When Kirsten Hausman, 32, was planning her wedding five years ago, she considered several pricey flower options.
“I went the crazy extravagant route in the beginning, but it didn’t speak to who we were as a couple or as individuals,” she said.
Having lived in Africa and at the time working with Green Plus in Chapel Hill, which helps businesses operate sustainably, she was aware of environmental issues stemming from the chemicals used in the traditional floral industry and the cost of transporting flowers.
“I’ve always enjoyed making things with my hands, so I decided to try to create something,” said Hausman, whose first four years of education were at a Waldorf school, where knitting, writing and drawing are encouraged at an early age. “For six months before the wedding, my living room was a giant craft experiment.”
She ended up sewing flower-shaped brooches out of fabric for the wedding party to wear. For the reception, instead of centerpieces, she cut tiny blossoms out of paper to sprinkle on guests’ tables, inspired by an article in Martha Stewart Living.
After the wedding, a few dozen practice fabric brooches filled her house, so Hausman, who lives in Durham, decided to try to sell them at the online craft shop Etsy.
“I didn’t have an end game in mind,” she said. Orders trickled in, and she even needed to restock.
Invigorated by the sales, on a whim she put some of her leftover paper blossoms inside glass cheese domes and offered them up on Etsy.
“I didn’t sell many, but people looked at them, which was fun,” she said. “Then a woman wrote and asked if I could put a stem on them and put them in a bouquet for her wedding centerpieces. My first thought was, someone has to be doing this already, but nobody was.”
From there, her business blossomed. Hausman now sells only the paper creations, which she makes individually or combines in bouquets and garlands. The blossoms are simple yet sophisticated, with a clean, contemporary look.
“One of the things people say they like about them a lot is they’re not pretending to be real flowers,” she said.
Usually she uses heavy card stock and has access to more than 60 colors, but for custom orders, she’ll also use personalized material, such as maps, sheet music, or paper printed with words chosen by the customer, like song lyrics.
To make the flowers, she cuts out spirals freehand, never using a pattern, and rolls them into blossoms, a technique she continues to refine.
“It used to be that the line I cut was very uniform in thickness. Now it’s thinner at the top, which becomes the center, and thicker on outside, which makes the flower. And they dip down in the center, like a little cup.”
Initially, Hausman was receiving a manageable order a week. Then around Mother’s Day in 2011, she noticed she was getting high numbers of views on her Etsy site, and orders started rolling in.
“I had no idea why. Then I opened my Etsy newsletter and saw that my flowers were featured. I was so excited.”
She received 70 orders in one week and had to take a few days off work to complete them.
“That blew my mind,” she said. “That was when I realized maybe I could turn a hobby into a real thing. It never really occurred to me that you could make a living by selling something you made. I know people do it, but the idea of being an entrepreneur wasn’t familiar. Both my parents had government careers.”
After a year of working part-time on her regular job, she decided to support herself fully on the flowers in spring of 2012, a career that surprises people she meets.
“People say, ‘You can make paper flowers for a living?’ Running the business is the biggest challenge I’ve had, but it’s also enjoyable.”
Hausman, who has shipped flowers to more than 15 countries, recently has branched out into supersize “wallflowers,” with hooks for hanging, and even makes paper poinsettias during the holidays. She plans to dive deeper into the wedding industry and add more wholesale accounts to the direct sales she does through Etsy and at festivals, such as the Lazy Daze Festival in Cary on Aug. 23.
One of her more recent outlets is the restaurant and gift shop Parker and Otis in downtown Durham, where owner Jennings Brody sells Hausman’s individual flowers and also uses them as centerpieces on cafe tables.
“They are so bright and happy, and really cleverly made,” Brody said. “I think they’re the perfect little gift. One thing I hadn’t expected is that many people, while they’re eating lunch, take them out of the vase and play with them. They’ve actually held up really well. I even have a bouquet on my desk – I just love to look at them.”