Name: Kiana Underwood
Title: Floral Designer, entrepreneur
City: Burlingame, CA
Passion: Floral Design
I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers, wrote Claude Monet in his memoir. What makes my love for flowers so endless is the combination of their colorful beauty and the ephemerality of their lives. So, when I stumbled upon Tulipina Design on Instagram, I fell more deeply in love with them. The arrangements took the beauty of flowers to the next level: they were like ballerinas in a Nureyev masterpiece. My never-ending curiosity drove me to reach out to the floral designer. Kiana, who was born and raised in Iran and moved to the US in 1990, and gracious enough to let us stop by. Our photographer Elle drove from LA, and off we went on a Sunday morning to meet the artist behind Tulipina. Greeted with a big hug, smiling tiny faces, and Kiana's husband, the man behind the lens, she opened her heart and told us her story in her candid way. Kiana embodies a certain kind of feminine power, one that leaves you feeling safe, inspired to take action and believing as a woman and mother, we can have it all, as long as the "all" is what our heart truly desires.
How and when did you find your passion?
I grew up in Iran, and spent a lot of time around flowers in my grandfather’s garden, which I always really enjoyed. My mother also had a great love for flowers and we had them fresh in the house often. After moving to the U.S., I went to school, and eventually pursued my Master’s in International Relations at John Hopkins University where I lived in Italy and in Washington, DC. I eventually came back to the Bay Area and took a job at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
Working in my field was never a passion, and I stopped working when I had my daughter. Being a stay at home mom allowed me to be with my 3 kids under the age of 5. I love my children and being a mother; however, I wanted more for me. I wanted more than just being a mom.
How did you decide to pursue your passion?
I’ve always had fresh flowers in my home, and enjoyed putting together arrangements. People were often asking me to help them with flower design for their events. One day, my husband urged me to turn it into a business. There is so much competition in the space and I was a little hesitant. I started small: I put together a website and talked to mothers in my children's pre-school. Slowly things started to pick up. It was definitely not something that was done overnight. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of perseverance, not to mention a lot of disappointing moments to get to this point.
What are some of the challenges you faced along the way?
I found that people are generally not willing to help you, unless you are well known. It is hard to deal with this Catch-22 when just getting started.
I have had many disappointments with people not wanting to help me on purpose, or trying to slow down my progress – all because I didn’t have a “name” in the business. I came from literally nothing 4 years ago to a place where many people now want to work with me, which is very fulfilling. All of this came because I stuck with it, and I continued to better my craft along the way. In the end, I did find several people who were willing to give me a chance, and they know who they are and have earned my loyalty.
How do you hone your skills?
The only way to get better at what I do is by doing it. I never had any training; I never attended a flower workshop. I looked at a lot of work online, in magazines, etc. to see what styles I enjoyed, and what type of floral art I wanted to create. From experience, I knew that I could make amazing things from using the variety of flowers and foliage in my backyard. In general, with social media and the Internet, all of the inspiration one needs to create something beautiful is available online.
What is failure to you, and how do you deal with it?
I am not afraid to fail. I do not have a problem pursuing my dreams. Disappointment can hurt, but I get over it, get motivated and push forward. I am constantly pursuing my dreams.
What is fear to you?
My biggest fear is missing an opportunity. Beyond that I am not fearful.
Was there a time when you were running out of money? Did you need to give up a lifestyle to pursue your passion?
You have to start small. Most people do not have money to spend on renting a studio or advertising. To make a big splash, you have to pay for exposure. I did not have the money to pay for exposure in a well-known magazine. So instead, I needed to be good enough so that people would write about me, and highlight what I could offer. Time and patience are everything. If you are doing your absolute best, and doing what you love the most, chances are someone out there is going to find you and talk about you.
What is self-love to you? And how important is it to your journey?
How can I expect someone to respect me if I do not respect myself? Thankfully, I have never suffered from feeling like “I am not good enough. ” I have am a strong personality.
Who inspires you and why?
My first inspiration is my husband. If it were not for him and his everyday reaffirmation, I would not be here today. I would not have come this far. Some other things that inspire me are walks in my neighborhood, my kids, and great work that I see online, like that of Ariella Chezar. When I was first starting out, her work was a great inspiration to me, and I’m really thankful that she started this current garden-style revolution.
How do you manage being a mom of three and running a business?
I work hard; I do not ever have down time. It is really hard to balance between being a career woman and wanting to be the greatest mom on earth.
Advice to the Community
Please share an advice for young people looking for their passions.
Your greatest power is your youth. Never underestimate it or waste it. If there is something that you are passionate about, start right now. Nothing is too big to achieve.
Advice for mothers
There is more to life than just motherhood. It is only by fulfilling yourself that you can be a better mom to your children. You cannot create fulfillment through other people. There is no excuse for not putting your passion into your work. It is not easy, but there is no excuse, and there is no better time than the present.