It is so much fun to have an army of wedding vendors around the United States attending conferences, speaking at expos and connecting with other socially conscious brands… Its even more fun when I receive messages like… ‘This company is totally up your alley and should be a BSB Vendor’… The East African Petal Company is one of those business that stuck out to one of our BSB Vendors, Courtney Hammons of A Magical Affair, when she attended CaterSource 2015 in Vegas and she even spoke about Partying with Purpose! The East Africa Petal Company specializes in Natural Flower Confetti harvested from one of the largest bougainvillea farms in the world, on the border of a national park in Kenya. We reached out to the owner Stella and she was thrilled we wanted to feature her business! Here is a little bit about what they do.
1. What brought you to start The East African Petal Company?
I moved to Kenya from England over six years ago. I resigned from a good job in London with a top advertising agency in search of a more fulfilling adventure. I had never been to Kenya before and I knew no-one but I did know that I wanted to work in wildlife conservation and nothing would dissuade me from this path. For the following five years I worked in some beautiful and remote locations in Kenya with some amazing people, learning all I could about the struggle to protect endangered species and habitats, before I began working with world’s leading authority in hand raising and rehabilitating orphaned baby elephants. How does this lead to growing and selling real flower confetti? Well my work with this organisation brought me to Tsavo, Kenya’s largest National Park, where the orphaned elephants finally get released into the wild to have a second chance at a natural life.
It is in Tsavo where I finally felt I truly belonged. Whilst still working with the elephants I negotiated with my boss to be placed permanently in Tsavo and I rented a tumbledown old cottage from a new friend, and soon to be business partner, on a stunning old farm on the border of the National Park. When totally immersed in an environment it is only then that you see where real differences can be made. The poaching catastrophe facing Africa’s elephants and wildlife as a whole is a complex issue, which is in part interconnected with the high poverty levels in the country. Those doing the poaching on the ground in Kenya are desperate, poor and uneducated people striving to survive in a world which offers them little support.
In all truth I knew nothing about growing bougainvillea or even about farming, but my friend and partner knew the idea could be a success with a little spirit and determination. So in 2014 we established The East African Petal Company with a mission to offer sustainable, equal, secure and dignified employment as the top grower and supplier of natural biodegradable real flower confetti.
We have been operating for one year, supplying our petals on a wholesale basis to distributers and retailers, yet our petals are already floating their way into hundreds of weddings. Our petals can be purchased online from select distributers in the UK whilst we are working to make them available directly to the consumer in the US and further afield.
2. What are your biggest challenges running a socially conscious wedding business?
We operate our farm 100% naturally, which is a challenge in itself. We don’t use chemicals or fertilisers. We don’t have mains electricity or network coverage. We work in a remote environment where everything takes time and patience. When entering a fast-paced business world it is a challenge to remain true to our roots when there are more convenient and efficient methods which could be used, but which also have a negative impact on the environment. We do everything ‘by hand’, our product could not exist without the dedication of our staff and the intensive labour-heavy production process, which makes our product that extra bit special whilst giving back to those that need it most.
3. What have been your biggest achievement in running your business?
The feedback we have received about our real flower confetti from florists, wedding planners, brides and venues alike has been 100% positive. Our petals have been described as ‘the best quality petals ever produced’, which is an amazing achievement in itself.
4. How has your business impacted the lives of your workers?
We employ happy workers. It gives me great pleasure to hear our team sing and laugh when they are working – even out in the hot African sun in our petal fields. Our employment teaches them they are valued whilst giving them hope and opportunities. With employment these impoverished communities have the power of freedom. They have the power to put their children through school, to earn themselves an education, to learn how to read and write. They have the power to buy a plot of land and plant their own crops. They have a choice and that is an impact.
5. Where do you see it going in the future?
We want to see our real flower confetti packaged and stocked in high-street stores, to be easily purchased online and to be available world-wide direct to the consumer. We want to see it filling the cold night sky in Times Square on New Year’s Eve! Through such expansion we can employ more people and not have to turn away all those who walk to our farm from miles away in search of work. With more support we can achieve our goals to set-up community initiatives, support local schools and invest in wildlife protection projects. The future of our company can make the difference to the futures of so many lives.
6. Who are your biggest supporters state side?
Only this year, 2015, have we introduced our petals to the US market. The response has been brilliant and we hope that over time with further support our real flower confetti will be readily available to purchase online and in-store. What we need from our US friends is for you to ‘like’ us on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Instagram (@EastAfricanPetals) and ask your florists, wedding planners and venues to stock our petals!
For more ways to learn about The East African Petal Company please visit their website and reach out with any questions, they but an email away and an ocean a part.