Poppy is a female-founded company on a mission to be female-empowering. Women at different stages in their lives are finding fulfillment and joy through freelance floral design at Poppy. You’ll meet four members of our freelance designer network in this series.
“I can barely put it in words. [Working for Poppy] is the most exciting thing that has happened in a long time.”
Marian is a retired special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. She spent the first 20 years of her career in special education, then pivoted to working with international students for 15 years. In addition to her work at a Connecticut high school, she ran an adult education program for foreign language speakers. In her generations-spanning outreach, she’d often teach at night the parents and grandparents of her high school students.
After 35 years in education, Marian felt pulled to start a new life closer to her grown sons and daughters-in-law in northern Virginia. She moved to the greater Washington, DC, area excited for a busy, vibrant life of crowded sidewalks, cultural lectures, and new friends.
Instead, she had just seven months to enjoy this lifestyle before COVID struck and brought an abrupt end to nights out and trips to museums. She couldn’t even be around her children or her first grandson; everyone was separated to prevent the spread of infection.
Marian describes this season of her life as unsettling and strange. She’d given up her big house and decades-long friendships in Connecticut for a small city apartment she couldn’t leave. She hadn’t made the decision rashly, and she didn’t regret it – but she lacked purpose.
Marian is a big believer in manifestation. Think it, create it, go with it – that’s her mantra. She went to her rooftop and expressed her need for something to do. That “something” couldn’t be teaching (though she’d return to that in a new way – this is part of her story), and it had to be creative and COVID-safe. Oh, yes. And it couldn’t have a strict schedule.
She actually laughed at herself. The qualifications seemed impossible.
The very next day, she got an unexpected call from a contact who’d just started working with a new floral startup called Poppy. This woman described to Marian a job that was creative, COVID-safe and flexible.
Marian couldn’t believe it: this was exactly what she’d manifested. She said immediately that she wanted to learn more about Poppy.
Marian wasn’t new to floral design, but she didn’t call herself an expert. She’d begun designing when one of her sons was planning his wedding. The couple was focused on the venue and the music. The flowers weren’t a priority. Marian didn’t want to intrude, but she was secretly disappointed that the event wouldn’t include flowers. She took her best helpful mother-in-law approach and offered to pay for and arrange the flowers herself – how about that, she asked?
Her son and his fiancee accepted her offer, and Marian sought out a Washington, DC, florist for guidance and hands-on help. Together, they made floral arches, and Marian made the chair posies and centerpieces. She was struck by how much she enjoyed the process.
But making a second career of floral design hadn’t crossed her mind.
Yet, here was the opportunity meeting her checklist of demands. Equally fortuitous was that 2020 was the year of microweddings, small events with COVID pods and modest floral requests. Couples really just wanted a bouquet and a boutonniere.
Cameron Hardesty, Poppy founder and CEO, invited Marian to her home in DC and taught her how to make the essential personals. After the session, Marian went straight to the grocery store, bought armfuls of flowers, and went home to practice.
She practiced for months on end. Poppy’s in-house experts mentored Marian and taught her about processing flowers and the artistry of perfecting arrangements. Her design sense became more refined and she began to see which specific stems needed to be loosened up or pulled out – even just a fraction of an inch. The pieces that once took multiple hours to build, she could now construct in a single hour. She remembers the first time she handed a bouquet to a bride, apprehensive about how her work would be received.
The bride loved it.
Now, one of Marian’s favorite parts of wedding florals is handing over the bouquet. She is a Reiki master who brings intentionality to every design. Marian delights in creating for couples and imbues the bridal bouquet, in particular, with positive energy. That positive energy gets reflected back at her with every happy couple that sees a vision come to life.
What’s more, Marian is once again socializing outside her apartment and meeting people in her new city. Poppy takes her places and serves as a connector between designer and venues. Some of the wedding venues she’s visited for deliveries and installations have become sites she’s introduced to her son’s Washington, DC-based nonprofit.
Marian has serviced more than 50 Poppy weddings. These events range from COVID-era micro celebrations to large-scale events, including a New Year’s Eve wedding with 35 tables, an arch, and custom personals like a varmala (a floral garland traditional in Indian weddings). And, of course, she keeps her own home decorated with fresh flowers.
She has quickly become one of the market’s most experienced freelance designers, but Marian isn’t sitting quietly waiting for her next job. She thrills in networking with other local florists, taking them out to lunch and picking their brains about the industry. In addition to her work with Poppy, Marian has created her own business: Foliage Blooms. One of her best customers is her son, whose nonprofit hosts frequent events. Marian laughs at the notion that starting a business at age 67 is scary. She insists that one can never age out of an opportunity – there’s excitement in trying something new and networks of people to give you help, encouragement, or training.
Poppy has been an on-ramp for Marian into a new hobby and job. Her Poppy earnings go directly into a travel fund. So far, she’s visited Ukraine, Amsterdam and Croatia. Greece is next, she says.
Her excitement in aligning with Poppy is largely about the team’s friendliness and accessibility; further, it’s about the company’s commitment to women’s entrepreneurship and personal growth. Marian credits Cameron for ensuring that – from farmers to freelancers – Poppy employees are treated well, compensated fairly, and spoken to with kindness and transparency.
With wedding season just a few months away, Marian is getting ready for new Poppy couples and their visions. And though she didn’t manifest it, she’s finding that she can’t quite shake her identity as an educator. She’s run Poppy workshops over Zoom, and she hopes to do more workshops this year – whether for Poppy or Foliage Blooms. It’s hard to suppress the great energy of learning and creating, Marian says, and now she doesn’t have to operate by the sound of a school bell!
Interested in joining the Poppy Designer Network? Get started here.
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