2023 Speaker Profile: JULIO FREITAS
Julio Freitas is the owner of The Flower Hat, an event floral design studio and flower farm based in Bozeman, Montana. Julio's passion for floral design grew into flower farming when he realized he could successfully grow flowers despite Montana's challenging climate. Even as his business grows, he consistently develops educational resources and opportunities, teaching others how to succeed in business and thrive in floral design and farming.
“This is the luxurious part of floral design,” jokes Julio Freitas as he speaks to me over Zoom from a bathroom, the only part of his studio that’s not currently in use. The man behind The Flower Hat, a floral design studio and flower farm in Bozeman, Montana, rolls with the chaos though. It’s a nice problem to have. “We’ve just had the largest dahlia tuber sale we’ve ever had,” he says, “and we’ve been shipping all week.” It’s a relief after the technological problems of last year’s sale when the website crashed. “I just remember sitting in front of the computer and watching the order counter and it wasn’t spinning,” he recalls. He was used to getting about 1,000 orders within the first 10 minutes, but it wasn’t happening. “So many people were trying to check out, that our e-commerce platform couldn’t handle it.” He promised his clients a new and improved site and this year he delivered.
He overcame that technological challenge, but is dealing with another one today. “My Instagram account got hacked and it’s completely gone,” he says. “If not, we’re just going to rebuild and restart and it’s going to be great.” (Update: it’s live again!) Flipping the narrative when things go sideways is a guiding principle of Julio’s work. “It’s so easy to get bogged down by ‘failures,’” he says, “by what didn’t work. We forget to focus on the things that are actually working and celebrate the successes.”
Carving a business based on local flowers in one of the nation’s shortest growing seasons (he’s in Zone 4B) is definitely on the success side of the ledger. The farm at The Flower Hat, which covers about an acre, annuals go in the ground near Memorial Day and the first frost is around Labor Day, Julio explains. It’s an intense season, but Julio says that growing his own flowers on his one-acre farm gives him a unique edge. “Adding local flowers to the flowers that anyone can get has really elevated my design style,” he says. “I like to celebrate the imperfections of local flowers—their wonky stems, the ones that curve, the ones that don’t grow so well or have short stems. There’s room for all of that in design, and learning to incorporate all of the different textures and elements that nature provides makes being a designer exciting.”
Julio has been in the flower industry since 2011, when he started providing flowers for a coffee shop in his neighborhood. At the time he had a full-time job as manager of a corporate hotel, where he was tagged as being the “creative” on the team, and designed flowers on the side. “People started picking up my card [at the coffee shop],” he explains and soon he was being asked to do flower deliveries and even weddings. Eventually he had to choose, and floral design won path won out, even though he had no firm business on the horizon. “Based on the number of events that I had done in one year when I had a full-time job, I figured I could work in floral design and still be okay,” he says, but, even still, he took the gamble in Fall 2014 without a single wedding or event scheduled, and nothing on the books for 2015. Soon, though, his calendar was full with weddings, largely based on the relationships he cultivated with wedding planners, venues, photographers, and cake artists in Bozeman. “I was booked for the year by about March,” he says.
Growing his own flowers came as a natural extension when he started to see designs with a more organic style.
Growing his own flowers came as a natural extension when he started to see designs with a more organic style. “It was a style I wasn’t even really aware of,” he says, but soon he was asking his wholesaler for annual phlox, cosmos, zinnia, and other “cute and dainty flowers.” When he realized they couldn’t be easily shipped he was inspired. “It piqued my interest that I could start to grow some flowers here,” he says. He started with a few zinnias and dahlias on a small plot behind his studio and the rest is The Flower Hat history. Paying attention to what grows well in his climate rather than what others are growing is when things really took off for his business, as did having the ability to “buy flowers from himself.”
Today, there are many branches to Julio’s business. He has a solid base of private clients who want flowers for their homes, particularly during the ski and golf seasons, and these connections and others in the business community have spun off into weddings and events. His fall bulb and dahlia sales are wildly popular, and he also offers several two- and three-day workshops with different focuses from wedding florals to design theory and finding your own design style.
At the Slow Flowers Summit, Julio will present a one-hour version of one of his most popular workshop, tailored for the florists, growers, and farmer-florists in attendance. He’ll also highlight the beauty of Montana-grown blooms and foliage that define The Flower Hat style.
Slow Flowers Summit welcomes Adrienne Mason as our profile contributor for the 2023 season. Adrienne Mason is a writer and editor based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She specializes in writing about science, nature, and the cultural history of the west coast. She is the author of over 30 books for both adults and children, the most recent of which is Whales to the Rescue. Adrienne also specializes in writing for museums, parks, and interpretive centers, and her work is in dozens of exhibits across Canada. When she’s not at her desk, Adrienne spends as much time as possible outdoors—hiking, camping, beachcombing, and in her garden, to which she recently added two large cut flower beds. Visit Adrienne at adriennemason.com.