We had the good fortune of connecting with isa peña and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi isa, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
botánica brava is an evolving project in community care and creation. It is abundantly clear that running your own business, especially one where you need to market your creativity for consumption, is a lonely and often all-consuming affair. With this in mind, I decided pretty early on that I would commit myself to rest and authentic community collaboration above all else. I’m completely against grind culture, and, having just left the high paced world of labor organizing, my own relationship to work was incredibly unhealthy and unbalanced. I tended to sacrifice my wellbeing for the sake of my work, and I’m still not quite where I’d like to be in terms of balance, but the biggest thing that’s added to my ability to grow botánica brava has been to prioritize my health and wellness in order to ensure the longevity of what is always and growing and moving creation. The partner component to this is my ability to rely on others when I take on a large mutual aid projects through our ALL FLOWERS TO THE PPL Flower Fund and pop-ups. People are hungry for an opportunity to show up for their community and I’ve found that whenever I ask for help, I receive more offers of support, donations, and volunteers than I can handle. I find that my most successful events are ones where a whole community of folks plug in where they feel needed. Making community work and mutual aid the bedrock of what we do at botánica brava sets us apart and lets us build strong networks of care within our community.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It comes as a surprise to most people to learn that I became homeless immediately after graduating college. Being unhoused and living out of my car was certainly a formative experience– one that forced me to re-prioritize my life and left me with the impression that we, as a collective, are only as safe as our most vulnerable members. This experience also led me to take Ikebana courses at LACC in order to regain some control over my mental health. What started as a centering practice soon became an all out obsession with flowers. Our teacher, Sensei Kyoko Oshiro, allowed me to take our class’s leftover flowers to practice with at home where I’d make arrangements and drop them off at local coffee shops for free. Working with flowers fills my body with so much joy and satiates my need for constant creation and artistic expression, it’s truly a nourishing practice for me. The truth is floristry was always my dream job, one that I would fantasize and jokingly call my “plan b” in favor of a more standard profession. But when your life gets turned up-side-down, you begin to see things with a lot more perspective. If I’m here and I love working with flowers, why not just go for it? Now that I’ve taken the full dive, I’ve been able to experiment with the styles, forms, and colors that excite me. Right now, that means maximalism, homegrown botanicals, bright colors, and a taste of the alien.
What sets botánica brava apart is the fact that our flowers are truly a front, albeit a beautiful one, to the rooted work of community care. With our ALL FLOWERS TO THE PPL community projects and flower fund, we’re building grassroots networks for communal care and mutual aid while spreading the joy of art through flowers. botánica brava is not meant to be a highly profitable business. Instead, I set out to create a hub for redistribution, and that’s just what we’ve done. Last year we started off with a Mother’s Day fundraiser to support Lunch On Me’s work distributing free meals and wellness programming for our unhoused neighbors. We also raised enough funds to distribute bouquets to the 11 Reclaiming our Homes families rightfully occupying vacant homes owned by CalTrans. We finished off 2020 having distributed an additional $2000 in direct aid to Black trans and non-binary creatives and organizers through emergency cash assistance funds. This year we partnered with Eastside Cafe, Reclaiming our Homes, and the El Sereno Community Fridge to send out 30 bouquets and care packs for unhoused families living on the Eastside. These kits were fully funded by a donation-based flower arranging class that I led at the El Sereno Community Garden and profits from Mother’s Day orders. Our kits included pomadas, tinctures, herbal remedios, teas, vouchers for free food and haircuts, and other self-care products made by local herbcrafters and creatives of color including the LA Herbalist Collective, Bulan Apothecary, Sunday Morning Hair, Nourish the Soul Bakery, and Earthy Corazon just to name a few! This was our largest distribution effort to date, and we’re excited to be a part of a new collective of healers and organizers who are planning on launching a recurring a clínica popular, or people’s clinic, that will address the wellness needs of our unhoused neighbors this fall.
My work with botanicals is truly an all consuming obsession, and my commitment to community organizing is just a flat out need to be connected and a part of building a better world– one rooted in care and responsibility to each other.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’d start out with a full on tour of LA’s many botanical gardens including the Huntington Library and Gardens, Descanso Gardens and the LA Arboretum. On our way to one of my favorite beaches, La Piedra up in Malibu, I’d pick up some baked goods by Maybed Romero of Mar y Luna Botanical Bakery and a cheese board spread from Femme & Forage. Then we’d grab coffee from Sip & Sonder in Inglewood before spending an afternoon perusing Eso Won Books’ incredible selection. A trip to the downtown flower markets is also a must! I’m really outdoorsy so we’d likely spend the rest of our time camping in Sequoia or Joshua Tree.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There is just so much to be thankful for it’s hard to even begin! I’d have to shout out my sister, Cecilia for encouraging me to advocate for myself and strengthen my resolve to pursue my art and community work. She’s someone who I look to a lot for advice and it’s not uncommon for us to be on the phone with each other for hours every day. I’ve also found a family of friends, floral and otherwise, who fill my cup in so many ways. A few people who will always be mentors and friends to me are Stephanie and Mark, who co-run Vases to Vases, a floral design studio based out of Highland Park and Amber May, founder and head designer of DesignsbyHer. When you don’t come from a background with a lot of resources, you start to second guess your ability to even start the process of opening up your own business. Stephanie, Mark and Amber were there for me at a really critical point in my development as a creative and business owner, it also helps that they’re just some of the best people I know. My final shout out has to be one of my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin. I like to say I channel flowers from far off planets, and reading scifi and especially LeGuin’s novels always cracks open a whole world of creativity for me to tap into. The way she imagines worlds astounds me, and I like to think I’m building worlds in my own way too.
Yaquelin Hernandez @lavidaphotographica (images 5, 6, 7)