I knew I was ready to start working for myself, and I knew it had to be with flowers.
Peonies, plumerias, orchids, hydrangeas, you name it. Flowers have been Kelsey Harper’s passion since she was a little girl helping her mother in the garden. Twenty years later, her passion has blossomed into her livelihood, with Kelsey’s floral expertise in demand by Hollywood’s famed Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower hotels, as well as brides and event planners across Los Angeles. But it took many twists, turns and leaps of faith before Kelsey (now known as Flower Girl Los Angeles) arrived at her vocation. For her, as for many creatives, the winding path to success only makes sense in hindsight.
Kelsey, the daughter of a successful Hollywood stunt coordinator, had no thoughts of floristry when she graduated high school. Instead, she trained as a special effects makeup artist, planning to follow in her father’s footsteps and work in showbiz. Once she left makeup school, she started nannying on the side while she figured out her next steps. One thing she knew for sure: the idea of working her way up the highly-competitive Hollywood ladder, for very little to no pay, just didn’t seem appealing.
She moved to Maui for a year to work as a bookkeeper for her aunt’s interior design business and, on the side, worked with a woman selling fresh leis—Hawaiian floral garlands. Handling flowers each day inspired her. “They are usually made of plumeria and orchids. Also, the ones I sold had tuberose mixed with rose buds, which was beautiful,” says Kelsey. “She taught me how to make the garlands, which just sparked this deep interest in florals. I loved doing it. I loved being around the flowers.”
At that point, she still had no idea her connection to flowers would evolve into an actual career path. So when she left Maui and moved back to LA, she spent another 6 years nannying. The whole time she longed to work for herself, the question being, “Doing what?” The answer came when the family she worked for sent her to LA’s famed downtown flower market once a week to buy blooms for the whole house. Once again, Kelsey found herself inspired. Being around the flowers helped her formulate ideas for her future. “All the scents and colors and textures of the flower market stimulated me,” says Kelsey. “It made me so happy, picking things out, forming relationships with vendors and getting to know their families. I knew I was ready to start working for myself. And I knew it had to be with flowers.”
Her first idea was to open a mobile flower shop in a vintage Airstream trailer. She worked on her business plan and website at a collective workspace, surrounded by fellow creatives pursuing their own dreams. They kept her motivated. “Being around all these other people who were working all the time really pushed me,” says Kelsey. “I might not have had that work ethic or that drive otherwise.” Her workspace colleagues were also the first to call her “flower girl”.
Through her social network, she landed her first account, the Chateau Marmont hotel, and started creating floral arrangements for the guest rooms. She put the Airstream trailer idea on hold, realizing she didn’t need a storefront per se. Then the Sunset Tower Hotel got in touch. And then the brides. Kelsey’s business was growing non-stop—and she’d never even taken a flower arranging class. “I just taught myself,” says Kelsey. “It was trial and error. I looked at images online, on Pinterest especially, and I practiced a lot.” Impressive—and did we mention she is a single mom, too?
“I knew from the beginning that I was going to be taking care of the baby by myself, and knowing that made me so determined to succeed,” says Kelsey. Now she has her design studio at the back of her home, and gets to spend as much time with her son as she wants- all while building her business. “I love being able to have something that’s all mine,” she says. “If I want to close my shop for a week and travel, I can. It’s incredible to have that freedom.”
Written by Caroline Ryder Photography by Curtis Buchanan