Kimberly Sevilla spent 15+ years designing and building window displays, trade show displays and museum exhibits for high-end clients such as The Smithsonian, Barney’s, Cole Haan, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Mac Cosmetics, Kenneth Cole, and the NFL. These projects required a high level of attention to detail (Kimberly can correctly eyeball which PMS colors are in a flower display!) and often required 24 hour overnight production installations (think: LOTs of 2AM phone calls). It was during one of these 2AM installations with a 6 month breast-fed baby girl at home that Kimberly knew she needed to make a change in her life.
In 2008, less than a year after her daughter Lavender was born, Kimberly opened up Rose Red & Lavender, a floral studio and organic garden center in dedication to her daughter. She knew the risks were great – she was leaving a lucrative guaranteed job...in an industry that she had built a great reputation in... to run a local neighbourhood shop during a major economic recession (and with a newborn at home!) But she knew that she had to make the change to be the kind of mother she wanted to be.
With a degree in Biology & Chemistry, training in Design (FIT/Parsons), and years of experience in public gardens and urban space, Kimberly wanted to introduce Williamsburg to the world of gardens and beautiful event displays. At the time, there wasn’t much of an interest in roof-top farming, the high rises had not quite exploded on the Williamsburg waterfront, and most of the people who walked into her store were simply “nervous about killing their plants.”
Today, Rose Red & Lavender does regular event planning for corporations as well as private celebrations, and Kimberly was preparing for three weddings on the weekend we chatted. They hold public classes that cover a range of topics - from flower design and flower crown making, to mouse taxidermy, terrarium building, and dreamcatcher weaving. Kimberly has also made a conscious effort to engage the community. She’s worked with the local schools that her children attend to allow students and parents the chance to connect with the earth – she once hosted one hundred five-year-olds to show them different types of mint and how each looks and feels (I had some serious kid envy hearing the story). Her work has been featured in NY Magazine, Real Simple, The Knot, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Kimberly has two children – Lavender, aged 7, and William, aged 5 - and a very successful business that she is aiming to expand.
Here’s my Q&A with Kimberly:
The corporate environment and the peers you left behind are very different to the clientele that you work with today. What were the kind of pressures you faced in the corporate world?
In the corporate world I was surrounded by men who were married with stay-at-home wives and men and women who were uninterested in starting families. After the birth of my daughter, I felt like there was a double standard - I was made to feel “guilty” when I needed to leave at 6PM, yet it was perfectly understood and acceptable that a man living in the suburbs needed to catch the 5:30 NJ Transit or LIRR. Once a colleague of mine with a new puppy asked if I was going home to “play” with my baby when I was leaving to feed and care for my baby. It was high-pressured and intense. I was so protective of my clients that I even had my smartphone with me while being taken into the OR for a c-section!
Even in a much more community environment you still had a baby to take care of and a business to get off the ground. How did you make it work?
With my daughter, I had a nanny and kept my day job for the first year. When my son was born, something had to give, so I quit my day job and relied a lot on baby carrying. He was with me after he was born in the shop for the first six months. I really enjoyed taking him with me to wholesalers and spending that time with him. I really missed out on the first year with my daughter because I was working so much. Even so, it wasn’t easy. I once had to reschedule a client meeting with a bride because my baby was sick and she wasn’t sympathetic - the wedding was her priority and she didn't know how a mother would feel when their child is sick. Having said that, most people have reacted positively and enjoy seeing a baby in a flower shop!
Now that your children are a little older has it become more fun having them in the store?
They love coming to the shop and I try to find smaller jobs for them to do, like putting price stickers on items. They really take ownership in the place and are proud of it. My daughter loves talking to customers and going with me to farms and nurseries to help select plants and flowers. Sometimes I bring her when we are dropping off bridal bouquets. Lavender thinks the brides are so beautiful and really enjoys seeing the dresses and the bridal parties getting ready.
What is your design aesthetic and how do you tackle planning other people’s visions, such as weddings?
It is my job as a designer to create something that is beautiful and that tells the story the client wants to tell, using my skills and expertise to go beyond something they may have imagined. I like combining unusual colors and textures and letting the flowers have a dialogue with each other. I also like using unconventional materials like twigs and peppers mixed with more conventional flowers like roses to create something that is unusual and dramatic. I know I have done my job well when the client’s mom walks into a room I have done and says “this looks just like my daughter” That’s when I know that I nailed it.
You’ve been a mother and business owner for seven years, and have done a fantastic job at both. What does your future look like?
Now that my kids are both in school and are a little more self-sufficient at home, I feel like I have the room to change gears and expand my business. Originally it started as a lifestyle business that would allow me to follow my passion for gardening and flowers while being close to my children. Now I am making sure that it runs more self-sufficiently so that I can expand the business. One amazing thing is that I have been able to take more and more vacations and not worry about the shop. I have also been able to attend business classes, go to networking events and have more vendor and client meetings off-site.
Finally, if you had 3 tips for other mothers that you wish someone would have told you, what would they be?
- Be yourself. As a mom you are always questioning what you do and how you are doing it - allow yourself to be comfortable and allow yourself to make mistakes.
- Make friends with other moms. It can be lonely being a new mom, and story time at the library, going to the park and mommy-and-me meetups and classes really helps you to get through the first few months. If you own a business, seek out other moms who are entrepreneurs. The moms I met when Lavender was a baby are still my friends today.
- Carve out time for yourself. It can be hard to have time for yourself when you have young children, with babies on call 24 hours a day. Find some time for yourself, take a yoga class, get your hair done, or go on a bike ride - anything that will get you out of your routine so you can clear your head!