Meet seven exceptional women who have blazed trails in floristry, and learn from their inspiring stories.

pictures of all the women featured

By Jill Brooke

Look all around today, and you see so many women owning flower shops and floral design studios, as well as climbing the ladders in influence, impact and prestige in organizations and corporations in the flower industry. And the same thing is happening throughout the business world.

Today, there are an estimated 13 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., and an estimated 849 new women-owned businesses open every day in the United States. Over the past two decades, the number of women-owned firms has increased 114 percent. While 61 percent of women founders self-funded their businesses, others took loans.

The majority of female business owners (68.9 percent) are Gen Xers (those ranging in age from 44 to 59 in 2024). Additionally, 19.4 percent are baby boomers (ages 60 to 78 this year), and 10.7 percent are millennials, a.k.a. Generation Y (current ages 28 to 43).

According to the 2023 “Women in the Workplace” survey, published annually by McKinsey & Company and, the number of women in the C-suite (executive level) increased from 17 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2023. However, there is a phenomenon called the “Great Breakup,” where female executives are switching or leaving their jobs at increasing rates, largely due to wanting more balance in their lives. The upside, though, is that many of those women are looking for more entrepreneurial opportunities, and the flower industry is attractive to a number of them for several reasons. Not only do they find it satisfying and rewarding but many of them also report that sexism isn’t as much an obstacle.

In honor of “Women’s History Month” in the U.S., we want to share the stories of exceptional women blazing trails in the flower industry, in what will be an annual feature. Here are this year’s seven honorees.


Owner of Meadowscent
Gardiner, N.Y.

President of American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD)

Theresa Colucci

When Theresa Colucci, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, the current president of the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD), opened her retail flower shop Meadowscent in Gardiner, N.Y., in 1987, she wanted to feed her creative spirit after working in flower shops in Boston, Mass. “I wanted to stretch creatively and would go to SAF [Society of American Florists] and AIFD conferences to learn,” she says. “That broadened my view of the flower industry.” Soon, Colucci was designing for the Philadelphia Flower Show, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., and other events that took her around the world, as well as teaching at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. “Say ‘yes’ whenever you can,” she adds, “even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. You never know where it will take you.”

Her goals for 2024? Educating more florists and “working to keep the energy growing and every day striving to be better.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

TC: I got a job at a flower shop in high school and another while I was attending college working toward a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management. I loved working in those flower shops, so when I graduated, that’s the route I chose.

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

TC: My biggest challenge was acquiring a loan to open my shop. I was a 23-year-old female, and the banks shot me down. My father was an entrepreneur and believed in my business plan, so he loaned me the money.

FR. How has the role of women in floristry evolved over the years?

TC: Historically, flower shops were typically male owned well into the 1980s, bit since then, more women have become successful shop owners and studio designers.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

TC: Jump on all opportunities for floral design education. Pursuing a job with some education will get you in the door, and then many employers will be much more willing to train you.

FR: Of what accomplishments are you most proud?

TC: Getting inducted into AIFD in 2006. After that, my career took off, and I have made incredible connections that have led me to amazing projects, collaborating with top talent, where I am still learning and growing every day.

FR: Is there a need for more recognition and representation of women in the floristry industry?

TC: Yes. The talents of floral artists need to be recognized and valued in the U.S. the way they are in other countries so that women can make it a successful and financially viable career.


Owner of One Soul Events & Flowers
President and CEO of Black Girl Florists
Atlanta, Ga.


Valerie Crisostomo is the president and CEO of Black Girl Florists, an Atlanta, Ga.-based organization that promotes and supports Black women florists and their creativity and contributions to the industry. It also provides connections and educational resources to them. She is a wedding and event planner, too, as the owner of One Soul Events & Flowers, also in Atlanta.

