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Meet Laura Garcia of Paper Perennial

Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Garcia.

Laura, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In the course of planning my own wedding, I discovered my passion for making paper flowers. I love the beauty of real flowers, but I was interested in having something different for my wedding. I looked at silk and real touch flowers, but everything I saw struck me as fake. I realized that I didn’t want to try to fool my guests; I wanted to show them something new to make them wonder. I was inspired by nature and other artists to develop linen paper flowers.

When I broached the idea with my fiancee, he loved the handmade, personalized nature of these paper flowers. Our mothers have been friends since we were in Kindergarten and we literally grew up together, so we wanted our wedding to reflect the personal closeness of our families. On the day of our wedding, the flowers became the talk of the bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents, and guests.

After the wedding, a number of my friends and family encouraged me to start selling my flowers, and so I started my shop on Etsy. Originally, I just made paper roses, the flowers that were central to my wedding bouquets and decorations. But I slowly started branch out to other types, and now I have over a dozen varieties of flowers that I make, and I’m always working to add new ones.

As the daughter of a small business owner, I’ve always enjoyed entrepreneurism, and Paper Perennial has given me the freedom to explore that area of my creativity. The response has been overwhelming and encouraging, and even with my limited microbusiness resources and time (I’m a full-time high school teacher), I’ve had features on Etsy, Good Morning America, People.com, and other online stories.

As a high school English teacher by day, my passion is helping students creatively unlock the secrets of literature and communication, and I incorporate that love of literature in the descriptions of some of my bouquets, named after my favorite female poets and authors. Oftentimes my work with Paper Perennial comes up with my students as a model of self-drive, hard work, and trying new ways to explore one’s creativity.

This past year I launched a new website, began working with a local brick and mortar shop (Seek & Find Flowers and Gifts) to sell my products, and launched a blog, “Paper Perceptions”, focused on paper flower making, microbusiness entrepreneurship, and sometimes, literature. And my red rose wedding bouquet still sits in a glass box on the bookshelf of my workroom looking as beautiful today as it did when I said my vows, reminding me of where it all began.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I’ve never known a business owner who had a “smooth road” to anything! The biggest struggles for me have been largely time-related. As a full-time teacher, I spend 50+ hours a week teaching, planning, grading; really, just trying to be the best teacher that I can be. That leaves limited time to run a small business! Luckily, I love my work for Paper Perennial, from the design to construction to marketing, so when I come home in the evenings, I’m happy to make time to work on my products, often with my husband at my side.

Aside from time, I am completely self-taught in all aspects of the business. I have no degrees in floral or business areas, and never before even considered myself to be very “crafty!” But I love to learn new things, and that drives me forward. Also, I’m a textbook introvert, so the extroverted world of self-promotion and marketing is often a major challenge for me. But just as with floral design and learning the complexities of business, I am learning how to be more confident and outgoing, though I mostly have my friends, family, and happy customers to thank for that!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Paper Perennial started as a paper flower wedding business targeting brides looking for an alternative to traditional, live flowers on their big day. It grew out of the inspiration behind designing flowers for my own wedding, and although I would still say that wedding flowers are my specialty, I’ve branched out into more home decor through smaller table bouquets, wall decor, shadow boxes, and more.

Very recently, we also launched a new line of paper jewelry design, but I am still known primarily for my paper floral design. I think we are known for extensive customization and working with customers to make sure every detail is right. I work hard to match shades, duplicate unique flowers request, and work with a bride’s vision for her day.

I think what sets paper flowers apart is their creativity and lasting quality. I initially chose to design paper flowers for my wedding due to the cost of live floral arrangements and knowing that they would barely last through the day. I’ve always loved live flowers, but part of their beauty is their ephemerality. Paper flowers mean that the flowers from a wedding can also act as keepsakes that will last forever for both the bride, but also her bridesmaids and guests. That longevity fuels my desire to get things exactly right for my clients.

Personally, I’m most proud of the fact that I am self-taught and have built the company from the ground up. I have learned a lot in the last 3 years of running the company, and it reminds me that grit and passion can take anyone a long way in this country. I watched my father build his business from the ground up after immigrating when he was 16, and now I’m doing so as well in my small way. I’m proud to be not only a small business owner, but a female entrepreneur, and a Latina in business as well.

What were you like growing up?
I’ve always been very introverted and quiet, even when I was young.

Surrounded by the right people, I am just as conversational as anyone else, but I was not the loudest in my classes and was often content to be alone. I have one older brother, and our companionship was often each other rather than school friends or neighbors. We both liked to tinker in our own ways. I was an avid reader and enjoyed creative writing, and I’ve always been deeply involved with music.

I’ve played the piano since 3rd grade, learned the pipe organ in middle school, and have recently begun taking harp lessons (I started the year before I founded Paper Perennial). Music performance was the only kind of extroverted ability that I was comfortable with. In that sense, it’s ironic that I’ve become a teacher, a job that requires so much extroversion and energetic interaction with students every day.

I enjoy surprising people, though. My best friend has told me that every time she feels like she has me in a neat little box to understand me, I kick a leg or arm out the side. I’d never really thought of myself in that way until she mentioned it.

Even at a young age I enjoyed the idea of entrepreneurism and explored it in different ways, from making things to sell to my classmates, to tutoring, to providing professional accompanying. I never really got bored, and I always found ways to entertain myself, which has matured into a kind of relentless industriousness as an adult.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Evan Rich Photography, Jason Switzer Photography, Marcin Cymmer Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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