UrbanStems founders Ajay Kori and Jeff Sheely empower women in Colombia and Ecuador while delivering flowers straight to your door.
Flower power: Jeff Sheely (LEFT) and Ajay Kori, photographed in one of their shared office spaces, are growing their socially conscious business in DC.
College buddies Ajay Kori, 31, and Jeff Sheely, 30, launched their flower delivery service in Washington a little over a year ago—the day before Valentine’s Day, to be exact—hoping to appeal to a less conventional crowd. But what began as the millennial’s answer to 1-800-Flowers has coalesced into a decidedly 21stcentury venture that marries stylish, neo-traditional floral arrangements with socially conscious business practices.
The key to UrbanStems’ business model is that it sources sustainably farmed flowers directly from Colombia and Ecuador, where 90 percent of their farmers are women paid a living wage. “We have a pretty strong belief in our company that we want to be doing something that makes lives better,” says Kori. “In fact, before Jeff and I even knew we were going into the floral industry, we created a charter that outlined our social mission and commitment to employees who had not yet joined, for a company that had not yet existed.” “Flowers are a thing of beauty,” he continues, “and how they are sourced and grown, we think, is all part of the story. Empowering women, paying them sustainable wages in a part of the country where women aren’t expected to be heads of households, is all part of our mission of trying to make anyone we touch better off.”
A typical flower delivery service operating on a national scale works as a middleman that connects customers with local florists who approximate the brand’s advertised arrangements. But UrbanStems has deleted that step. Lissa McManus, whose job title is “head of customer happiness,” works directly with the farms to create unique seasonal arrangements every six weeks. UrbanStems offers only a handful of styles in their signature burlap-wrapped arrangements, to maximize freshness and ensure speedy delivery. “We go from off-the-stem to our hydration center outside of DC in under 48 hours,” McManus says. “Typically, flowers at a florist go from farm to importer to wholesaler to store, which means they’ve already been off the farm for a week or more before you get them. Our flowers last so long because they’ve only been off the farm for a day or two, which we think really brings the farms closer to the customer.” Their eco-friendly practice of only cutting the flowers they sell has earned them certification by Rainforest Alliance and Veriflora.
In the year ahead, Kori and Sheely, who are still headquartered in a basement in Dupont Circle, are hoping to gain a stronger footing in the DC flower scene and expand their mostly woman-to-woman business.
“To be perfectly honest, men send when they have to, and women send when they want to. So, it’s more everyday occasions rather than just on Valentine’s or a birthday or an anniversary,” Sheely says. For women, he says, “It tends to be, ‘Congratulations on passing your test,’ or ‘Good luck with the presentation’—small things like that.” With a business model that’s affordable, fast, hip, and sustainable, UrbanStems only has room to grow. 855-614-2779