In a bi-weekly series, we're asking female executives, founders, CEOs—basically, boss ladies—about their "power suit" a.k.a. the outfit they wear every day for easy dressing to conquer whatever the job throws at them.
Our favorite entrepreneurs are disruptors in their industry, whether they happen to serendipitously fall into it or actively seek out that opportunity to make a change. Farmgirl Flowers founder Christina Stembel is the latter, quitting her full-time job at Stanford University to launch a flower delivery business that was bootstrapped by her own $49,000 in savings.
"I was intentional about starting a business. I wanted to check some boxes and I came up with 4,000 ideas before Farmgirl Flowers. I didn't want to take someone's idea and tweak it. I wanted to innovate," she says.
Stembel says she was dissatisfied with the floral offerings out there and struggled to find the type of arrangements she envisioned in her head. Additionally, back in 2010 when she was brainstorming, the whole flower delivery process was archaic and simply not that special. Then Farmgirl Flowers entered the picture, with its perfectly-designed-for-Instagram arrangements of in-season peonies, tulips, roses, anemones, and more, setting Stembel on a journey she still finds fulfillment and joy in 10 years later.
The journey itself has had its ups and downs. For Stembel, who grew up on a farm in rural Indiana and never attended college, everything about the flower industry was self-taught via books and videos, from learning the names of the varieties to understanding techniques like processing the flowers. "I was like, What do you mean? Then I watched YouTube videos and was like, Oh, it just means stripping the foliage off," she explains.
Stembel says she initially had no budget for marketing. Instead, she would place floral bouquets in coffee shops around San Francisco with a small set of marketing cards. "I would make sure the flowers were in different neighborhoods and that they were displayed on the actual bar where people pick up their coffee," she says. "[After a few weeks] I'd count how many cards were taken. If it was 40 or 50 cards taken, I would put another arrangement out. The bouquets [took] $20 [to make]."
The flowers were all arranged by Stembel in her apartment until her landlord caught on to her business. She eventually moved her operations to a stall in the San Francisco flower market. Attention to detail—Stembel's burlap wrap around the floral bouquets became her signature—plus the coffee shop guerrilla marketing worked. Fans started to spread the word about Farmgirl Flowers to their family and friends.
According to Stembel, what sets the brand apart from other DTC floral companies is Farmgirl's customer experience and emphasis on the flowers. Every arrangement comes expertly designed and some even with its own vase. I would add that Stembel's entrepreneurial story itself resonates with many of her fans and gives her brand popularity. The founder shares that the company is on track to generate 60 million in revenue this year—without the help of investors. (Stembel says she has tried to raise capital, but hasn't had success.)
She is undeterred, however, choosing to focus her energies on expanding her business where she can. This past year, she's decentralized her floral delivery system, opening up distribution centers around the world, from Ecuador to Miami. And with one more major holiday on the way, Christmas, an important time for the company's business, Stembel wants to end the year strong.
Ahead, the founder walks us through how she dresses for work and what pieces make her feel powerful when faced with making challenging decisions.
"My morning routine has definitely changed [during COVID-19]. I used to always leave my house. I tend to be a late-night worker, so I do get more sleep now because I don't have to wake up and drive to a distribution center. I still do one of the same things I've always done, though, and that's putting hot rollers in my hair. I used to put them in and drive with them in, but now I do it in the morning while I make coffee. It takes six minutes to do my hair. I am not a morning shower person, so I do that at night. And I [only] throw on a little makeup, thanks to Zoom having auto-correct on your face."
Her Getting Dressed Strategy
"At home, it depends on what the call is. If it's internal, I'm wearing sweater and stretchy pants. If it is more formal, I'll wear a nice blazer and shirt. I travel a lot to Ecuador for work, and was there in October for two and a half weeks, but have been trying to cut down on traveling. We need to go back to [Ecuador] in person for growing season in January, however, because the technology at these farms isn't the best, so calls will cut out.
For those days, my outfits look different. I go to farms where there is mud, so I wear work boots, jeans, and sweaters. Depending on the weather—it rains a lot there—I'll wear my Stella McCartney rain jacket, which goes with everything. [Sometimes] warehouses will be refrigerated, so you need to dress for warmth."
Her Work-From-Home Uniform
"I love clothes too much. I love sweaters and jeans. Moussy, Rag & Bone, and Mother—those are my three jean brands. I love Naked Cashmere sweaters and sweaters from Stella McCartney. For all my DIY tutorials, every one always asks where I get my sweaters; most of them I buy from The RealReal. Gucci is always a favorite [from that site].
If it's a more formal meeting, I wear blazers—I have lots of Stella McCartney, Zadig & Voltaire—and a nice shirt underneath it. With jeans and a blazer, you look put together and polished. It's a win right now if you're not wearing stretch pants.
I also actually just gifted myself a divorce present, which I went through this year. I bought myself a Chanel necklace that I've been wanting forever. I love wearing strong statement pieces, like Gucci's tigers—I have a tiger cardigan and ring from them—especially if I am in a tough meeting. I have to pull out my badass pieces. I used to have this $30 bull necklace, which is what lead me down to the Gucci tiger path. Anytime I am negotiating contracts, I'm wearing something with an animal on it. For jewelry, I like Jennifer Behr and Marni. Statement jewelry is for when I need to feel powerful, otherwise I wear more understated pieces."
The Words That Describe Her Power Outfit
"Fierce, strong, and powerful."
"To care about people, not care about what they think of you. And Maya Angelou's 'At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.'"