Mother’s Day is Sunday. It’s one of the top flower selling holidays. And the routine for many in urban Alaska or the lower 48 is to call a florist, order an arrangement, and have it delivered, maybe with a note. Well, just in time for Mother’s Day, that service, through the work of one Bethel businesswoman, has come to the Delta.
Zhi Hastie walks into a one-car garage. Minus the car.
The garage has that cool garage feel. Camo hunting gear hangs from hooks. Tools line shelves along with snow machine helmets and paint. And in the middle of it all: ribbons, cards, and bright, colorful flowers.
Royal purple irises, perky pink tulips, boldly golden sunflowers, and delicate baby's breath among many others.
The fresh fragrance of the blooms joins the odors of engines and oils in this crowded space. Outside, Zhi and her husband are building a workshop. Her dream is to one day open a store.
“It all started because I grew up with my grandma,” she said, pointing towards an overflowing vase of white and green hydrangeas.
Zhi’s grandmother raised her as a child in Malaysia.
“My grandmother loved flowers, she would spend all day talking to her flowers. She loved hydrangeas. That was her favorite. Every time I go visit her, she would say, ‘Take a picture of me in front of my hydrangeas.’ And she would hold her hydrangeas and smile,” Zhi said, laughing.
Zhi's grandmother died of complications from diabetes three years ago. The event prompted Zhi to make some changes in her life.
She had come to the United States for college and moved to Bethel to work at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation as a clinical dietitian. Soon she met her husband. Then suddenly, her dad died. And Zhi started working with clay as a hobby. Her dad was a businessman. He made pipes for plumbing. And she decided to open her own business, calling it Made With Love. At the time, she only sold clay jewelry. When her grandmother died, Zhi went to Malaysia for the service.
“They waited for me, and I made it to the funeral."
Remembering that time, Zhi's brown eyes flood, and she takes a deep breath to steady herself before telling what she did next.
Zhi wasn’t happy working nine to five, typing at a desk as a dietician. The job didn’t give her enough time to visit family in Malaysia. And her grandmother’s death had sent her into depression.
“I was mentally exhausted. And I told my husband, 'No more. Life is so short. I’m going to quit. I’m going to do what I love.’”
What she loved was clay. So she resigned and started doing her jewelry business full time.
The clay was therapy. And she wanted to use it to honor her grandmother.
“Flowers are the way for me to relive my love to my grandma. And I was like, ‘I want to make a flower to last forever.’ So I Googled ‘clay flowers.’ Because I’d been seeing people making clay flowers in Asia.”
So Zhi went to Japan to learn. When she got back, she put her work on Etsy, the craft selling website, and her business took off.
“I got a lot of orders all across the nation and shipping to London, Singapore, all over the United States.”
The clay is light, flexible, and feels like foam. Zhi hand presses in her palm every petal and leaf.
Lately, she's been making a lot of bridal bouquets. They look real.
“I know. Just like marriage, you want it to last forever. So that’s the slogan of my clay business. 'Forever bloom.' So it never dies.”
This Easter, the clay flowers led to real flowers. Zhi had ordered hydrangeas to imitate with clay. But about 20 extra bouquets arrived.
“So I posted them online, and I sold out right away. I sold out within a half day. And I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a market for fresh flowers.’”
Since then, business hasn’t stopped. There was prom, graduation, people retiring, and now the big one, Mother’s Day. Dozens of orders have come in. Her grandmother would be proud.
“When I’m doing this for this community, I’m feeling like my heart is satisfied, because I’m doing for other people while my mom is not here. It means a lot to me.”
Zhi has found the strength to resume her medical profession as well. She is attending nursing school full time and working again as a dietician, but only part time. Zhi got funding for her business from the Best in the West small business competition. She encourages other entrepreneurs to apply. And she has some advice.
“Try new things. I feel Bethel has a lot of room to grow for business. You just need to do it.”
Happy Mother’s Day.