Business Unusual: Floral Designer’s Campaign for Black Residents Made Hearts Open and Business Blossom

Oakland’s Ariana Marbley created an opportunity for anyone to give a flower to Black locals in her community to remind them that they’re supported, loved, and appreciated.

Ariana Marbley
How a floral designer organized a grassroots flower giveaway to provide joy and take a stand against racism

Oakland floral designer Ariana Marbley used literal flower power in the face of hopelessness. During this spring’s social unrest in response to the police killings of Black citizens in America, the owner of Esscents of Flowers turned to what she does best: she gathered and distributed flowers to uplift her local community in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The result of her spontaneous effort, which she named “The Yellow Rose Campaign … Loving on Black Men, Women, and Children,” has had positive long-term effects she never anticipated.

Esscents of Flowers

esscents-of-flowers
Ariana Marbley, owner of Esscents of Flowers.

Since 2016, Esscents of Flowers has been a one-woman popup business operating out of Marbley’s garage and at various Bay Area partner businesses. In addition to wedding and event floral design, Marbley delivers her vibrant flower arrangements to locations within 30 miles of Oakland, California. She also sells pre-made bouquets at a few Bay Area brick-and-mortar businesses. When the coronavirus shelter-in-place hit California in March, all of her events were canceled within a week. Her business slowed dramatically.

Just as she was re-establishing a steady flow of business during quarantine — consulting for events that moved to 2021 and pivoting to do more home deliveries — Marbley faced another unforeseen, heartbreaking challenge.

“When the Ahmaud Arbery incident happened, it was a blow, and then the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd events happened and I went into a deep funk,” Marbley recalls of the barrage of Black killings that filled headlines and fueled protests. “I didn’t have any words. It was just extremely somber.”

As a Black woman raising a Black family with her husband and 2 young sons, the reality of continued violent racism in the country was too much. She was needing a way to channel her pain in a proactive way.

“I knew there was nothing I could do to fix this and make it better,” she says. “Then I had a conversation with someone who said in college there was a ritual with their sorority in which someone from a fraternity would give a flower.”

A lightbulb went off. “That got me thinking, ‘Well I can give flowers to Black men, women, and children just to let them know that they are in fact loved and appreciated and seen, even when we don’t feel that way.’”

The Yellow Rose Campaign … Loving on Black Men, Women, and Children

The inspiring chat with her friend took place on the morning of Saturday, May 30. It was later that evening while brushing her teeth when Marbley had the epiphany of what she would do. She put down her toothbrush and posted on her website the option to purchase a $5 yellow rose to be randomly given out to Black residents throughout Oakland. She promoted it with a social media post that read, “Loving on our black men, women, and children one rose at a time.”

Marbley wanted to provide an opportunity for anyone to give a flower to remind Black locals that they’re supported.

Marbley wanted to provide an opportunity for anyone to give a flower to remind Black locals that they’re supported. Her choice of the yellow rose — because it “symbolizes friendship, joy, and caring” — happened to align with the BLM movement’s signature colors.

esscents-of-flowers-flowersThe business owner went to sleep that night thinking she’d get maybe 100 orders during a long campaign. She woke up to see responses rolling in. Within 2 days of spontaneously launching the initiative, she had nearly 500 orders to fill.

“It blew my mind because I absolutely did not think it was going to be received in that way!”

Friends and strangers were sharing The Yellow Rose Campaign via their social media channels,  and people of different races and backgrounds were contacting Marbley wanting to help. So with about 15 volunteers, she turned her home into a processing center with workstations set up in her garage and driveway for proper social distancing.

Roses were prepared for distribution and assembled with handwritten cards that read: “You are loved, you are appreciated, you matter. With love, Esscents of Flowers.”

How recipients responded

Five days after the seed for the idea was first sown, The Yellow Rose Campaign hit the streets on June 3 armed with buckets of roses. As BLM protests were happening, Marbley — who was born and raised in East Oakland — made sure the flowers were handed out across Oakland and with an emphasis on neighborhoods she knew were particularly victimized by police brutality.

Some told her it was the first time in their life they’d ever been given flowers.

How did recipients of the roses respond? She says women cried, men were thrilled, and children were smiling from ear to ear. Some told her it was the first time in their life they’d ever been given flowers.

“It was almost like people were stopped in their tracks because they didn’t believe [the rose] was meant for them,” she recalls. “To receive flowers right then — to reaffirm who they are at that moment — they said they didn’t even know they needed it. Their joy gave me the energy to go out and do more. It made me feel like we can do this and we’re going to get through this together.”

Having distributed 700 roses in total, Marbley says the campaign was one of the proudest experiences of her life.

“Even amidst the pain that everyone was feeling we were able to create this very soft and joyous moment.”

The campaign’s impact on business — and lessons learned from it

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The business owner gained more than just emotional rewards. Handing out flowers unexpectedly brought in a ton of residual business as well.

Marbley went from doing 10 to 15 home deliveries per week before The Yellow Rose Campaign to now fulfilling 60 to 80 flower deliveries per week. New clients have since been calling her for wedding consultations after having heard about her grassroots flower giveaway to the Black community.

Marbley went from doing 10 to 15 home deliveries per week before The Yellow Rose Campaign to now fulfilling 60 to 80 flower deliveries per week.

What has she learned from this time? Marbley says partnerships are needed in order to move past the pandemic and social unrest. She advises fellow business owners to stand up for what they believe in rather than shy away from controversial matters — because it’s becoming necessary as consumers want to know what their dollars are supporting.

“We’re seeing more and more conscious buyers concerned with where their money is going, and if you’re quiet you’re going to get lost in all this and no one is going to know who you are,” she warns. “If you’re afraid to take a stand, then not only are you losing on the business end, you’re also losing on the personal end.”

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