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Black-Owned Wedding Vendor Spotlight: Designs by Amber May

In June of 2020, we published an initial list of 70+ Black-owned wedding businesses. As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight and promote Black-owned businesses, we’ve started this series featuring individual vendors.

Full disclosure: I know nothing about flowers. Other than occasionally picking up the cheapest bouquet (which often ends up being a collection of leaves) at the grocery store to brighten up my windowless living room, I rarely interact with them. I love flowers, but I’m clueless about them (like, confusing tulips with daffodils clueless). Enter Amber Mayfield, Inglewood Los Angeles-based floral designer.

Amber has been in the floral industry ever since she stepped in as a last-minute florist while working as an event planner for a trade show. According to Amber, the arrangements “innately came out of me” that day, as she decorated everything from a grand piano to a massive cake. She was such a natural that when the head event planner asked how long she’d been a floral designer and she replied “I’m not,” the woman told her she had something unique and she should stick with it. Three years later, Amber’s a full time floral designer.

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

So how does the process of designing a floral arrangement for a wedding actually work? “Usually it starts with the love story,” Amber explained to me during our FaceTime, which felt more like a catch up with an old friend than an interview with someone I’d never met before. Amber, like many in the wedding industry, considers herself a romantic and loves to hear couples’ origin stories. “Every love story is different,” and she plans her bouquets accordingly.

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

After an initial consultation with her couples where she learns about what colors they’re thinking (think: earth tones vs jewel tones), Amber creates a collage of sorts with a sketch of what she’s thinking for floral arrangements. She sees this mood board as a temperature check - does a couple REALLY want jewel tones as much as they said? She’ll often create two “versions” of the arrangements - one takes the idea at its face, the other is a more subtle take. Once a couple sees the design visually, they instinctively know what they want.

Next, after getting the go-ahead from the couple, Amber heads to the flower mart, where she really gets her inspiration. To Amber, it’s a conversation with the flowers that can’t be predicted in advance. It’s essential to “see, feel, touch, and smell the flowers to know what I'm going to use. I can have an idea in advance of what I think I want it to look like, but it kind of curates itself.” It’s a very “raw and intense process” to be in and among the flowers.

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

After she’s purchased the flowers, Amber either arranges in her at-home studio or takes the flowers directly to the venue and creates her pieces there (flower purchasing happens within days of the event itself to keep everything fresh). Every design is uniquely built for the couple, Amber explains - even if multiple couples have the same request (apparently the word “blush” came up in MANY meetings last year), the design is inspired by and reflective of the couple and their love story.

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

It was fascinating to speak to Amber about the arrangements needed for a wedding - from personals (bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres), to flowers along the aisles, to tables and bars. And don’t forget petals if you’d like someone to walk down the aisle sprinkling them! I went into this conversation really thinking about wedding flowers as a bouquet that may or may not get tossed, so my head was spinning by the time I learned all the things to keep in mind for a wedding. I also learned that the bouquet that gets walked down the aisle might not even BE the same bouquet that gets tossed (there’s such a thing as a toss bouquet - news to me).

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

There’s a huge amount of prep work that goes into a day (and we haven’t even started talking about cleanup). De-stemming 500 roses for a wedding takes time, as does washing every leaf and putting delicate stems in water tubes so that they stay alive throughout the celebration. The cost of flowers reflects much more than just the stems themselves. Luckily, you have a professional working for you, and Amber’s advice is to trust them. They’ll know which flowers are available (even if you want a peony, it might not be in season!), they know the price points, they know the time they need, and they can answer any questions you might have.

Amber worked a few "beautiful and sacred" backyard weddings as couples pivoted to elopements and microweddings, but business slowed down significantly when COVID hit California. She pivoted to delivering personal arrangements after a request for a sympathy bouquet gave her the idea. Amber loves these arrangements because there's still a love story being told, explaining that “I'm essentially creating a time capsule for that moment that's going to be remembered forever. It's something that I hold close to me because I'm honored that you would want me to do something like that.”

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

On her experience as a Black business owner, Amber explained that “being a solopreneur of a Black-owned business is hard, and I will say that to anybody - it's not easy. And it hasn't been from the beginning. It was a leap of faith that I had to take, because I didn't have the backing of anyone to support me financially. If you're going to take the leap of faith, be ready to put in the grunt work and all of the hours that it takes to make sure that it's sustainable and successful.”

Her advice? “Don't take 'no’s' for an answer, because there will be plenty...Just take it with a grain of salt: salt and water is not nice. It tastes disgusting, but eventually it goes down and it's water again.” And the “no’s” can sometimes come from within - speaking about her own family’s initial hesitation, she explained “that's the way that they were raised, our lineage of Black people, that's what we were taught to do. So when you create that new wave of ‘we're gonna go this way,’ it's scary for them because they want to make sure that you're okay, that you will be okay, that your family will be okay. So just know that's where it's coming from. It's coming from a place of love and care.”

Black-Owned Florist: Amber May

“What I've been honing as my motto lately is ‘what's meant for me will not escape from me. And what is escaping from me is not meant for me.’ Every setback or ‘no’ has always come back as something greater in the end...the sky is literally the limit. Even beyond that, let's just say space.” Ever since speaking to Amber, I’ve kept fresh cut flowers in my apartment.

As part of our series highlighting Black-owned wedding businesses, we’ve chosen to donate to a charity of the business owner’s choice with each post. Amber chose Black Men Heal, an organization that “provides access to mental health treatment, psycho-education, and community resources to men of color.”

Check out Amber's website: Designs by Her

Want to read more? Check out some other recent blog posts:

Black-Owned Wedding Vendor Spotlight: Caswell Farm & Wedding Barn

Black-Owned Wedding Vendor Spotlight: Dgass Photography

70+ Black-Owned Wedding Businesses

Questions? Shoot us an email at help@hiholden.com or give us a ring at 917.719.3634.

Photos courtesy of: Amber May, Kristin Thomas, Jamaal Thomas, and Porterhouse LA