.
How long did it take to catch on?
This business did not take long to catch on at all! I was very busy the first year I opened, which was certainly a good thing. I catered mainly to brides, and went to every bridal show in the Columbia area. After a while a substantial portion of my clients came from word of mouth. I have to thank all of the local florists that have recommended, and continue to recommend, my services.
When did you hire your first employee?
I hired my first official employee in the second year. During the first year I needed help framing my pressed designs, so I outsourced the work. The next year I purchased all the equipment needed for framing and hired someone to manage that aspect of the business. Today, we have a fully-outfitted frame shop for the pressed and freeze dried flowers, and several artists/designers that help create the final arrangements and jewelry.
How long have you been at your current location?
I have been at the current location for 14 years.
What were some obstacles that you had to overcome along the way?
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in sustaining this business has been the need to educate the public on what we do here. After 22 years in business, I find that many people still don’t know that floral preservation services are available. So many times over the years I’ve heard something like, “I wish I knew this could be done when my loved one passed away,” or “I wish I had known this was an option when I got married.”
Which do you prefer more; flower preservation or jewelry making?
Even though I love the look of pressed flowers, jewelry is my favorite. A piece of jewelry can be worn everyday in memory of a loved one or as a reminder of a special occasion. Jewelry is also affordable for most, pressed flowers are very time consuming due to the hands on labor is much higher priced and not accessible to some.
What is it that makes Flowers Forever/Bellabeads so special?
I feel there are many reasons why our business is special. After 22 years, my experience (combined with that of the rest of the team) is far and away the most extensive in the field. No one else comes close. Also, our attention to detail and craftsmanship result in a standard of high quality designs and finished products that are unmatched in the floral preservation industry. We are able to address our customers’ needs by offering three of the most enduring forms of preservation; Victorian pressed flowers, freeze-dried flowers, and jewelry infused with flowers. In addition, we recently started creating jewelry keepsakes with ashes and pet hair/fur. Each one of our artists is expertly trained by me personally, long before handling customers’ precious keepsakes. My team cares about each client and their stories. Each of us knows that we are preserving the memories of life changing events. With this constantly in mind, we create all pieces exactly as instructed, in close consultation with the client. On the other hand, if a client has trouble deciding on the perfect color combination, my designers will use their (impressive) imaginations to create beautiful designs using the flowers and materials supplied by the client.
Are there any customers you helped out that stay if your memory?
I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful customers that it is hard to recall only one that stands out in memory. I have families that have used our services from the very beginning, and have continued to come to us for everything from births and graduations, to weddings and funerals. I’ve been privileged to preserve flowers for a few local celebrities, as well as a former chief justice in South Carolina. I’ve preserved flowers for two presidential inaugurations (we don’t play favorites!). One family with over 30 cousins has come to us for 24 weddings (so far). I’ve preserved fur for a grieving owner in Australia, and I’ve preserved flowers that grew yearly around a train track that reminded another client of a very special occasion in her life. I’ve preserved leaves from a tree that was planted when a client was born, 40 years before their family home was sold. I have also heard many sad stories over the years. For example, instead of preserving the wedding bouquet for a bride-to-be, I wound up preserving the funeral flowers of the groom when he passed away the night before the wedding. I preserved flowers for another groom that passed away on the honeymoon from an unknown heart issue. Many mothers who’ve lost their little ones have entrusted us to preserve their memories over the years. I recall the story of a grandmother on her death bed who wanted to hold on to the beads we made for her from the last flowers her late husband sent her. We’ve preserved the last flowers a young mom bought to display on her breakfast table; she died suddenly after running a marathon for charity. There was a newly-married, expectant mother who brought flowers from her parents’ funerals; they both died in a motorcycle accident. Ending on a light-hearted note, here is one of my funnier stories. One bride left her pressed wedding bouquet design on the floor while getting ready to hang it. That was when her two-year-old decided that the framed design was a good place to test her newly-learned toilet training skills. I feel very blessed and privileged to have touched so many lives and preserved so many memories.
What message do you want to convey to your clients?
The main message I’d like to convey to our clients is that they can trust us to help take care of their most valuable memories. We understand that people come to us during some of the most emotional moments they will ever experience; some of those are uplifting, and some are heartbreaking. People who choose us to preserve their lives’ most important events should know we take what we do very seriously, and that great care goes into every one-of-a-kind treasure that we craft. We never lose sight of the fact that our work carries great meaning for our customers. It carries great meaning for us as well.