2023 Speaker Profile: VALERIE CRISOSTOMO
THE STORY OF BLACK GIRL FLORISTS -- Valerie Crisostomo established Black Girl Florists as a community for Black women in the floral profession. Hear her story as an event planner-turned-floral designer-turned-change leader in the floral industry. Meet the creatives involved in Black Girl Florists and learn how you can get involved in this dynamic collective that is opening doors and elevating Black women in floristry.
Like any well-executed event, the genesis of Black Girl Florists started with a list.
Valerie Crisostomo, owner of One Soul Events and Flowers, was responding to a particular request from clients. “It was 2020, during the height of racial turmoil,” says Valerie, “and people were looking to support Black-owned businesses, so I started to look for florists in the industry who looked like me.” She spread the word and created a list of vendors for potential clients. “But then I found that a lot of the women wanted to engage with one another, so I turned Black Girl Florists into an organization,” she says. Today, Black Girl Florists is a professional organization and thriving non-profit with Valerie at the helm.
When we chat, she’s still buzzing from the second annual Black Girl Florists conference that wrapped up a few days before. She’s spent a good part of the day clearing out her inbox and arranging distribution of extra flowers to local Atlanta-based florists. The two-and-a-half day gathering is very hands-on with this year’s 35 participants from across the country (and Canada, too) working on different pieces through various sessions—retail, large event or wedding, and installation.
Organizing a conference would be daunting to most people, but it was a natural extension of Valerie’s skill set. She’s an event planner by trade and has run her own business orchestrating events and weddings of all sizes since 2013. Adding floral design to her suite of offerings came later. “I had a bride ask me to help her with her flowers,” Valerie says. Despite her lack of training at the time— “I had no idea how to work with flowers”—Valerie accepted the challenge and loved it. She built her skills through “YouTube University” and courses, and learned from others as she picked up freelancing gigs. Before long she was a sought-after, full-service planner with the added bonus of being able to design the flowers, too.
Producing a full event design complete with flowers is still one of her favorite things about the industry, but recently she’s stepped back a bit to concentrate on Black Girl Florists, which takes about a third of her time. “I’ve changed the model of my personal business to take on more freelance floristry,” she says. “That frees up my time so that I’m able to be present with the organization.”
Black Girl Florists is living its vision to “celebrate and support Black women-owned businesses.”
With a small team to help, Valerie says she engages regularly with about 300 to 500 florists. There is no cost for a business to list on the site. “We didn’t want cost to be a hurdle for any Black woman who is a florist,” she says. “We want them to be part of the list and to be found at the very minimum.” Through a regular newsletter, a Facebook community group, an online portal with industry information, and virtual and in-person events—including the Black Girls Flower Club that meets quarterly online—the organization is living its vision to “celebrate and support Black women-owned businesses.”
“One of the highlights is how the women connect with one another,” says Valerie. “The idea that we can put competition behind us and truly work together has been one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced,” she says. The organization provides many avenues for members to share ideas and resources, hash out problems, and bring down barriers. “There are still systemic hurdles that we as Black women have not overcome in this country,” says Valerie, “and I’m just so happy to play a small part in taking down one hurdle in this industry.”
Among many other benefits, she’s found that the organization helps florists find local freelancers and also helps to balance speaker panels, workshops and other events that are too often monochrome. “We partner with various organizations in the floral industry where there’s not a lot of representation,” Valerie says. “And we make the connections if those organizations need speakers or any type of support or information from the Black perspective.”
Black Girl Florists is supported by three pillars: community, collaboration, and championship. “We need each other to grow,” she says, “that’s how competition is eradicated. I can’t do all the weddings; my sisters can’t do all the weddings.” She’s particularly proud of all of the collaborative efforts she’s been able to support. A team of 12 women from across the country recently worked together on the Philadelphia Flower Show, for instance. Cheering each other and their businesses as they venture along the flower path is a natural extension of the Black Girl Florists' culture. “We openly share our wins with each other without fear that someone is going to tear you down or make you feel like you’re not worth being celebrated,” she says.
Celebration is the premise of the awards given at the Black Girl Florists conference. “We purposely come together for one night to share accolades in what we have done. We nominate one another and the greater audience can vote, but understanding and knowing your sisters see you and that they’ve nominated you, that’s a big deal,” she says.
At the Slow Flower’s Summit, Valerie will be telling the story of Black Girl Florists. “I also want to talk about our identity as florists or flower farms,” she says. “How do we set ourselves apart in a space that seems oversaturated, how do we determine our strong suits, how do we decide what works best for us.” She’s recently asked herself the same questions, thought hard about the parts of her business that she loves, and came down firmly on the side of flowers. “I was running the business, but didn’t get a true chance to execute my work,” she says. Now, as a freelancer, she feels like she’s able to do exactly what she loves every day. “I show up, design, and go home.” Honing in on what she loves is clearly a win for Valerie, it’s also a win for the women she elevates through Black Girl Florists.
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.