After starting out as an event planner, Crisostomo studied the Dedman College of Hospitality at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Upon graduation, she relocated to Atlanta and began a career in hospitality, working at The St. Regis Atlanta. “In the following years, I worked for a few event-planning firms, and, ultimately, I assumed the event director position at Atlanta’s Hotel Clermont while simultaneously working at my own flower company,” she says.

During the pandemic, Crisostomo was “seeking out community in the floral industry and sought out florists who looked like me. That is when I started Black Girl Florists.” It filled a need and created a community. In 2023, Black Girl Florists became the first all-Black-women team to create an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. “Our installation, titled ‘United Through Our Pour,’ reflected what our organization stands for: togetherness, unity, beauty and coming together to grow and build,” Crisostomo says.

Her goals for 2024? “My goals are a little less about perfection and more about growth and expansion. Black Girl Florists is aiming to grow to more than 750 members. I also aspire to be surrounded by more flowers and florists this year than ever before.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

VC: I started working with flowers when I was an event planner, when one of my brides asked me to help her with her wedding flowers. I decided to take the leap and give it a try. It worked!

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

VC: As a Black woman, I have encountered minimal opportunities to showcase my work in the industry. I have overcome this by purposely sharing my work on my social platforms and networking at various conferences. My “interior” challenge is accepting that I am a unique florist. For a time, I tried to fit into a particular style of floristry, but now I lean into the varieties I want to see and the way I want my arrangements to feel.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

VC: Design pieces that you love; floral design is highly subjective. Develop your craft, and seek out mentorship and classes that focus on the areas that speak the most to you.

FR: Of what accomplishments in your career are you most proud?

VC: Black Girl Florists participation in the Philadelphia Flower Show. We came together from around the nation and executed ideas and worked together to create an extraordinary installation.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

VC: I am intentional about resting in the summer months and working hard during peak event seasons. I also purposely make time to go to church on weekends and to spend time with my family and friends for milestone events.

FR: Is there a need for more recognition and representation of women in the floristry industry?

VC: There is a need for more recognition and representation of Black florists. We make up such a small percentage of the industry, and we work hard in various areas of floral design that often go unrecognized.


Owner of The Hidden Garden
Los Angeles, Calif.


Amy Marella is the owner of The Hidden Garden in Los Angeles. Although one claim to fame is creating flowers for the NFL’s Super Bowl Tailgate Parties for the past 12 years, she also creates flower displays for top L.A.-area hotels including The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and the Beverly Wilshire.

Although Marella started in the music business, her flower hobby turned into a career 23 years ago when she funded her own store. One advantage of being a woman? “We maintain good relationships, and we know how important personal service is. What you do with flowers and how you relate to clients are the most important aspects, and not everyone does those things well,” she says.

Marella is proud of all the great relationships she’s forged and her laser-like focus on being “consistent.” “Accounts like the NFL and luxury hotels demand that we be consistent and always do what we say,” she explains.

Her biggest challenge is finding the right people. “If you bring in an employee who is not a good fit with your values, release the person right away,” Marella advises. “One bad egg will infiltrate your team and impact morale and the business. Our business is labor intensive, and ‘team’ is everything.”

Her goals for 2024? “To continue growing the hotel business side of my business, improving communication with my team and further enhancing service to my clients.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

AM: I used make flower arrangements in my apartment for fun while I worked in the music industry. Lots of co-workers would order arrangements from me, and, eventually, that “side hustle” turned into a full-time job.

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

AM: Being taken seriously sometimes. Most people don’t realize how hard we work and think our business is more of a hobby and a fun activity.

FR. How has the role of women in floristry evolved over the years?

AM: When I started my business 20-some years ago, I was one of the few female flower shop owners at the Los Angeles Flower Market. It was a male-dominated business. Today, I think it’s about 50/50; the playing field has leveled a bit, and there are a lot more female-owned businesses in the flower industry today.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

AM: Get a job at a flower shop that is at the level you desire to be. Not all flower shops are the same, and some environments are not for everyone.

