Unemployment led to her dream gig: Floral design that’s not afraid to get political
This is the latest in a series we call Plant PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.
“If this sounds like we bit off more than we can chew, good. We love a good buffet,” is the declaration that greets you on Under New Mgmt’s “Our Story” webpage. And they’re not kidding. Since opening in July 2019, the Los Angeles-based floral design studio has become known for its over-the-top bouquets featuring rhinestones, paint, tulle, fruit and more (more, more!).
Alex Floro, the owner of Under New Mgmt, states that the business is about more than flowers — that it is unafraid to get political. The design studio’s Instagram encourages consumers to weaponize their spending power, ensuring that they’re giving their money to businesses that aim to make a difference. Under New Mgmt calls itself one such business, citing its push to make the floral and events industry more inclusive by exclusively hiring and collaborating with individuals from BIPOC, immigrant, women-identified and LGBTQ communities. It also makes use of its platform (and packaging) to amplify timely messages and resources that are in line with its mission.
Earlier this year, in the midst of L.A.’s Black Lives Matter marches and protests, Floro started the People’s Bodega, which initially raised money to fund supplies for L.A. protesters. The People’s Bodega has since expanded to include both Los Angeles and New York communities in need of essential, free supplies. It’s now working to set up community fridges to provide locals with food aid. Plus, Under New Mgmt just started a vintage home collection.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Here at L.A. Times Plants, we love “plantfluencers” — people whose Instagram feeds and stories are abundantly verdant. We’ve launched a new series, PLANT PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world, such as the voice behind @LatinxWithPlants, Andi Xoch of Boyle Heights.
What led to the beginning of Under New Mgmt?
I’ve been around flowers my entire life. My mom is a florist. But it was exactly a year ago that I got laid off from a job. I was brewing on the idea [of Under New Mgmt] for a while. I’ve worked in the events industry for close to six years and I’ve seen so many inequalities — especially in terms of people of color and women. I wanted to start something on my own, and getting laid off that job — even though it was horrible at the time — was an opportunity to try it out.
How did you develop such a unique floral design style?
My style has developed out of my own personal style and my constant need to be super extra. ... Being in spaces where I didn’t see a lot of people like myself, I wanted to push my design aesthetic even further and try out different things. My second love is food, so you see a lot of fruit incorporated in my designs.
I think that people know me best for putting rhinestones on anthuriums. That was born out of necessity because one of my anthurium orders was not the best, but that’s all I could afford, and I had some extra rhinestones from Coachella, so I was like, “Let me try this out.” That’s kind of how my aesthetic has developed; [it’s about using] what’s been around me.
How do you connect to flowers on a personal level?
I come from a family of plant people. I’m Filipino [and] back home, there’s so much lush greenery. So in my family, there have always been houseplants; my grandma loves houseplants.
I’m also an empath, and flowers are the best way for me to express myself because sometimes I’m not good with words. I’ve found that flowers are the best expression.
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Under New Mgmt incorporates activism into its work. How did this come about? Was it something you set out to do or did you transition into it?
We’ve always worked with the idea that we want to give back to the community and empower the people around us. I guess it’s both. We always planned to incorporate some sort of community aspect into our business model. Eventually, I want to get a storefront, and I don’t want to be one of those gentrifiers who show up in a neighborhood without knowing who’s there.
When COVID hit, we started the ROSIE program, which was a mutual aid fund for my freelancers. Then, when all of the protests started happening with Black Lives Matter, the idea from the ROSIE mutual aid program blossomed into People’s Bodega. ... Within a few days, people in New York reached out and they started a chapter.
Many businesses are afraid to get political, and people might not expect a floral design studio to incorporate politics into its work. Why is Under New Mgmt different?
Working in the floral and events industry, there’s always been this front that everything needs to be perfect — from the flowers to the way you present yourself. When I was thinking about Under New Mgmt, after I set up our Instagram, I said, “We don’t really need to be perfect.” I think that was where I found a disconnect in the floral industry. I didn’t see any other people like me, so when we started the company, I thought, “Why don’t I talk about the stuff I want to talk about?”
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Politics are something I’m really interested in, but also music is something I’m interested in. So one day [I might post] about the important facts we’re learning about the inequalities in our cities, and then the next day I’m posting about the 1975 and how hot I think, like, the drummer is. I just wanted to be imperfect because there really isn’t a perfect company. I think it’s unfair to a customer to present that.
What’s your creative process like when it comes to designing a bouquet with so many different elements?
My creative process starts with a color or theme. So if someone says their friend really loves the movie “Pretty in Pink,” I will run with that. I’m really thematic, in a sense. I want to build on a word or random phrase that someone throws at me. I’m also always listening to music, so if someone is asking for flowers for a 30th or 40th birthday, I try to listen to music from when [the recipient was] a teenager or young adult. I really try to make each arrangement as if I was receiving it.
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What are Under New Mgmt’s plans? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
We really want to expand this idea of People’s Bodega and we’re working on putting up a community fridge, working with local organizers from different groups. There are different phases I have in mind for Under New Mgmt, so it’s not going to be just floral. But I think that’s what we’re going to focus on — continuing the design process and maybe eventually opening up a storefront, but who knows when that’s going to be possible.
If you had to pick a favorite plant, which one would it be?
It really depends on the day. Of course anthurium has a special place in my heart because of how important it’s been to our growth as a company, but I really have a special place in my heart for carnations. I think that for a long time, carnations were seen as an inferior alternative to roses. So I try to use carnations as much as possible in my designs to surprise people. Something you might have thought was inferior or cheap actually looks amazing, it’s beautiful and it’s worthy.
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