When the farm-to-table movement swept over San Francisco’s culinary landscape several years ago, Christina Stembel couldn’t help but notice the flowers gracing the tables of her favorite restaurants: “I kept thinking, ‘why are there ugly carnations on the tables, when everything else is so visually pleasing and locally sourced?’ ”
Stembel, who was then an event planner at Stanford University, began researching the floral industry. The more she dug, the more disenchanted (and surprised) she became with her findings: Eighty percent of all flowers sold in the U.S. are imported. And by the time they make the seven to nine day journey from South America or Africa, they don’t last much longer.
Related: How to Arrange Flowers Like a Pro
“I realized that this was actually a problem,” says Stembel. “But there wasn’t even a conversation about it. People assumed the American floral industry is green, but it’s not.”
She also discovered that seventy-nine percent of floral purchases in America are made by women buying for other women. And in an industry whose sales exceeded 31 billion dollars last year, all the new startups were founded by men (typically those with deep pockets and tech backgrounds). So in November 2010, Stembel quit her job at Stanford to start up Farmgirl Flowers, the only floral company that exclusively uses American-grown flowers, most of which are from California. Aside from using domestic blooms and being female-owned, Farmgirl stands out for other reasons, too.
Rather than offer an overwhelming variety of bouquets, Farmgirl offers one daily arrangement – you can pick from three sizes – wrapped in biodegradeable, reused coffee bags. “By limiting options, we can keep the price more reasonable—American-grown flowers, are [generally] a lot more expensive than imported ones.”
Stembel also firmly believes she and her team of 25 designers know what women want and will love. “We’re not giving you a dozen roses or anything that looks like it’s from a grocery store.” Instead, each Farmgirl arrangement features flowers that were cut, at most, two days before, with a look that’s “whimsical and wild, like it was picked from a secret garden.” Stembel loves incorporating unexpected elements, like ornamental kale and eucalyptus, to make her arrangements look even more full and lush. (Plus, they’ll last a lot longer than your standard bouquet, since everything is legitimately fresh.)
Another thing Stembel has a strong opinion about? Not giving product away for free, in exchange for media coverage of any sort. “I think Instagrammers who claim to be brand influencers are the new Ponzi scheme. It’s not honest and I want to build an integrity-driven business, so I don’t ever do sponsored posts. I’m not going to play that game.”
Given Farmgirl Flowers’ blistering growth in the past couple years – Stembel confided that her company cleared nearly $1 million in sales in February alone – and location in San Francisco, it was only a matter of time before other people (specifically men with deep pockets and tech backgrounds) would try to cash in. While copycat companies have followed suit, Stembel says, “I’m not worried about the competition. Ultimately, we’re a passionate flower company that cares about creating a superior product, with zero outside funding. The one thing we are not is another tech start up.”