Foam-free floral design may sound trendy and new age, but surprisingly, it's been all the rage since the 1930s. With a focus on sustainable swaps, many of today's floral designers have ditched flower foam in exchange for reusable, foam-free floral mechanics. At the front of this foam-free revolution is Floral Genius. A female-owned and operated company based out of Virginia. Floral Genius, a sister company to Harmony Harvest Farm, is the world's sole manufacturer of flower hairpins. Floral Genius is also the only U.S. manufacturer of flower frogs. We recently caught up with Stephanie Duncan, Co-Owner of Floral Genius and Director of Marketing and PR for Harmony Harvest Farms, to learn about the rich history of flower hairpins, how to design a foam-free flower arrangement, and what the future holds for her two sustainable companies.
How did you and your family come to own the two companies, Floral Genius and Harmony Harvest Farm?
I always knew that I wanted to be a business owner. But at the time, I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I had a fancy marketing job. I was pretty content. Even though I knew I was always supposed to own my own business, I didn't know what that was.
Jessica (Stephanie's sister and co-owner of Floral Genius) had the flower farm (Harmony Harvest Farm), and I didn't know if that was my thing. So fast forward to the fall of 2016. My sister called and said she had found a business and wanted to buy it. And I was just like, okay? And she's like, I want to buy it with you. And I'm like, okay, what are we doing? And she's like, we're going to be manufacturers. And I'm like, manufacturers of what? And she says, flower frogs. And I'm like, what the hell is a flower frog?
She's a florist, so she knows the rich history of flower frogs and floral hairpins and loves them. She has her own collection and knew that this company was essentially the last U.S maker. So if somebody didn't buy this company, essentially, if we didn't buy the company, all the equipment would be hauled off to the scrapyard, and it wouldn't exist anymore. So there weren't going to be any more US-made flower frogs. And so I was like, all right, let me do some research and figure out what this looks like.
In the end, we purchased the manufacturing rights and equipment from the existing company and set up shop here at our flower farm in Virginia. Once we got everything here, we all kind of looked at my brother-in-law, my sister's husband, and we're like, you can make these, right? So he was like, I mean, I'm going to try. We thankfully had the help of the former company and their employees, but it was something at first!
Alongside being the only U.S. manufacturer of flower frogs, Floral Genius is the only manufacturer in the world of flower hairpins. Can you tell us the origin story of the hairpin and how they're created today?
Ida Sinclaire invented the floral hairpin in 1934. She was a garden club enthusiast and loved arranging flowers but couldn't find a flower holder that she liked. One night, she came home from her garden club, walked into her garage, and found her son melting down some lead to make fishing anchors. She pulled a hairpin out of her hair and shoved it into the melted lead. And that's how it all started. She made a prototype with her son, brought it to her garden club, and left with 16 orders. She knew she could make a business out of this but then realized the hairpins she used were patented. So she invented her own hairpin style and the machine that makes them. She patented both. We still use the same machine today that bends and makes the brass hairpins that go into the holders.
Ida's company, the Blue Ribbon Flower Holder Company, employed five full-time women who set and painted hairpins and a shop foreman who poured the lead. In 1959, Ida sold the company to the Johnson family, who manufactured the hairpins the same way she did until 2017. We purchased the company in 2017 and continue to create the hairpins the same way Ida and her girls did, setting each pin by hand.
I'm sure some things have changed since 1936. Can you tell us precisely what it takes to create one hairpin floral holder today?
Absolutely! It's essentially the same, but we've made some slight tweaks since Ida's days. We start by creating the hairpins. We order giant spools of brass, and we run those through this machine, which spits out these really beautiful little pins.
Then, those are actually set into mold plates. We hand-set all the plates, and then we cast those plates into the base. Then, that comes off, and it comes together as one piece after casting. Then we clean them up and paint them.
It's definitely a labor of love. We are setting hairpins all day, every day. Somebody is setting hairpins all the time because they're just so fabulous and people love them as much as we do, which is great! But it is very labor-intensive. Our manufacturing crew, they're really good and they're very quick, and we keep growing. We were working with two people early last year. Now we're at three people and getting ready to hire our fourth.
Other than being handmade in the U.S. by a mostly-female company, what makes floral hairpins so special?
Hairpins are SO easy to use, and they're made to last you a lifetime.
For someone who has never designed a foam-free flower arrangement and is using a hairpin for the first time, what instructions would you give them?
Step one is to always start with a clean, dry vase. From there, add some floral putty to the bottom, and you'll want to press the hairpin down into the bottom of the vase. Next, we like to do the Dairy Queen Blizzard test and flip over the vase to make sure it doesn't fall out.
>Next, you'll want to add your water if you're using fresh flowers or keep the vessel dry if you're using fake flowers or dried flowers.
Then, you'll want to start inserting your largest stems into the pin loops. You'll be amazed that they don't move when you put them in. They hold exactly where you place them.
Start with your bigger stems, as you're creating a type of thatching to provide more support for your smaller stems. I always wait until the end to start adding in smaller stems.
What are some benefits of using a hairpin over a flower frog or other foam-free mechanics?
A big reason to use hairpins over the traditional flower frog is that the hairpin doesn't damage the stem. You can simply slide the stem in between the looped pins. It's really great for beefier stems, such as dried hydrangeas or a faux sunflower. It holds their weight and provides structure. You can also stand a stem straight up in a tall urn or vessel without more mechanics.
Do you have any big goals or visions for Floral Genius or Harmony Harvest Farms?
Our vision is to live a better life through flowers. To us, that means spreading joy through flowers. It's amazing what flowers and getting creative can do for your mental health. But also taking care of our community and our planet while being as sustainable as possible while celebrating floral beauty. I think that shines through in both of our companies. As farmers, of course, we must be the Earth's stewards. And so it made a lot of sense for us to take on a wildly different business, but a complimentary business. I'm really glad that we've done it because it's been very fulfilling and we're here to stay.
For more info on Floral Genius, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.
For more info on Harmony Harvest Farm, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.
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Why Choose Flower Hairpins and Flower Frogs instead of Floral Foam?
Floral Foam is derived from petroleum (plastic) and, unfortunately, cannot be reused, recycled, or disintegrated without breaking down into microplastics. Floral foam is also toxic for both humans and animals. One block of floral foam contains the same amount of plastic as ten plastic shopping bags.To create foam-free flower arrangements, designers can use floral hairpins, flower frogs, moldable chicken wire, dried angel vine, and tape to create a grid structure. Other techniques such as Ikebana can be used to create simple, and stunning foam-free floral designs.