FR: Of what accomplishments in your career are you most proud?

AM: I created my business on my own and now employ more than 30 people. Working with the NFL at the Super Bowls is a big accomplishment. Our hotel business is another major accomplishment. I earned my first hotel account 12 years ago, and today, we service most of the five-star hotels in Beverly Hills.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

AM: I rely heavily on my amazing team. Without them, there would be no balance.


Owner of Alaska Perfect Peony
Homer, Alaska


Eighteen years ago, Rita Jo Shoultz had a dream to grow peonies in Alaska, and today, that dream is a thriving reality known as Alaska Perfect Peony. The farm comprises 27 acres and created a worldwide market because these flowers, loved by brides, are now available in mid-July, August and even September. Plus, she gets to work with her son Shannon.

Her journey started in 1996 when she launched Fritz Creek Gardens, a retail garden center in Homer that specialized in Alaska Hardy® perennials, trees, shrubs, roses and vines. A fan of peonies, she started asking questions about growing them in Alaska of local horticulturists at the neighboring Kenai Peninsula College.

Shoultz’s advice is to go with your passion but educate yourself first. Go to conferences, visit universities, earmark time for your own research. She joined Certified American Grown, among other organizations, and traveled around the globe to learn about the cut flower market. “What I’ve learned is to control your expectations and be realistic,” she says. “Do your homework, understand your market and experiment to find what works.”

Her biggest challenge and goal for 2024 is “getting the recognition that cut flower farming is farming.” She is a can-do girl and is determined to help get this sector the respect it deserves while making Alaska a destination for flowers.

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

RJS: After 25 years in the commercial real estate development industry, I was burnt out. I took the summer of 1996 off and played in my personal gardens. I enjoyed being in the dirt, and I thought why not do something I love, so I started with a retail greenhouse. One day, I received a call from a commercial photographer in New York who needed peonies for a Bath & Body Works campaign. I cut them from my own gardens and sent them. When I saw my peonies in the window displays of the company’s stores and in magazine ads, I decided to share my beauty and love going forward. Growing peonies is now my all-time passion.

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

RJS: My challenges have been getting more respect for flowers as an agriculture product. If it’s not food, it gets left out sometimes. I’ve worked in Washington, D.C., to break that trend, but we still have work to do.

FR. How has the role of women in floristry evolved over the years?

RJS: The roles of women in all areas have changed dramatically since I entered the workforce. Women now hold many leadership positions. For example, I am honored to be the chairperson for Certified American Grown, representing about 50 percent of the cut flower and foliage growers in the U.S.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

RJS: It’s hard work, and you need to accept that before making the leap. Volunteer to work in a business similar to what you would like to do. Join as many organizations as you have the time and dollars to participate in. Read the blogs of as many florists and farmers as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help.

FR: Of what accomplishments in your career are you most proud?

RJS: Years ago, I started asking business owners in our community if I could plant peonies in front of their businesses. Of course, they all said yes, and after a few years, the mayor declared Homer to be the “City of Peonies,” and now we have an annual “Homer Peony Celebration” during the month of July. People come from all over the world. Also, there are now close to 200 peony farms in Alaska, and I take great pride in my role in helping others. I’ve blogged over the years and taught all over the state and across the world, sharing my experience and love.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

RJS: What personal life? My business is my life.


Co-owner of Fleurs de Villes
Vancouver, B.C.  Canada

Canada-based Tina Barkley, who co-founded Fleurs de Villes (FDV) in 2016 with Karen Marshall, found a solution to a problem impacting the bottom line of many retail flower stores: decreasing foot traffic as consumers move toward online shopping. Enter Fleurs de Villes, which creates luxury public flower events, partnering with worldwide brands and tapping top local florists in cities around the world to create elaborate works of art for public display. The organization has produced 94 shows in 27 cities since launching in 2016. For 2024, 22 shows are confirmed, with many sponsors being repeat customers.

