“Inside a boutique New York floral design firmusing flowers as a branding tool.”

Inside a townhome apartment near the bottom of a hill on the west side of Harlem, perched against a street sloping to the Hudson riverfront, Kelsea Olivia runs East Olivia, an inventive, burgeoning floral design studio and creative agency. Kelsea bought the home for both herself, living upstairs, and her floral design brand that now provides for five full-time employees.

Photo by Sylvie Rosokoff, sylviethecamera.com

Photo by Becky Smith of Smith House Photo smithhousephoto.com

Photo by Brooke Didonato, brookedidonato.com

Image provided by East Olivia, eastolivia.com

Photo by Sylvie Rosokoff , sylviethecamera.com

what exactly do they do?

Until 2016, Kelsea had virtually zero experience designing or arranging flowers. Three years later, East Olivia is one of the most visible floral design outlets in New York City, and Kelsea is attracting clients coast to coast – not so much by doing traditional weddings and events but by redefining how brands present themselves in public using flowers as a medium.
“We argue among ourselves about how to describe exactly what it is we do,” Kelsea shared. “We’re essentially a creative floral design agency.
Kelsea started her professional career in social media management in the mid- to late aughts, servicing MySpace pages for bands and musicians. She went on to work as a social media manager for L.A.- and Nashville-based talent agents and then doing branding work for major fashion brands in New York.
It wasn’t until she had engaged on the floral arrangements for her own wedding that she conceived of ever designing flowers. “It was like a light went off; it felt like I found my medium,” Kelsea said. “I spent 10 years in the music industry always supporting artists, never feeling like I was an artist.”
What Kelsea’s clients have come to expect, and what she delivers like few others have been able to, is exposure through social media platforms, driven by interactive moments involving dazzling and sometimes massive floral displays. Her work often includes a logo or branded display dressed in elaborate, sometimes construction-scale floral designs. In one such example, cases of La Croix sparkling water were adorned in pink and yellow roses. In another display designed for Vital Proteins, cascading stems of orchids and dried and colored palm fronds ensconced the company’s wordmark.
The images of these and other East Olivia floral renditions of company logos and products have been liked and shared thousands of times. Social media users, in turn, share this floral branding with hundreds of thousands of other individuals.
Social media engagement is not just a selling point but a wellspring for the floral artist. Kelsea’s company has amassed 30,000 social media fans and a book of more than 40 ongoing client projects including gigs with Alaska Airlines, Mastercard and Tinder.

Far more than just floral design

To her corporate clients, Kelsea is as much a brand consultant and event planner as a floral designer. She says most of her business comes not through the front door, or even her studio web page, but through connections on the studio’s Instagram account. Her newness to the industry has, perhaps, allowed her to access and appease clients in ways that traditional floral designers would never think to. East Olivia’s spectacularly swift success has occurred mostly in an expanding new corner of floral design.
Instagram is as much a medium for Olivia as her massive floral arrangements. A steady stream of posts includes a seamless mix of intimate floral macro shots, portraits (sometimes including Kelsea herself) and elaborate installations. Some feature tastefully integrated corporate imagery. Many others, intentionally, do not. Kelsea strives to achieve an “aesthetic consistency” across her platform that allows her to consult clients on their branding and imagery as much as she consults on floral displays.
“Our bread and butter is working with brands, but I work hard to create opportunities for us to create for the sake of creating,” Kelsea said.
One of those creations, erected earlier this year in front of Manhattan’s historic and iconic Flatiron Building, on Fifth Avenue, was so spectacular that it attracted the attention of local media. It involved the construction of a flower wall, approaching 20 feet high, laden with hundreds of lush roses, peonies, Camellia and pampas grass. This project, built for “NY Flower Week,” was financed out of pocket.
That type of creative effort is a sometimes expensive but vital precedent to pitching and landing brand-based work, according to Alexandria, Va.-based floral design consultant Amy Nicole, of Amy Nicole Floral. Designers seeking to attract the attention of major corporate clients need to offer a well-crafted sense of both physical and digital imagery.
“You have to make the work before people find you,” Amy said. “For me, in L.A., I was not looking for this work; this work found me on Instagram – 100 percent on Instagram. Clarks shoes found me on Instagram, liked my flowers, and contacted me to do flowers for their spring shoe campaign in their Santa Monica store. ZICO Beverages found me there and hired me to do a launch party for them.”
East Olivia has grown rapidly in much the same way. Kelsea has turned to Amy for guidance building some of the more physically challenging displays, many of which require not only structural construction and light engineering but also an understanding of how florals might hold up for the week that a corporation plans to use a display.

Consistency in social media

Not all East Olivia’s business has come directly through social media channels – Kelsea credits an ongoing partnership with Create & Cultivate (createcultivate.com), a platform that connects creative women and industry leaders. But Instagram has undoubtedly acted as the company’s springboard, and Kelsea treats the work East Olivia puts on social media as a full-time obligation. Early on she hired a professional photographer and social media manager, Janina Santillan.
In her work with Kelsea, Santillan functions partly as photography director and partly as social media manager, curating moments out of the day to post to East Olivia’s live Instagram Stories feed (the Stories feed runs separately from the main photographs the company posts). Together, they’ll review hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photos from a single project display to produce just a handful of social media images.
“Kelsea loves showing people a glimpse into her world and style, and what we can capture with content is endless,” Santillan said. “It’s really important for us to choose carefully which brands we work with, to create an overall aesthetic that is consistent and visible across everything we put out there.”
That constant and well-curated social media experience isn’t just a marketing gimmick; it’s part and parcel to the service East Olivia provides. Leveraging her own experience in social media and her artistic authority as a floral designer, Kelsea provides clients far more than flowers, and, in turn, they come back for far more than just bouquets.
“It’s really about elevating a brand. It’s saying, ‘I know your client is a millennial,’” Amy said. “People value having a creative mind they can turn to, and that is a big part of what Kelsea is offering and what I think a lot of florists have the opportunity to offer.”

John C. Harper is a professional journalist with experience covering government, politics and economics for newspapers including the New Orleans Times-Pica-yune, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The New York Times regional newspapers. He also is the founder and principal developer of Grapple Media, a Brooklyn-based startup software company developing automated fact-checking tools for news readers, journalists and research professionals.