“Florists enjoy working with FDV, and several have met great partners who have given them subsequent business,” says Barkley. “Our shows are intended to showcase each florist’s talent and give each florist a platform in which to engage with the public, gain large installation experience and create fantastic content for themselves.”

As far as goals for the future, Barkley says Fleurs de Villes will continue to build the brand and expand into other areas. “Our plan is to not be limited to flower shows but to become the world’s most well-known floral lifestyle brand.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

TB: Karen and I are not florists, but we love flowers, so as marketers and content creators, we set out to showcase floral design talent and to bring flowers to millions of flower lovers and other consumers in a completely new way.

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

TB: The pandemic threw a huge wrench into things, so we took our shows outside during that period. Sponsorship has been a struggle in the slower economy over the last year, so we’ve had to be creative with our activations and offerings. Financing for women in business is always a challenge—and the list goes on. At FDV, we say that the obstacle in our path is our path, and onward we go.

FR: Of what accomplishments in your career are you most proud?

TB: Fleurs de Villes has reinvented the “flower show” to the benefit of both florists and the public. We have taken the best of other traditional flower shows, which tend to be more garden oriented, and made flowers the focus. We provide florists in each city with not only a platform for designing something different and creative that they can use in their portfolios but also a live event to showcase their floral artistry to the public.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

TB: Balancing work and life while traveling the world is challenging, and one affects the other, both negatively and positively. Karen’s and my children ranged in age from 11 to 14 when we started, and there always seemed to be some event at home the minute we stepped foot in another city. At the same time, though, our kids have grown up seeing strong determined mothers who don’t take no for an answer and who try a different route if the route they are on leads to a dead end. We both wanted to build confident, resilient kids, so we believe our example has been a plus over the years.

FR: Is there a need for more recognition and representation of women in the floristry industry?

TB: More women in every industry is a bonus. Women see things differently and often bring a different approach to situations; however, a balance is a good thing.


Owner of Holly Heider Chapple Flowers

Owner of Hope Flower Farm & Winery

Founder of Chapel Designers

Waterford, Va


Holly Heider Chapple is known as the “flower mama” throughout the flower industry; she is a mentor, teacher, luxury florist, flower farmer and product developer. Her generous spirit and business acumen have helped many designers start and run profitable businesses, and her enchantingly beautiful weddings are not only inspiring but also trendsetting.

Chapple attributes much of her success to being immensely resourceful in finding new segments for her business. When she needed a design armature solution to create flowers effectively and sustainably, she developed the “Egg” and “Pillow” mechanics that are now produced and marketed by Syndicate Sales.

After operating her successful wedding and event design business from her home-based studio in Leesburg, Va., for 27 years, Chapple moved her operation to Hope Flower Farm & Winery, in Waterford, Va., in Loudoun County, a 25-acre property she purchased in 2015 to be her education facility and to grow flowers for her floral design business. In 2020, Chapple and her late husband Evan opened the farm to the public, with the goal of creating a floral destination, and today, the property is home to not only a flower farm but also a winery, a gift shop, an event venue and a retail flower shop, and the business features cut-your-own flower fields and flower festivals. Guests can stay overnight in a charming cottage.

Chapple’s challenges have included the recent loss of her beloved husband and business partner while being available for her seven grieving kids; she currently has three teenagers in the house. The loss has made her even more conscious of the importance of time management. “Everything became complicated with his passing: payroll, trash disposal, ordering plant stock and seeds, running equipment, and managing construction crews for build-outs on the farm, which Evan used to do,” she says. “And getting the children everywhere by myself turned into a considerable challenge.”

Goals for 2024? “To increase the guest counts and profit at Hope Flower Farm & Winery; to keep my staff employed and inspired and to create an incentive program for their advancement; to be present for my family by working on my business, not in my business; and to return to being present and available for the flower industry.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

HHC: My desire to be home with my children. As a young mother who had not completed her college degree, I turned to what I knew: farming, landscaping and retailing. I attribute much of my knowledge to my parents, who operated a garden center and landscaping firm.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

HHC: Ensure you learn from experienced designers in your specific niche. While social media is a fantastic tool, understand that not everyone has the credentials to advise; they may just be good at social media. Be prepared to work incredibly hard, and realize that this career is for those who love flowers and the art of design more than a big paycheck.

FR: Of what accomplishments are you most proud?

HHC: I will always treasure teaching in Russia, China and Europe; designing at the White House during the Obama Administration; designing at the Kennedy Center; and earning Hope Flower Farm after years of hard work. Also, this month, March 2024, a new rose variety will be introduced that will bear my name; Evan chose the name ‘Holly’s Hope’. I have also had the pleasure of consulting on other plant materials that will be commercialized.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

HHC: Balance is not something I am known for, but I am working toward that. When a traumatic life experience happens, you learn quickly what matters most and how you must be present. Having the right team in place has helped me navigate our growth.


Floral Artist, Educator, Consultant and Founder of Design358
Bowen Island, B.C.  Canada


Many of you may remember that Hitomi Gilliam, AIFD, owned and operated Satsuki’s Florist in Mission, B.C., Canada for 27 years. “I dug deep into design even though I was self-taught. I would cruise around other shops looking for inspiration,” she says. As her skills improved, she started competing in (and winning) flower design competitions and presenting floral design programs, and what she learned is that she loved being a teacher and educator. Today, she presents education programs online and in person around the world. Furthermore, she gets to work with her son Colin Gilliam.

Her goal for 2024? “Getting people to recognize sustainable floristry—how to reuse things and reduce waste.”

FR: What inspired you to pursue floristry as a career?

HG: I was an upstart greenhouse grower specializing in Fuchsia (more than 300 varieties) and spring bedding plants. I opened a retail plant shop that turned into a plant and flower shop. I became interested in floristry after taking a small wedding, and it soon became an obsession.

FR: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the flower industry?

HG: In the 1980s and ’90s, the upper tier of floral designers in flower competitions and show designing were mostly men, and the men would gather together. After placing well in competitions at the national level, I began my journey into the show design circuit, also a male-dominated world. It challenged me to work hard to stay abreast and to be edgy, innovative and creative.

FR. How has the role of women in floristry evolved over the years?

HG: With Martha Stewart’s influence dominating the flower world, especially with wedding designs, more and more women began leading the charge with gorgeous wedding flowers for editorial work. Their feminine, soft and gardeny work became more visible, in combination with an upsurge of farmer-florist phenomenon, led Erin Benzakein at Floret. It’s also nice to see so many women in competitions.

FR: What’s your advice for women who aspire to enter the floristry profession?

HG: They must have a passion for flowers and floral design artistry. Seek, follow and learn from those who inspire, via social media. Study the art of floral design and flower nomenclature. Learn creative direction through design methods and mechanics. There are many educators and design coaches who can nurture those who are ready to take those steps.

FR: Have you noticed any trends or changes in gender dynamics in the industry?

HG: There are many more successful women in floristry today who are amazing role models in the areas of style, design and business skills. I can count just as many women as men in the highest level in the design world, in the business world and in floral workplaces today. We have reached a gender balance today, and it’s now an equal-opportunity-world.

FR: Of what accomplishments in your career are you most proud?

HG: Designing in the art world with my FlowerXArt work; exhibiting my work at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City; giving lectures and demonstrations to art audiences at art museums throughout North America; and creating mixed media work—flowers artistically combined with paint, fiber, wood, metal, etc.

FR: How do you balance your work and personal lives?

HG: I started embracing more balance in my life through the pandemic years, with more care to good health and wellness, and taking more time to be inspired by the natural world, with more walks and observing nature. Time spent outdoors feeds more oxygen to my brain and keeps my mind fresh—and away from so much screen time.